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‘Selfless Leadership:’ Former Dean Nancy Rogers left her post at Moritz’s helm to serve as Ohio Attorney General the past 6 months

January 5, 2009 | Faculty

If you ask Nancy Rogers what she accomplished in her seven years as dean of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, she’ll take credit for very little.

She won’t claim credit for the College’s soaring student qualifications, the doubling of faculty citations, or surpassing $30 million in a fundraising campaign.

“I think it is hard to say that anything is my accomplishment as dean,” she said.  “The faculty and staff of the law school have taken a very fine school and made it better yet.  To just be a part of the Moritz community when that happened was really the highlight.  And what made it fun was the people I had the pleasure of working with.  I looked forward everyday to coming and working with the faculty and staff, and came to truly understand how supportive alumni were of those who were following in their footsteps.”

Dean Rogers has an unrelenting ability to forward all credit for the school’s success onto the faculty, staff, students, and alumni, who she says were truly responsible.  That modesty defines Dean Rogers, her leadership style, and what led to her success at Moritz, said her colleagues, friends, and past students.

Her ability to create a community at the school in which she inspired and challenged faculty and staff to continually pursue innovative programs and ideas is just one of Rogers’ laudable characteristics, said Alan C. Michaels, who became dean following Rogers’ departure. “Dean Rogers started every planning session and almost every conversation not with ‘what can you do?’ but, instead, with ‘what would you like to be able to do?’ And, with that latter question, both expressly and by her own example, she inspired ambitious and creative thinking amongst faculty, staff, and students,” Michaels said.  “She then leads a process of finding a way to make the resulting ambitious and creative idea achievable.”

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland called upon Dean Rogers to temporarily step in as Ohio’s Attorney General in May.  She graciously accepted the challenge and returned to Ohio State as a law faculty member in January 2009.

It’s time to reflect on Dean Rogers’ accomplishments during her seven-year tenure as dean of the Moritz College of Law. Sure, there are statistics that can point to marked improvements, but many agree that some of Dean Rogers’ best changes were cultivating a collegial climate between faculty, staff, students, and alumni. That climate welcomed innovative programs, encouraged faculty innovation, and created a community second to none – the Moritz community.

Students

Rogers received her bachelor’s degree with highest distinction from the University of Kansas in 1969 and her law degree from Yale Law School in 1972. After law school, she served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Lambros in Cleveland and practiced law near Glenville, Ohio, at an office of the Cleveland Legal Aid Society.

She began teaching at the Ohio State University College of Law in 1975. She served as associate dean for academic affairs for the College from 1992 to 1997.  In 1996, she received the College of Law Alumni Association’s “Outstanding Professor Award.”

Before becoming dean, Rogers served for two years as vice provost for academic administration at The Ohio State University.

Since Rogers started as dean in 2001, the Moritz student body entering credentials and post-graduation placement rates rose.  New Moritz classes year after year are the most highly credentialed in the College’s history.

Improved student credentials are attributed to several factors, including new scholarships and innovative programs. The College first offered its Leadership Scholarships in the 2007-08 school year. Leadership Scholars and their peers may participate in the College’s new Program on Law and Leadership in which students have access to mentors, leadership courses, speakers, and other events designed to strengthen leadership skills. Students may also participate in the Mentoring and More Program that promotes professionalism by placing groups of students with attorney mentors who meet throughout the year to discuss current issues in law and the profession.

Such programs were encouraged and praised by Dean Rogers.

“She was able to create a climate that created maximum collaboration between students, faculty, alumni, and staff,” said Pamela Lombardi, the College’s assistant dean for career services and external affairs.

Former students said they liked that Rogers could regularly be seen walking throughout Drinko Hall; she would never hesitate to stop and get to know students as well, they said.  That transparency made a massive impression on law students, said Kristen Blackwell ’07, a former Student Bar Association president.

“She seemed to know everybody by name from the beginning and made huge efforts to know all the incoming students,” Blackwell said. “She was a very interactive dean.”

Rogers also oversaw the addition of Lou’s Café in Drinko Hall, which has added a comfortable location within the building for students to meet, chat, and study.  The Frank C. Woodside III Courtroom was renovated and equipped with the latest technology.  When Dean Rogers started as dean the College had two journals; it now has five.  She led efforts to create the Barrister Club, an alumni-funded, multi-million dollar dining and meeting facility immediately across the street from Drinko Hall. She also pushed for the creation of law student apartments in the South Campus Gateway.

“Nancy had the foresight to realize that if a quarter of the student body lived within a block of the law school that it would have quite an impact,” said Josh Stulberg, the College’s associate dean for faculty.

Blackwell said she was unsure of how administrators would react to a proposal to start “town hall meetings” in her third year at the College. The town hall meetings were presented as a way for administrators to answer mostly impromptu questions from the student body.

