Professor Nell Jessup Newton returned to Notre Dame Law School’s faculty this fall after serving as interim dean at the University of Miami School of Law for the 2021-22 academic year and Wake Forest University School of Law for the 2022-23 academic year.
Newton led Notre Dame Law School as dean from 2009 to 2019, and previously served as law dean at the University of Denver, the University of Connecticut, and the University of California, Hastings. Her six deanships is a record number that was noted last year by Law.com and other press that covers higher education and the legal industry.
At both Miami and Wake Forest, she took the helm in the middle of a dean transition and ran the law schools during those transitions. She was able to dive in deeply to get to know the different constituencies — especially faculty, alumni, and university leadership — and bring them together while advising on the recruitment process for a new dean.
“I love to solve problems and help law schools move forward during a transitional period,” Newton said. “Every law school is different and advising the dean search committee to help surface candidates who would be an excellent fit for the law school is also deeply satisfying.”
During the 2021-22 academic year at Miami, she strengthened the law school’s admissions and career development services and led the search for a permanent law dean.
“Nell did an amazing job at Miami,” said David Yellen, who became Dean and M. Minnette Massey Professor of Law after Newton’s interim deanship ended on July 1, 2022.
“She came into a challenging situation, provided great leadership, and helped set the table for a successful transition to a new permanent dean,” Yellen said. “She persuaded me that this was a job worth pursuing. Very few people could have pulled this all off so well.”
Jeffrey Duerk, who served as executive vice president and provost at the University of Miami from July 2017 to July 2023, called Newton “the consummate professional.”
“Nell has the essential interpersonal and leadership skills to take on the most interesting, challenging opportunities, and to make the tough decisions essential for preserving and building momentum,” Duerk said. “Plus, she is an all-around good person.”
Wake Forest University Provost Michele Gillespie said Newton set out to meet every faculty and staff member at the law school as soon as she accepted the interim deanship for the 2022-23 academic year.
“Within weeks of her arrival, she gave me her candid, humane, and optimistic assessment of the school’s opportunities and challenges, then kindly and generously shared her discoveries and assessments with the faculty, and suggested multiple paths forward that the faculty might pursue to solve their difficulties,” Gillespie said.
Newton worked with the Wake Forest law faculty to select a path forward and determine the qualities they needed in the next dean. Gillespie said the search process run by Newton brought exceptional candidates and, ultimately, a wonderful new dean in Andrew Klein.
“Nell is a brilliant scholar, a gifted teacher, and an extraordinarily transparent, visionary leader who can build a strong vibrant collective culture out of honesty, compassion, humor, respect, and straight talk, and all in record time,” Gillespie said. “For all her sharp wit and keen intelligence, she is also quite magical. Our whole university fell in love with Nell Newton, not just the law school, and she leaves Wake Forest a better community because of her incredible talents and gifts.”
G. Marcus Cole, who succeeded Newton as Notre Dame Law School’s Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law, welcomed his predecessor back to campus.
“It’s always nice to have the most experienced dean in the country return to your faculty,” Cole said. “In addition, Nell brings her expertise in Native American law back to Notre Dame Law School.”
Incidentally, Newton’s scholarship was cited multiple times this summer in U.S. Supreme Court cases concerning American Indians — Haaland v. Brackeen, which upheld the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and Arizona v. Navajo Nation, a water rights case.