Law School Dean Michael Moffitt resigns effective summer 2017

Dear Colleagues,

It is my duty today to announce that Michael Moffitt, dean, Philip H. Knight chair and professor of law, has chosen to step down as dean effective July 1, 2017. Michael will return to his faculty role, which he has held since joining the University of Oregon School of Law in 2001.

I speak for his fellow deans and everyone in Academic Affairs when I say his leadership of the law school will be truly missed.

While this is a tremendous loss to the university, his decision to continue in his faculty role will ultimately greatly benefit our law school students and the discipline of law. Michael’s scholarship in the areas of alternative dispute resolution, civil procedure, arbitration, mediation, and negotiation are well known in the legal world.

In 2011, Michael accepted the role of dean, a position in which he has served with distinction. Under his leadership, the school improved its quality and reputational ranking at the same time that law schools across the country were experiencing declining enrollments. Over the past five years, he and his law school colleagues have energized specialty areas within the JD program, while building a Portland presence for Oregon Law students and instituting a new legal studies undergraduate program.

It was my and President Michael Schill’s sincerest hope that Michael would continue as dean and build upon these successes for another five years, especially after the many wonderful accomplishments observed during his intensive five-year review. However, we understand this is ultimately a personal decision, and we respect that. This is a pivotal moment for the University of Oregon. We have a number of dean searches ongoing, and while Michael’s decision adds to the work ahead, it also represents an opportunity as we collectively shape our future.

In the coming weeks, we will develop and share a search plan to ensure a smooth transition in the School of Law.

In the meantime, please join me in thanking Michael for his exemplary service as dean to the School of Law and the entire University of Oregon.


Scott Coltrane
Senior Vice President and Provost

[UOM: Links to Moffitt’s November 5-year-review talk, the $10M law bailout, and his botched sports and conflict resolution program are here.]

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43 Responses to Law School Dean Michael Moffitt resigns effective summer 2017

  1. Anonymous says:

    Another excellent personnel decision by President Schill. The UO turnaround continues!

  2. Dog says:


    if its summer 2017 then this is a announcement is very early
    I wonder if its supposed to be 2016?

    Don’t jump on Schill yet – the successor could be better or worse

    the structural problems that exist at the Law school is the real thing that needs to be corrected

    • Cat says:

      Maybe the plan is for him to stay in place while a search is conducted next year.

      I still say: “hooray!”

  3. Hippo says:

    Can we shut the law school already? Given the cuts proposed in CAS, which actually has departments not in the bottom of national rankings, it seems insane that we are keeping the nationally weak Law School on life support.

    • Trond Jacobsen says:

      Oregon can’t be a great university without a law school.

      The challenge I think is to strengthen our law school, probably by building out from current areas of strength.

      • Hippo says:

        What is the evidence for your first statement?

        • Dog says:

          exactly, since we are such a Great University with a law school ..

          By the way, what exactly is a Great University?

          • Anonymous says:

            Unless you think UO is the next Princeton,
            We need a law school. Pretty much all the top universities have a law school. If you get rid of it, UO becomes even more provincial.

          • Fishwrapper says:

            OSU doesn’t have a law school, and they’re pretty great (well, not in football, but in metrics that count…)

      • Duckduckgo says:

        The subsidy doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A good question is, “what is a certain ranking of the law school worth?”. At the UO, trying to push the Law School from being ranked 100 to somewhere under 90 is worth cutting back on faculty hires in many other schools and departments, pushing NTTFs to teach more classes, delaying infrastructure repairs, etc. Now that they’ve been seeing the modest effects of $10 million a year subsidy, why not cut that in half and wipe out the CAS deficit at the same time?

        • uomatters says:

          It’s not $10M per year, I think it’s over 3 or so years. But that’s just a guess, even the Deans can’t figure out where UO’s money is going.

        • Hippo says:

          Dude, it seems you don’t know what is going on in CAS. NTTFs are not being pushed to teach more classes, rather, they are being cut, and it will be TTF who teach more classes. That is a hard pill to swallow, given some of CAS resources are diverted to the law school, which is the bottom-of-the-barrel program.

          • Dog says:

            Wow, this implies that someone actually does know what is going on in CAS! That would be a miracle.

          • Duckduckgo says:

            Perhaps it differs from department to department. Both your statement and mine are true for some departments, at least. Both are attempts to reduce cost, and we agree that the law school subsidy seems to be a rescue attempt for a poorly ranked program by endangering some good departments in CAS.

      • Thom Aquinas says:

        Says who? Aren’t here enough lawyers already? We’d be just fine believe me.

    • thedude says:

      Even if all Phil Knight did was give the law school enough money in endowment, given it already has his name on the building, that they needed no subsidies and could rise to be a top 40-50 law school.

      Phil, please rescue the law school, even if its just to save your own name….

