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Women Taking the Lead -- Phoebe Haddon

UMD Law School Dean Phoebe Haddon - Steve Ruark
UMD Law School Dean Phoebe Haddon - Steve Ruark

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She's a lawyer and a professor. A city-dweller and a mom. A woman of color and a leader. She's new to Baltimore and a positive force to be reckoned with.

Phoebe Haddon, dean of the University of Maryland School of Law, arrived on the in July 2009 and immediately established herself as someone to watch.

"She really just took the search committee by storm when we first met with her. She was so charismatic and she had the qualities that made her a perfect fit for us," says Bob Percival, director of the environmental law program. "She was someone who could bring diverse groups together"

Percival, who has been teaching for nearly 23 years, says Haddon, 59, is a good listener. "She's not seeking to impose ideas that are just her own, but she's reaching out to students, alumni, faculty, staff, the community, everyone," he says.

As dean, Haddon is responsible for guiding the law school into the future, nurturing faculty, staff and students and maintaining a positive relationship with the community.

Despite the challenges, Haddon finds her new role exhilarating. "I usually leave the office exhausted, but enthused by what I am doing," she says.

A shining example

Haddon, who has a background in strategic planning, was a law professor for more than 25 years at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. before moving to Baltimore. She also served on committees for several legal education organizations. Becoming a dean was not necessarily a part of the plan, but Haddon found the opportunity at the University of Maryland hard to resist.

With minorities making up 30 percent of the student body, it was the school's diversity that attracted Haddon.

"Diversity is an issue that's really important for the legal process and judicial system as a whole," she says. "It affects our entire country." Haddon is the first African-American female dean in the law school's 185-year history and is one among a small group of just six women of color who oversee law schools in the United States, according to the Association of American Law Schools

Some School of Law students say she and other faculty are the first minorities they've had as educators, she says.

"Any dean who is a woman or a minority realizes they're a role model," Haddon says. It's a position Haddon values and realizes comes with a lot of responsiblity.

Haddon had an abundance of role models from what she calls a "long legacy" of teachers and lawyers.

"That legacy includes a sense of obligation and a warm connection to the community they lived in," Haddon says.

Her great grandfather, Andrew Bassette was an educator and lawyer who taught newly freed slaves in Hampton, Va. for 39 years. In 1895 the city named a school after him. A.W.E. Bassette Elementary maintains the name today.

Her grandmother, Ursula Haddon, lived to be more than 100 years old and was a schoolteacher in Abberville, S.C. for more than 50 years. "The whole city knew her. Everybody -- whites, blacks -- came to ask her about relatives and genealogy."

Haddon is following her grandmother's lead here in Baltimore.

Legal eagles in the community

She recently went on a four-hour tour of the city with Brenda Blom, a law school professor who takes a special interest in getting students, staff and faculty familiar with the community.

"It introduced me to the city and its social issues," Haddon says, calling Baltimore "broad, rich and diverse." On the tour, Haddon explored all the city's neighborhoods from those that are struggling to those that are flourishing. "I love the city and plan to get to know some of the park areas and bike paths this spring."

The University of Maryland School of Law considers investment in the city a priority, Haddon says.

Through its Clinical Law Program, "We give 110,000 hours to the community and that has a great impact on the city," Haddon says. The program provides the city and state with free legal services while giving students first-hand experience in the field.

It is the school's commitment to social justice and community involvement that attracted Holly Beaty, a third year law student.

Beaty says she immediately benefited from Haddon's arrival at the University of Maryland. A paper she had been working on touched on several of the dean's areas of expertise.

"Even though she was just transitioning into her new role she still took the time to read the proposal and offer some very thoughtful feedback," Beaty says. "One of the things that I think is so great about going to school here is the dedication, the passion the support of the faculty here. She really demonstrated those qualities through that interaction with me."

The school is in capable hands, Beaty says. "I'm proud to have such an accomplished, passionate woman leading the law school into the next decade."

It takes a village

Haddon credits the people at the School of Law for her early and continued success.

"I have a wonderful team of associate deans and assistant deans and other staff who are totally committed to this institution and have been very supportive to me in this transition," she says. "The faculty of prominent scholars and dedicated clinicians are some of the best in the country."

Looking ahead, Haddon says she knows tough decisions are on the horizon, especially given the difficult economic times. "Curriculum, faculty hiring, student admission policies, tuition increases all have a very broad impact and can affect the future of the university," she says.

Haddon is ready for the challenge and hopeful. She intends for the law school's future to be deliberate and "plan-ful." Concrete decisions can be made, she says, by organizing a collaborative effort of faculty, students, staff and the community.

"You can't second guess," she says. "You have to keep moving on."

Haddon lives in the Inner Harbor with her husband Frank M. McClellan, also a law professor. She has three grown children. Their youngest child, Cara McClellan, will graduate from Yale University this spring and plans to go to law school.

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