When Michael Kelly became dean of the University of Maryland law school at the age of 36 in 1974, he was among the youngest deans of a major law school in the nation. As he departs at a still-young 53, he is the country's senior law school dean.
How did Kelly attain such remarkable longevity in a time when law school deanships rarely last for more than a decade? Chiefly, by keeping a traditionally contentious and fractious law school faculty working together toward a common objective: good legal education in a time of great change in both the law and society. It's a basic function of the law, of course, to accommodate change in an orderly and beneficial fashion.
The demographics alone tell the story: As Kelly takes his leave, women now constitute half the student body at the law school; the proportion of minorities has risen dramatically as well.
But the demographics are merely a reflection of changes in the broader society. Kelly's unique legacy at the University of Maryland, no doubt, is in the highly developed clinical law program, unmatched by any law school in the nation. Every student is now required to do not merely dry exercises of writing legal briefs for appellate courts, but also to take part in hands-on practice and research in areas that touch the lives of all people: the law as it relates to the environment, the poor, health care -- the whole panoply of workaday needs that make the law the fabric of life.
Kelly now goes on to other endeavors in higher education, as a vice president at Georgetown University in Washington. His place in the history of Maryland legal education, we are confident, will be as substantial as the extraordinary length of his tenure.