Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

Susan Westerberg Prager Appointed Dean of Southwestern Law School May 02, 2013
Susan Westerberg Prager Appointed Dean of Southwestern Law School

Susan Westerberg Prager, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and former dean of UCLA School of Law, has been named Dean and Chief Executive Officer of Southwestern Law School. Her five-year term will begin in Fall 2013. Already a trailblazer many times over, Prager will be the first woman to serve as dean in the law school's 100+-year history.

In announcing the appointment, Board Chair Thomas Hoberman said, "The Board considered Dean Prager's stellar credentials and outstanding national reputation in the legal academy and higher education, her pragmatic and inspired vision for our law school, and the extremely enthusiastic support voiced by members of the Southwestern community. We are delighted that Dean Prager will be joining us this Fall."

Prager was selected by the Board following an extensive national search led by a committee of trustees, alumni, and faculty members. She will be the 11th dean of the law school, and succeeds Dean Bryant Garth, who stepped down in July 2012 after seven years in the post. Former Vice Dean Austen Parrish has served as Interim Dean since July 2012.

In accepting the appointment, Dean Prager said, "Southwestern is a remarkable place, with a rich tradition of making a difference in the futures of its students. The law school's innovative and collaborative spirit is part of its DNA. The faculty and countless graduates are committed to helping today's students contribute to the complex and challenging worlds they will occupy as professionals. I feel privileged to have been asked to lead Southwestern Law School at this challenging and exciting time in legal education."   

The search for Bryant Garth's successor was chaired by Mike Downer '81, Vice-Chair of the Southwestern Board of Trustees, and Senior Vice President, Secretary and Chief Legal Officer at Capital Research and Management Company. "Dean Prager has the experience, skills and vision needed to continue building on the terrific momentum Southwestern gained under Dean Garth," Downer said. "We are thrilled that such a high-caliber individual will lead Southwestern into its second century."

Dean Emeritus Bryant Garth added, "Susan's knowledge, experience and national stature give her outstanding tools both to guide and mentor our faculty and to attract additional top quality scholar-teachers."

Commenting on Prager's appointment, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said: "We are pleased to welcome back to Los Angeles the nationally distinguished lawyer and academician Susan Prager. With Susan at its helm, Southwestern Law School will continue to be one of the great and most diverse trailblazing legal institutions that provides so many of this State's most distinguished judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and partners in top law firms."

Originally from Sloughhouse in Sacramento County, Dean Prager earned both her A.B. (1964) and M.A. (1967) degrees in History at Stanford University. She then worked for California's senior U.S. Senator and minority whip Thomas Kuchel, Congressman Pete McCloskey, and California Assemblyman John Veneman from Modesto. She went on to complete her J.D. degree in 1971 at UCLA School of Law, where she served as editor-in-chief of the UCLA Law Review.

Leading UCLA's Law School

Prager practiced law in North Carolina and then returned to her alma mater in 1972 as a member of the UCLA law faculty, teaching in the areas of community property, family law, wills and trusts, and historic preservation. When she was named Dean a decade later, Prager was the first female law dean in the UC system and one of only two women serving in that capacity in the entire country. She served from 1982 to 1998, the longest tenure of any dean in UCLA law school history, and is particularly proud to be the first alum to become dean of the law school at UCLA.

Dean Prager worked successfully with the UCLA law faculty and university administration to strengthen the intellectual environment and operation of the law school. She cultivated a culture of excellence in both research and teaching, furthered diversity within the student body, and oversaw the appointment of dynamic new faculty and endowed chair holders. She enhanced the curriculum in areas such as international, environmental, public interest, entertainment and corporate law, and spearheaded the expansion of the clinical program. Her legacy includes two major building projects, the Clinical Wing and the Hugh & Hazel Darling Law Library, as well as major advancements in technology, the launch of the law school's first major fundraising efforts, and the successful completion of one of the University of California's first major building project public-private partnerships. Upon her departure from the deanship, the law school established a named faculty chair in her honor.

Learning of Prager's new decanal appointment, UCLA Professor and former Associate Dean Devon Carbado said, "Susan Prager was a terrific dean at UCLA Law School. She established a robust tradition of fundraising, facilitated closer ties to the practicing bar, strengthened the curriculum via a range of innovative initiatives, enhanced the intellectual life of the law school, and grew the faculty. At the same time, she promoted intellectual and demographic diversity both within the faculty and the student body. I have little doubt that she will achieve similar results at Southwestern Law School. Indeed, I look forward to her accomplishments and to seeing Southwestern continue on its impressive upward trajectory."

While at UCLA, Prager became the second woman ever elected as President of the AALS, and also served on the governing boards of the Law School Admission Council and the Council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

According to Professor Lauren Robel, Provost, Executive Vice President and Val Nolan Professor of Law at Indiana University, who is also a past President of AALS, "Susan knows legal education better than anyone else in the world. She combines this enormous knowledge with exquisite judgment and the sophistication and nuance that she brings to decision making. She will be a fantastic dean for Southwestern."