“Dean Rogers simply said ‘let’s do it,’” Blackwell said. “She handled it so well. There were some questions that were asked that they knew about, but then we opened it up to a question-and-answer session. I think she gained a lot of respect from students just to be able to do that. There was an obvious intention to be as transparent as possible.”

Faculty

That same approach was used in her collaboration with faculty, Moritz professors agreed.  When Rogers became dean she was already a member of a strong and diverse faculty.  Somehow, she continued to attract and to retain some of the best professors in the country.

“Nancy’s embodiment and articulation of the highest ideals for the legal academy, and through her tireless, endlessly creative, and selfless leadership, wonderful things have happened and continue to happen at the College,” Dean Michaels said.  “Her leadership has shepherded the College through a period of growth in both stature and faculty size while preserving the cooperative, collegial atmosphere that has long been one of the hallmarks of this faculty.”

The gift made by Michael E. Moritz ’61 shortly before Rogers became dean resulted in the addition of four chaired professorships. But she went on to head a fundraising campaign that created two additional faculty chairs, one professorship, and seven designated professorships.

As the faculty grew, Rogers managed to maintain a community amongst faculty members that encouraged collaboration and success. That culture encouraged faculty members to present their own creative ideas, and they would be encouraged to pursue those ideas.  “She would take those ideas and help people think even more creatively,” Stulberg said. “That environment allowed extraordinary things to happen.”

And they have.  Since 2001, the College has added countless programs that were presented by several faculty members. Professor Dale Oesterle pitched the idea for the now quite successful Schottenstein Zox & Dunn’s Distinguished Practitioners in Residence Program in Business Law.  The faculty-inspired Election Law @ Moritz program created during her tenure has expanded into one of the largest election law research organizations in the country.  The College’s study abroad program was expanded to include a semester-long program at Oxford, and a new LL.M. program for foreign lawyers was started.

Scholarly publications and citations of faculty scholarship grew expansively.

Faculty and staff said they cherished Dean Rogers’ ability to send short congratulatory e-mails, pass on compliments, and recognize faculty scholarship.

“When you work with good people you spend most of your time trying to keep them and make them know how appreciated they are,” Rogers said.  “That is the bulk of the job of a leader who is fortunate enough to be leading such great people.”

Professor Sarah Cole, who acknowledged her great admiration for Rogers and her work in dispute resolution, said that Rogers’ generosity never failed to impress her.  When the two women co-authored a treatise together, Rogers insisted that all of her royalties be paid to Cole and that Rogers’ name appear last on the title page.

Cole said Dean Rogers led by example in this and other ways, which included Rogers’ unmatched work ethic.

“Her work ethic puts other people’s to shame,” Cole said.  “She is selfless in her time devoted to the university.”  Cole explained how she could send an e-mail at anytime, day or night, to Dean Rogers and she always responded in what seemed like just moments later.

Alumni

When Rogers became dean in 2001, the College was just beginning a $30 million fundraising campaign for the College.

Through Rogers’ leadership, the College was able to surpass its $30 million goal.  The generosity – made by hundreds of Moritz alumni – will benefit the College in incalculable ways for years to come.

“She made a lot of personal trips around the state and country to talk to people,” said Sally Bloomfield, a 1969 graduate and a member of the College’s National Council. “It is obvious to me that she truly liked meeting and talking with alumni.  She was not just coming with her hand out.  She was honestly interested in them, and I can absolutely understand how alumni are responsive to that.  She just has her quiet, personable way of doing things.”

In 2007, Rogers was named president of the Association of American Law Schools.  Carl Monk, the executive director of AALS while Rogers was president, said that Rogers made significant strides in promoting diversity in the association’s 170-member law schools.

“She is soft spoken,” Monk said.  “But nobody should mistake her quietness for a lack of commitment, firmness, and tenacity in pursuing common goals.”

Another one of Nancy’s legacies is a pipeline program designed to interest youth in the legal field. She advocated tirelessly for the program, which has completed its inaugural session and is run by the Supreme Court of Ohio throughout the state. Eighth graders from Columbus Public Schools attended the expansive course inside Drinko Hall and ended the program with a mock trial.

Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer ’64 said that what has always impressed him about Rogers is her leadership ability. No matter who she was dealing with, Rogers seemed to know how to determine their strengths and let them excel, Justice Moyer said.

“One of the attributes of a successful leader is that they are able to identify the strong values in other people and to cause those values to be applied to issues and processes,” he said. “Nancy is a master at that. Many of these things wouldn’t have happened without her very modest leadership style.  She is a very effective leader because she does give credit to others.  She is secure enough in her own self that she likes to surround herself with people who will challenge and offer ideas, and she is very willing to give them credit.”

Rogers’ leadership and her devotion to the faculty, staff, students, and alumni at Moritz each contributed to her success as dean. The effects of that success will continue to define the College well beyond our lifetimes.

“The thought of the College being a community of learning that is second to none for her was much more than a slogan, it was a creed,” Dean Michaels said.  “She always asked what was good for the College; she always did what was best for the College; and she never stopped encouraging others do to the same.”