July 22, 2004

Whitfield appointed associate dean for law school

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Wenona Y. Whitfield, an associate law professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the law school's new associate dean for academic affairs.

"She has a wealth of experience as a law teacher and a member of the law school community," said Alexander. "She has high integrity and is well-respected by faculty, staff and students."Dean Peter C. Alexander appointed Whitfield to the post effective July 2. The appointment is subject to ratification by the SIU Board of Trustees.

Whitfield received her law degree from SIUC in 1977, and has taught at the law school since 1981. She is a two-time Fulbright grant recipient, spending time as a visiting law professor in 1991-92 at the University of Ghana, and in 2001 at Tsinghua University in Beijing, People's Republic of China.

Whitfield will oversee the law school's academic program, dealing primarily with student academic issues and curricular matters. She will also revamp the school's adjunct professor recruitment, supervision and review policies. The part-time professors are "such an integral part of our curricular offerings," she said.

"I believe someone with Dean Whitfield's experience and law teaching; she will be up to the challenge," said Alexander.

Whitfield wants to devote much of her energy to faculty development, making sure younger faculty "have everything they need to be successful in teaching, research and service." She emphasizes that regardless of advances in technology, the key component is faculty involvement.

"It comes down to the faculty and their dedication to teaching, and dedication to preparing the next generation of lawyers," Whitfield said. "That is what I see as the real strength of this law school; it always has been. And looking back, I'm very pleased it is going to continue."

"One of the things that makes me so pleased is the really, really excellent young faculty members that we have been able to recruit," she said. "They are excellent teachers interested in teaching. They are excellent researchers, publishing good articles, and they are looking to be on the cutting edge."

Whitfield replaces associate law professor Mary C. Rudasill as associate dean. Rudasill served in the position since 1999, and is also the long-time director of the school's clinical program.

Whitfield, who lives in Carbondale, says her two passions are visiting and teaching in other countries, and tennis. The experiences of teaching abroad left Whitfield with numerous memories of students who are "so eager to learn."

She spent last year as a visiting law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn. She was also a visiting professor in 1987-88 at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.

Whitfield's appointment means SIUC is one of only four of 187 accredited law schools in the United States and Puerto Rico where the dean and an associate dean are African-American. The other three law schools are Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., the University of Baltimore School of Law, and the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. SIUC is one of six law schools nationally where the dean and associate dean are minorities, according to the Association of American Law Schools.

Also at SIUC, Alicia Ruiz is the law school's assistant dean for administration.

"It shows a commitment to diversity at all levels of administration," said Alexander. "It makes a statement to say that we believe diversity is important, but makes a totally different statement to look at the dean and associate dean and see that they are people of color themselves."

Developing a faculty and student body that reflects the human and ethnic diversity and intellectual pluralism of the world is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Whitfield, a native of Chicago, received her bachelor's degree in sociology from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1970.