Message from Dean Pratt

Not Goodbye; Just Farewell My Friends,

Photograph: Carla Pratt speaking at farewell party on May 23, 2022.As I write this final message as dean of Washburn University School of Law, I am reminding myself that I am not saying goodbye. I will not say goodbye to the many friends that I have made while serving as dean of this great law school. When I arrived at Washburn four years ago, you all welcomed me so warmly. Many of you invited me into your home to share a meal, others offered to introduce me to people who might be interested in helping to advance the law school, and others sent an email or a handwritten note card with kind words of appreciation and encouragement. All of you have made my deanship a successful one, and for that I thank you.

Together we have accomplished a lot in the past four years. When I arrived, Dr. Farley made it clear that the primary job for me was to complete the fundraising for a new law school building so that construction on the building could begin. Marshall Meek at the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation made the decision to have all of the foundation's gift officers help with fundraising for the new law school building. Patrick Mikesic educated me about all of the past fundraising efforts and introduced me to alumni and friends who might have an interest in supporting the project. As a result, we exceeded the university's fundraising goal and redesigned the law school building so that is would support Zoom and other broadcast technology that would enable us to broadcast classes and events in Topeka to audiences around the world.

I will miss my faculty colleagues here at Washburn. The faculty is at the heart of every law school. The faculty creates the curriculum and the academic rules that govern the program of legal education. When I arrived, Washburn had long enjoyed a reputation of being a law school that graduated "practice ready" lawyers who had the training to be effective legal advocates in their first year of law practice and beyond. Consequently, when the ABA amended the distance education standard to permit up to one-third of the JD degree to be taught via distance education, I knew that Washburn needed to build upon its practice-ready reputation by creating a program that would allow rising third-year students to move to the city or town where they intend to live and practice law and complete their final year of law school in an immersive practical externship. The immersive externship would be supervised by a licensed lawyer, preferably a Washburn alumnus, who would give the student practical experience in the area of law in which the student hoped to practice after passing the bar. When I asked the Washburn Law faculty to adopt such a program for our students, it was a big ask. At the new dean's workshop that I had attended, the advice to new deans was: "don't seek to make any major changes in your first year." Hence, I knew that I was entering risky territory when I asked the faculty to adopt what we now call "Third Year Anywhere™." But I also knew that if any law school faculty could launch such a big change to legal education, and do it well, it would be the Washburn Law faculty. Washburn Law faculty members have long been known nationwide for outstanding teaching, so I knew that this faculty had the expertise to launch "Third Year Anywhere™." Thankfully legal education agreed. Media outlets have called our Third Year Anywhere program "revolutionary," "innovative," and "just what legal education needs." The first cohort of students in Third Year Anywhere™ graduated this month, and their feedback to me has been overwhelmingly positive with one student proclaiming: "every law school should do this for students!" While Third Year Anywhere™ was my brainchild, it was the law faculty that created the academic program, rules and instruction that translated the idea into an actual capstone learning experience for students. I am so grateful to the faculty for embracing Third Year Anywhere™ and making it such a success.

As we were starting to share the good news of Third Year Anywhere™, the pandemic hit, forcing us to use the week of the 2020 spring break to teach all the faculty how to use our Desire to Learn course management system and Zoom so that we could shift all instruction online. I remember that week vividly. There were many faculty members who doubted whether they would be able to teach fully online, but I had no doubt that they would all rise to the challenge, and they did. Our staff also rose to the challenge with many of them volunteering to be "deputized" as technology support specialists who would serve as "tech deputies" to support our faculty. Each faculty member was assigned a tech deputy who sat through all of that faculty member's classes and helped the faculty member with the technology necessary to teach the class. Our staff were true heroes during the pandemic, and they continue to deliver outstanding service to our students as many of them continue to struggle with the residual effects of the pandemic. When we returned to in-person instruction, we implemented safety protocols that kept our faculty and staff healthy and able to continue to deliver outstanding legal education.

As we were grappling with the pandemic, George Floyd was murdered by police officers, and we all saw the crime through the eyes of bystanders who videotaped it while pleading for the officers to stop squeezing the life out of Mr. Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by self-proclaimed neighborhood watchmen merely for walking onto someone's property to admire a new home being built; something I have done countless times. Young Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police while relaxing in her own home. In response, students at Washburn and across the nation marched in protest demanding that the government seek justice for these families, and that we do more as a nation to end racialized violence under color of law. Our faculty convened and unanimously adopted an anti-racist resolution reaffirming Washburn Law's long-standing commitment to anti-racism. Law school deans across the country were committing their law schools to do more work toward racial justice. I partnered with four other law school deans and the Association of American Law Schools to create an anti-racist clearinghouse for law schools that could be used as a framework for those schools that wanted to do more. Washburn's work is continuing, and I am proud that Washburn Law's friends and alumni have helped us create scholarships for students who want to do work on issues such as gender equity and racial justice.

Despite all the challenges that we have confronted during my deanship, our reputation in US News has risen from 132 to 105, the highest that we have been ranked since the inception of the US News ranking. Most of this rise in rank is due to the improved credentials of the entering first-year classes that we have enrolled and the fact that our peer reputation score has increased. That score is generated from the feedback of other law professors around the country in legal academia. I have no doubt that our great marketing team's efforts to showcase the research, scholarship, and other accomplishments of our outstanding faculty has positively influenced the judgment of our peers. We owe many thanks to Marketing Director Karli Davis, Ryan Purcell, and Martin Wisneski for their marketing and communications work that shares the outstanding work of the Washburn Law faculty with a broad audience.

We have had many other accomplishments this past four years, but the aforementioned accomplishments are the ones that stand out in my mind. On May 24, I handed the leadership baton off to Dean Jeffrey Jackson. Dean Jackson is an alumnus of the Washburn School of Business and Washburn Law, so no one is more committed to Washburn than he is. I know that he will work hard to continue the upward trajectory of the law school, and I will be cheering him on from the sidelines. Serving as your dean has been the highlight of my career. It has afforded me a platform to influence legal education in an effort to make it better, and it has afforded me many friendships that I will carry with me. So, I won't say goodbye. Instead, I will say, Godspeed to you and to Washburn, until I see you again.



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Photograph: Dean Carla D. Pratt.

Carla D. Pratt
Dean, 2018-2022

Dean Pratt talks about the impact education has had on her life and how law has a role in shaping higher education (3:43 minutes).
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Dean Pratt talks to "TopLawSchools" about Washburn Law's student life, academics, admissions process, career opportunties, employment outcomes, and more.