Minnesota native Wippman named new Law School dean


The search committee for hiring the dean began with a list of 200 potential candidates.

After nearly eight months of searching, David Wippman, vice provost for International Relations at Cornell University, was named new dean of the Law School.

Wippman, 53, is set to begin his new position in July, pending approval by the Board of Regents.

A Minnesota native, Wippman said he is excited to reconnect with old friends in the area, while taking on a position with “a lot of possibility for taking what is already a wonderful law school and strengthen it even further.”

Following the resignation of former Law School Dean Alex Johnson Jr. and a year of leadership by interim co-deans Fred L. Morrison and Guy-Uriel E. Charles, a search committee began the selection process for a new dean.

Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the Carlson School of Management, co-chaired the committee from May through December 2007.

The search committee began with a list of nearly 200 names, she said, and evaluated the candidates against a list of seven criteria developed by the Law School’s main constituents.

In November, the committee announced five final candidates, who then all made an intensive two-day visit to campus, Davis-Blake said.

During the visit, which Wippman described as “both fascinating and tiring,” Wippman said he found “an intellectual excitement that exists (in the Law School).”

The search committee worked by consensus, Davis-Blake said, and the enthusiasm for Wippman is shared by faculty, staff and students throughout the Law School community.

“What was unique (about Wippman) was the bundle of attributes he had,” she said.

Wippman combined many of the seven criteria the search committee had identified, she said, such as vision for the Law School, willing to be an academic leader and the ability to engage in effective fundraising.

“It’s the combination of dimensions that he brought that was quite unique,” she said.

Wippman began his law career in the early 1980s in Washington.

He said his 10 years in private practice “triggered my interest in international laws.”

Wippman’s work ranged from representing the Interim Government of National Unity in Liberia to working toward a “landmark decision in the international court of justice” on the use of U.S. force in Nicaragua.

In 1992, Wippman made the move from private practice to academia when he took a position at Cornell Law School.

Stewart Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler dean of Cornell Law School, said he helped recruit Wippman to Cornell.

“He had a very distinguished legal career before coming in to the legal academy, even a bit longer than many academics,” Schwab said.

In 15 years as a legal scholar and educator, Schwab said Wippman has “grown in forcefulness and stature.”

Wippman is “a lawyer in the best sense,” Schwab said. “He has good judgment, he listens well, knows that there’s multiple sides to any issues that you’re thinking about.”

Wippman’s colleagues at Cornell described him as a careful thinker, honest and honorable and very diplomatic.

Glenn Altschuler, the dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, said although he has seen Wippman “use both directness, charm and good humor” to create Cornell programming in Hong Kong and Africa, it is “watching David struggle to master the game of poker” he’ll miss the most.

Altschuler said he is “personally and professionally devastated” to see Wippman leave Cornell.

“If somebody’s your friend, as much as you’ll miss that person, you have to stand up and cheer when an opportunity like this comes along and he takes it,” he said.

Wippman said he feels his experience as an associate dean and vice provost has well prepared him for the position of law school dean.

The vice provost position, a newly created position when Wippman assumed it in 2004, has “given me a much better understanding of the university system,” he said.

A father of two who enjoys biking on the weekends, Wippman said he is excited to return to Minnesota and a city he has long considered home.

Deans at law schools around the nation face common challenges, Wippman said. The dean of a law school is concerned with how to recruit and retain faculty and ensuring financial resources for the school through aggressive fundraising.

In the past three years, Wippman said his teaching schedule has been greatly reduced due to his increased responsibilities, but he’s been able to teach a class here and there.

“The most important thing is to convey the excitement that is inherent in studying law,” he said. “Give (students) an idea how much law structures our society.”

When Wippman begins in July, he will be trading a schedule of international travel and coordination of foreign delegate visits for a more hands on role in legal education.

“It’s a collaborative adventure,” he said of the dean position. “Being a scholar can be a solitary pursuit. As a law school dean, you’re really working closely with constituencies.”

Schwab said he thinks Wippman will be able to influence students and leaders outside the Law School by being a great role model and leader.

“He’s interested in the next generation of law students and legal scholarship,” Schwab said. “I think you’ve made a very good choice.”