      • Friend of the Show says:

        The law school Is named for William Knight, Phil Knight’s father. He was a prominent Oregon lawyer. Our library is named for the Knight family as a whole. Phil Knight has not asked to put his own name solely on any building on the UO campus.

        • someguy says:

          Then for his father’s name sake endow the law school to make it a top 50 law school.

          Unless we want to abandon rankings because we are above them…

        • Jack Straw Man says:

          Distinction without a difference. Does anybody think of Knight Library or Knight Arena and *not* think of Phil? Which is, of course, part of the point of naming it after family members. *Whose* family, is the important question.

    • Dog says:

      better yet
      let’s just sell it

      this is not unprecedented

      • There was a baby in that bath water? Oopsies. says:

        Or perhaps give it to Oak Hill School? the RG reports this is how the education dean plans to “rescue” the UO’s 35-year-old marquee pipeline program for eager, able learners (SEP), I can hardly wait to see his next great idea.

    • Alumnus says:

      I disagree. The Law School not only has done a pitiful job preparing its students to compete for jobs as lawyers (which is the reason they are paying the big bucks to attend) but also fails to produce much in the way of high-quality scholarship (because people with JDs and nothing more do not magically become erudite scholars from some kind of osmosis resulting from having attended an elite law school and mayyyybe worked as document-reviewing associates for a couple of years at a law firm). Put the law school out of its misery and shut ‘er down.

  4. Publius says:

    The Law School is the last, truly leisured unit at the U of O, a reminder of what life was like for most faculty 30 or 40 years ago before expectations set in. Teaching demands are minimal, with no PhD students chewing up time. The most recent person granted tenure there had published a grand total of five or so articles (depending on what you count as an “article”), all of them in third rate journals, several of them in the U of O Law Review. (Law is the only field whose journal articles are refereed by students, and often largely written by the professor’s students.) The U of O Law School seems to devote all its fundraising to named chairs for its professors, which seem to be awarded when someone publishes their seventh or eighth article. And, of course, law professors’ salaries are at least double that of, say, the Humanities in CAS. (Not to mention the spectacular offices, etc. of law professors, compared to the slum of PLC.)

    I think before any other unit is asked to subsidize all this, someone should come up with a serious plan for bringing the law School into line with the rest of the University.

    • Anonymous says:

      The proper comparison for the law school is other law schools, not humanities departments.

      • someguy says:

        Then how much output do our lawyers generate. Do other comparators get tenure for publishing 3 times in UO law review??

        • Anonymous says:

          No one gets tenure, if, as you imply, they have only published 3 times and all in the UO law review.

          • thedude says:

            Fine. But more generally we might all ask ourselves if our scholarship really compares with the institutions we advocate basing our salaries on.

      • Good point. says:

        That’s interesting, I always compared it to the UO baseball team.

      • Publius says:

        Then don’t ask humanities to subsidize the law school.

        • Anonymous says:

          “I” didn’t ask humanities to subsidize the law school. Again, the comparison is with other law schools — do other law schools get “subsidized” by humanities? I don’t know if they do, do you?

          • thedude says:

            So if you other law schools are subsdized by humanities your ok with that?

            But to be clear, I think humanities and the law school are subsidized by the much large majors through the university and CAS.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t have a snap opinion on one or more schools “subsidizing” any other school. I imagine it happens all the time at universities.
            It’s just all of the “problems” mentioned above are present at law schools in general.

            I’m all for getting rid of silly programs, even at the law school: take the Oxford Program where some old guy takes a bunch of law and cres people to England for a semester abroad/ vacation.
            Now there’s an obvious subsidy for that guy, who I don’t think is even a professor in any college, just some murky emeritus or something.

  5. Cheyney Ryan says:

    I assume I am the “old guy” referenced in this remark. The program mentioned is an intensive one-week workshop on human rights conducted at Oxford University every March. It is now in its fourth year. The workshop is led by Dr. Hugo Slim, currently policy director at the International Committee of the Red Cross and the world’s leading authority on the politics of humanitarian aid. Oregon students are chosen from both the Honors College and Law/CRES, six other universities also send students. The participation of Law/CRES students is paid for entirely by a donation I solicited from a former student of mine some years ago. Should anyone care, I oversee this workshop as part of my duties as director of human rights initiatives for the program on ethics and international law at Oxford University, where I have been a fellow for six years. I continue to teach one course on human rights for the Honors College every fall, which I enjoy enormously. In sum, everything about this remark is inaccurate–except for the fact that I am indeed old.

    • golden parachutist says:

      Anonymous also neglects to mention that Professor Ryan, old though he may be, retains a youthful appearance.

      • uomatters says:

        Comment of the week! Contact our swag office for your free UO Matters coffee cup.

  6. Dave Smith says:

    Hopefully Schill replaces Moffitt with someone that has actually practiced law.