Leadership in Interdisciplinary Higher Education

Dean Prager left the legal academy to pursue other opportunities in higher education in 1999. As Provost of Dartmouth College, she oversaw the professional schools, worked closely with the faculty to further the synergies between teaching and research, and led the development of a long-term physical plan for the campus, as well as the academic planning effort in preparation for a subsequent highly successful fundraising campaign. In her capacity as Dartmouth's chief academic officer, all of the services to the academic program reported to her, including libraries, computing, the Hood Museum of Art, and the Hopkins Center for the Arts. During her brief service as President of Occidental College in Los Angeles, Prager expanded institutional and foundation support for undergraduate student research, furthered study abroad opportunities, and worked closely with faculty and staff in developing programs promoting student independence and responsibility.

Jamshed Bharucha, President of The Cooper Union in New York City and former Dean of the Faculty at Dartmouth College, worked closely with Prager during her years at Dartmouth. He sees Prager as "a powerful enabler of people's good ideas" and explains, "Susan wants to know what people's aspirations are and how she can orient the priorities to promote excellence. She will move with a lot of energy to understand the opportunities and challenges, and then will create a path toward progress, identifying the people who can get from A to B." Bharucha emphasizes: "The A to B path is not just her path; she listens to the best ideas."

National Leadership Through the AALS

In 2008, Prager was named Executive Director and CEO of the AALS, the nation's principal representative of America's law schools and the scholarly society of the law teaching profession. As the top administrator of the organization, she has worked with the volunteer executive board and faculty committees in evaluating schools for membership and providing programs designed to enhance law deans, faculty and administrators' effectiveness, including the AALS Annual Meeting, the largest gathering of law professors in the world. Under her leadership, the AALS has furthered its core values, which have contributed to the high quality of legal education in the U.S; brought issues of importance to law schools before legislative bodies, courts and administrative agencies; and influenced the debate over the standards for law school accreditation.

According to Professor Leo Martinez, the Albert Abramson Professor of Law at Hastings College of the Law and President of the AALS, "Susan Prager's vision, indefatigable energy, and ever-present optimism have ably guided the AALS for these past five years. While she will be missed, like all strong leaders, she leaves a better organization than she inherited, and her wealth of experience will be an indispensable part of Southwestern Law School's future success."

Dean Daniel Rodriguez of Northwestern University School of Law and President-Elect of AALS, added, "Her leadership at the AALS has been especially remarkable and important as it has coincided with one of the most turbulent periods in legal education. There is no person with a greater commitment to the improvement of legal education than Susan, and the single best evidence of this is her willingness to get right back in the saddle and take on a deanship. She is a true legend in legal education and higher education in general. Southwestern is extraordinarily lucky to have Susan come aboard."

Prager was a trustee of Stanford University for 14 years, serving as the Board's Vice President and Chair of its Academic Policy Committee. She has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Mutual Holding Company (Pacific Life) since 1979, the Access Group (non-profit student loan corporation) and the American Council on Legal Education, and was a member of the California Commission on Campaign Financing and the California Community Colleges Commission on Innovation.

A Leading Voice for Diversity in Higher Education

An outspoken advocate for intellectual and racial diversity throughout her career, Prager has counseled community groups and legislators and testified before congressional subcommitees in the affirmative action debate. "Susan Prager is a trailblazer, a champion of diversity, and one of the most highly admired women in legal education," said Professor Catherine Carpenter, a member of the Dean Search Committee. "As one who has worked hard her entire professional life to increase diversification of the profession, Dean Prager shares Southwestern's long-standing commitment to access and multiculturalism."  

The recipient of the Los Angeles Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund's (MALDEF) 1997 Legal Services Award, Prager was honored with the Los Angeles Israel Cancer Research Fund's Women of Action Award (1996), and the Madrina Award of the UCLA Latino Alumni Association (1998). On the occasion of the conclusion of her tenure as Dean, the UCLA Law Alumni Association presented her with its first Lifetime Achievement Award. She later received the highest award of the greater UCLA Alumni Association, The Edward A. Dickson Award, named for the UC Regent who played a significant role in the creation of UCLA.

A Student-Centered Approach

Prager noted that her interactions with Southwestern students were influential in her decision to accept the deanship. "It was clear to me that many of the students understand how important it is to shape the direction of your own life," she said. "Along with this comes a feeling of responsibility to the law school with which their careers will be permanently linked. Many of them appreciate the broad range of options and opportunities that Southwestern has afforded them, and they are proud of the school's mission to further access to the profession in a highly diverse environment that benefits students of all races and life circumstances. The maturity and insight they display provides evidence of their capacity to become highly effective professionals, and I'm eager to begin working with them and with Southwestern's devoted and outstanding faculty."

Stephanie Peatman, a second-year student and President of Southwestern's Student Bar Association, said, "When I first met Dean Prager, she had this wonderful aura of both authority and approachability - what I always thought a dean should personify. She immediately put me at ease, and I knew that Southwestern was really where she belonged."

Interim Dean Austen Parrish said, "Susan Prager brings tremendous expertise to the law school. Her distinguished career fits wonderfully with Southwestern's mission, the school's leadership in providing a practice-focused legal education, and its extraordinary commitment to the local community. Her insights and wealth of experience, as well has her strong connections to Los Angeles, make Susan an exceptional choice."