Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Associate Dean Northern: Shaping the School One Class at a Time

Kathy NorthernIf it takes one to know one, spotting the intellectually-talented comes easily for Kathy. Her smarts were in evidence long before her arrival at Moritz. Her undergraduate scholarship to Williams College included financial support for three years of post-graduate study. She chose law and Harvard Law School chose her. Following graduation, she returned to her hometown of Columbus to clerk for the Honorable Robert M. Duncan '52, then on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

While in private practice at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, Kathy befriended a colleague who eventually taught at Ohio Northern's Pettit School of Law. When the friend took a sabbatical, Kathy filled in for her so well, she was offered and accepted a full-time appointment.

Another with a keen eye for talent is Professor Emeritus Howard Fink. He was impressed with Kathy's technical skill and intellectual prowess when they worked together on an environmental tort class action case. Learning she had entered law teaching, Howard led the successful drive to recruit Kathy to Moritz where she has remained since 1991.

In 1998, Kathy became Associate Dean. She and her staff have streamlined the admissions process, targeted top prospects, and improved the credentials of entering classes. State-of-the-art applicant tracking software has shaved an average of three to four weeks off the time necessary to prepare an applicant's file for Admission Committee review. Computer processing is especially helpful now; the number of applications has risen 66 percent in the past five years to a record 2,500 applications annually.

Behind Kathy's easy laugh is a strategist. She and her team initiated a scholarship weekend program that brings top prospects to campus to meet with faculty and alumni. Prospects bond with the college and each other during the weekend and that kinship has increased significantly the College's yield of these candidates. "In just five years," says Kathy, "our selectivity index has improved markedly. We once offered one of every three candidates admission and now we only offer admission to only one in four."

Although scientific by nature, Kathy has a vision that includes more than sheer numbers, "While the LSAT and undergraduate grade point averages of entering classes have risen, we are also seeing other measures of qualitative success including an exceptionally high graduation rate and the highest bar passage rate in the State."

Additionally, composition of the class has changed to reflect greater diversity in race, gender, number of undergraduate institutions represented, and breadth of undergraduate majors. Kathy has first-hand evidence of how this diversity of background and experience can enhance learning. "I've seen it in my law and technology seminar," says Kathy. "About half the students came from science backgrounds and they offered important insights in class discussions about technical issues. In return, they learned much about policy and social theory from their classmates grounded in the social sciences. Pedagogically, everyone benefits from greater diversity."

Another measure of recruiting success is the contribution students make to the Moritz community. "Students' commitment to leadership and service can be seen in the organizations they have formed during the past five years," says Kathy. Students provide legal research services to attorneys representing the economically disadvantaged through the College's award-winning Pro Bono Research Group and they teach mediation skills to Columbus Public School students through the Dispute Resolution and Youth program. Students have organized groups to advocate for children and promote immigrants' equal access to the justice system.

Kathy "walks the talk" of community. In the aftermath of 9/11 and again when a co-worker and then a student died unexpectedly, Kathy attended to details in a way that helped families and the law school community grieve openly and constructively. She is quick to identify at-risk students and get them the referrals they need to remain in school. Her door and her heart are always open. Kathy earns high praise from Dean Nancy Rogers, "The perfect Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs is tough-minded and strategic, has high standards and aspirations for the College, and is kind. Kathy is one of those rare individuals who embodies all of those qualities. She is a key player in momentum to enhance the excellence of the College."

In many ways, the classes that have been admitted are a reflection of Kathy: bright, interested, and interesting. Like her, they are committed to creating an intellectually vibrant and socially supportive community here at the College of Law — and by all indications they are succeeding.