This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

  October 2, 2000

New Dean's Plans for Law School
Include Indian Law Center

When Nell Jessup Newton took a job with California Indian Legal Services in the summer of 1974, she hoped to earn some money before her second year of law school. What started out as a summer job has grown into a lifelong interest in Indian law.

Newton's passion may soon transform the University of Connecticut School of Law, where she became dean on Aug. 1 and where she hopes to build a center for the study of Indian law.

"I believe that the law school could be an important resource for helping Indian tribes, state officials, business firms, and individuals understand the complexities of Indian law," Newton says.

The field, which is at the forefront of politics in Connecticut and the nation, has become more prominent since Newton first became interested in it more than 25 years ago. The mismanagement of Indian tribal trust funds, which was the topic of a law review comment Newton wrote in the 1970s, is now the subject of a billion dollar lawsuit.

The 1982 edition of The Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the definitive look at the topic, was one volume. The next edition, for which Newton is the editor-in-chief, will be three.

An energetic and enthusiastic woman, Newton doesn't shy away from the challenge of both continuing her research in a closely watched field and leading the law school. Less than two months after her arrival, she has an ambitious list of goals that includes improving the law school's national rankings, sprucing up its Hartford campus and starting new programs.

It's Newton's desire to raise the profile of a school she says is already flourishing that propels her to walk from her home in Hartford's West End to the nearby law school each morning and keeps her there, sometimes with her dog to keep her company, late many evenings.

"The law school is ranked in the top 50 of all ABA-approved law schools nationwide, but anyone familiar with the quality of our law school faculty and students believes that we should rank far higher," says Newton, who came to the law school after a stint as the dean of the University of Denver College of Law.

According to Newton, the law school has the potential to be one of the top 10 public law schools in the country. Ask how she plans to make that potential a reality, and Newton will rattle off a list of accomplishments she hopes to make common knowledge and a host of improvements she'd like to make.

The law school has four professors who teach intellectual property courses, and is the only one in the country that allows first-year students to take an elective introductory course in the topic, she says. However, more can be done.

"We hope to create a center for intellectual property and policy that will strengthen the law school's presence in that area," she says. "We hope to add expertise in patent law and litigation, telecommunications, and international intellectual property issues to create a program that will be world-class."

Newton also knows that students care about more than just academics and plans to address those needs too.

"We have a beautiful campus, but the creation of exciting new programs has resulted in our being very short on space at the law school," she says. "In addition to desperately needed office space, I dream of adding a dormitory to the campus some day. A dormitory with a small gym and a coffee shop would not only help us provide housing for our students, but provide a place for student-faculty interchange, which is important for nurturing community on a campus so isolated from the main campus."

Of all the changes Newton is proposing, the desire to make sure all qualified students can afford to attend the law school is probably the most pressing.

"We are at a disadvantage with private law schools because we do not have sufficient scholarship funds to keep students who are offered better packages by the competition," she says. "We need to build our scholarship endowment to continue to attract the best and brightest to the law school."

Some may say that hiring Newton as dean was a step in that direction. She received a J.D. with distinction from the University of California Hastings College of the Law. And before becoming dean at the University of Denver College of Law, she was on the faculty at American University's Washington College of Law and Catholic University School of Law.

Allison Thompson