March 05, 2010

Student-centered program attracted new law dean

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Cynthia L. Fountaine, a professor at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, will become the next dean of the Southern Illinois University School of Law. Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor Don S. Rice announced the appointment.

Fountaine’s appointment, subject to ratification by the SIU Board of Trustees, is effective July 1.

Rice said Fountaine’s background, which includes serving as interim dean at her current law school in Fort Worth, Texas, is a “great hire” for SIUC and the law school.

“She has been very successful with the workings of the school of law, but also with fundraising and she comes here with a lot of enthusiasm,” Rice said.

Fountaine was the only unanimous choice in terms of the search committee’s short list of candidates, and a near-unanimous choice among law faculty, Rice said.

“I think she’ll be great,” Rice said. “She can talk easily about what schools of law do, and she is very interested in the community outreach that we do here and wants to see that grow, along with the visibility of the law school.”

Fountaine replaces Peter C. Alexander as the law school’s permanent dean. Frank G. Houdek has served as interim dean since July 1, 2009.

Fountaine becomes the seventh permanent dean, and is the first female dean in the law school’s 37-year history, dating back to its founding in 1973.

Fountaine said she’s “very honored” the law school faculty and University administration are giving her “the opportunity to lead this outstanding law school.”

“I’m looking forward to working with the outstanding faculty and staff to continue to build on the momentum created by Dean Peter Alexander and Dean Frank Houdek,” Fountaine said. “I am also looking forward to working with incoming Chancellor Rita Cheng and Provost and Vice Chancellor Don Rice to promote the University’s mission.”

Fountaine is currently on sabbatical from Texas Wesleyan School of Law and is in Amman, Jordan, working with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative on legal education reform.. She recently completed a Fulbright Senior Scholar at Universität Bayreuth School of Law, Business & Economics in Bayreuth, Germany, where she taught U.S. Constitutional Law and U.S. Common Law Methods to German law students.

Fountaine was among three finalists to visit the law school and campus in December. She said she was initially attracted to the law school because of its “student-centered program with an innovative curriculum and a commitment to preparing students for the ethical practice of law in today’s competitive legal environment.”

“As I went through the process, I was impressed with the exceptional law school community -- the faculty staff, students, alumni, and greater University community -- all of whom are committed to the bright future of this law school.”

Professor W. Eugene Basanta, the Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law, chaired the search committee. The committee and law school community are “very pleased and excited” to have Fountaine as the law school’s new dean, he said.

“The Dean Search Committee received applications from a diverse array of excellent candidates, and Professor Fountaine emerged from the interview process as the law school’s first choice for dean,” Basanta said.

Fountaine said her most immediate goal is continuing the law school’s commitment “to providing students with an outstanding legal education that emphasizes professional values and civic engagement.” She said she’s looking forward to working with the faculty to continue and expand innovative curricular programs and to continue and enhance the faculty’s commitment to creative and influential legal scholarship.

“Certainly, attracting a bright and diverse student body is a top priority -- one that has become increasingly challenging over the past few years as law school applications have declined across the country,” she said. “I think the best way to attract students is to create an outstanding program of legal education that will enable them to leave law school with a thorough grounding in theory and practice, not only so they can hit the ground running in today’s legal profession but also so they can meet the challenges of tomorrow’s legal profession,”

In January, the law school offered a workshop that focused on preparing female law students to be leaders within the legal profession. Attracting more women and minority students to the law school is a top priority, Fountaine said, adding that she hopes the law school can continue to offer similar programs, in addition to additional mentoring and outreach programs that let female and minority applicants know the law school “provides a supportive and empowering environment for all of its students.”

Fountaine said she and her husband, Paul, both grew up in Indiana, and her family is excited to be returning to the Midwest. She earned her law degree from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 1988, and a bachelor’s degree in business from Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., in 1984.

Fountaine said she was interested in the law from a young age, and comes from a family of teachers who put a priority on higher education.

She came to Texas Wesleyan School of Law in 1997 as an associate professor and director of academic support. She became a full professor in 2001, and served as the law school’s interim dean and professor from 2006 to 2008. While serving as interim dean, Fountaine was responsible for an $18 million budget with more than 100 employees. During the period, Texas Wesleyan admitted two of its largest classes in school history with increased diversity while maintaining academic quality in spite of a declining law school applicant pool nationally.

Prior to arriving at Texas Wesleyan School of Law, Fountaine was an instructor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law from 1992 to 1997. She also was a visiting professor in 2005-2006 at the Washington & Lee University School of Law in Lexington,Va. Prior to teaching, Fountaine was a litigation associate from 1988 to 1991 with the Los Angeles-based law firm O’Melveny & Myers.

Fountaine’s areas of teaching and research interest are civil procedure, federal courts, civil rights and legal ethics. Fountaine said she hopes to teach while dean, although she isn’t planning to do so her first year.

“I really enjoy being in the classroom and interacting with students,” she said.