    • Alumnus says:

      Moffitt is actively disdainful of people who have practiced law. Aside from his foray into academic administration, his entire career has been built on touting the wonders of mediation.

      Although there certainly are many people out there who feel like there are too many lawyers and too many lawsuits (and I might be one of those people), I never understood why the ADR cult was allowed to take over a school that we still pretend exists to train lawyers, for whom ADR is just one tool in the box. (As a former litigator, my experience is that ADR is basically a racket intended to line the pockets of the mediators, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.)

  7. falstaff says:

    Clearly, this guy wasn’t cut out for the job – and a reasonable vetting with open eyes would have revealed that! The job was essentially teed up for him more than a decade ago, years before he went through the “search” which hired him as Dean. He had almost no relevant experience – heck, he never practiced law and he was never even the Director of UO Law’s ADR Center; he served as an Associate Dean for a relatively short time and didn’t much of importance while in that role. He came off as aloof, pretentious, falsely humble, arrogant, and oily; he was dreadfully unpopular with the alumni, the Oregon legal community, and in Portland. He made the mistake, repeatedly, of pissing off the wrong people, and many things with which he was involved (CRES, CNC) turned out to be pretty fluffy, even scandalous. So, it’s kind of amazing he ever got the gig in the first place, and that he held onto it as long as he has suggests more about the institution than it does about the person. Bad process, nepotism, shady deal-making, avarice, institutional incest, and conflict avoidance are surely to blame here, as they often are elsewhere in academia and other sectors. Here in particular is an idea we must kill in the future: people spoke of him, both favorably and disapprovingly, as having the “look of a Dean” long before he became one. What does that even mean? How in this day and age can such ludicrous, unreflective, irrational, patently-discriminatory thinking still provide the basis for making crucial decisions and resource commitments, ones that can shape a school and a university for a decade or more? As for the man himself, the obvious toll that the stress-filled years have taken on him reveals that he was never meant for that job. Or as the law-talking guys like to say, “res ipsa loquitur, baby!” Let’s hope UO Law shows greater resilience… and substance, and let’s hope we don’t get fooled again!

  8. Plain Interested says:

    I read the Goatee’s letter three times. Is the Provost saying 1) the 5 year dean review committee recommended Michael Moffett to be dean for other 5 years, but Moffett declined and offer only another year, 2) the 5 year dean review committee recommended getting a new dean, and Moffett stretched it out of another year, or 3) the Provost called off the committee before a decision? No matter what, the President and Provost undercut the process by saying they really wanted him to stay another 5 years as dean, without saying whether the committee recommended it or not. Is the 5 year dean review process real, or not? If the committee recommended getting a new dean, Moffett sucks another full year of being the dean, gets to step down for “personal” reasons, and everyone looks good, not. It looks to me like the President and Provost are not able to communicate clearly and applicants for the new dean coud feel they really aren’t wanted.

    • Rich to poor translator says:

      Here’s some examples of what “fired” can sound like:

      Super rich: I’m not fired, just really busy and want to do other stuff, but I don’t know what that is yet. Thanks for the extra million bucks on my way out, with no explanation. Go Dux!

      Kinda rich: I’m not fired, and I could have kept the job if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. Also, I’ll still work here, just doing something else. I think I’ll also keep my salary where it is, thanks.

      Sorta rich: I’m not fired, but I gotta unexpectedly leave in two weeks because I have some consulting work, medical stuff, or family drama to attend to. I’m also not allowed to disclose to you any details, or mention how much money I may have received in agreement not to disclose anything.

      Not very rich: I didn’t get fired, but I got put on special projects, my contract isn’t going to be renewed, or my department got reorganized.

      Poor: Oh shit, I got fired today. How am I gonna make rent?

      I can see why it might be confusing for some.

  9. falstaff says:

    Moffitt had a 6-year initial deal, and even before he officially took over as Dean he was quoted in the R-G about considering another term after his first six years. He had a 5-year review this year, and at the end of his 6th year he will step down and a new Dean will come in. In other words, next year is a lame duck year; in fact he’s already lame duck now. So, draw your own conclusions about what happened here, but it’s clearly an orderly transition and but let’s not forget that his spouse is VPFA and that he’s a full professor; they’re unlikely to go anywhere else and face-saving cannot be ruled out here.

    • Alumnus says:

      I am going to sound like the oldest old who ever old-ed here, but I think the Law School was a better place before the $18 million building was put up and isolated on the far side of campus, an army of administrators (especially fundraisers) were hired, and fluffy things like CNC (really? really? I was EMBARRASSED to have a degree from UO when that program started up) were created seemingly so that we would have something to spend $ on. Hell, I was embarrassed by the ridiculous expense of the building–it just looks bad when you are throwing an army of unemployed young lawyers with six figures of debt into a saturated market, to be sitting there in a palace.

      (No real sour grapes here, though–like I said, I’m old. And not unemployed.)