July 28, 2010

New dean excited about law school’s future

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- As she settles in, Dean Cynthia L. Fountaine is looking ahead to her priorities for the Southern Illinois University School of Law.

While dealing with budgetary constraints that all public universities now face, Fountaine is looking to expand job opportunities for graduating students and encourage faculty scholarship and development. She also wants to further enhance opportunities for students within the law school and expand existing experiential learning programs.

It was the law school’s student-centered programs that attracted Fountaine to the post. On July 1, Fountaine became the law school’s seventh permanent dean, and the first female dean in the law school’s 37-year history, dating back to its founding in 1973. She replaces Peter C. Alexander, who will be a professor.

This has been a hectic summer for Fountaine, who comes to Southern Illinois University Carbondale from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, where she was a professor, and also served as interim dean. She returned to the United States in mid-May from a sabbatical in Amman, Jordan, where she was working with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative on legal education reform, and in Germany, where she taught as a Fulbright Senior Scholar.

Fountaine’s return meant trips between Carbondale and Texas and the moving process for her family, which includes her husband, Paul Scudder, a professional photographer, son Charlie, who will be a freshman at Indiana University, and Maggie, who will be a sophomore at Carbondale Community High School.

“I’ve had a very warm welcome,” Fountaine said. “Everyone has been really great and helpful. My transition is going very smoothly.”

When she accepted the position, Fountaine cited the law school’s student-centered programs and the faculty’s focus on students and program offerings as well as scholarly excellence.

Fountaine spent her first couple of weeks meeting with many individuals and groups. She said she is impressed with the enthusiasm and dedication of everyone associated with the law school.

“What I’ve really become impressed with during this transition period is how different faculty members are really interested in pursuing many different scholarly and programmatic activities, which makes law school an exciting place for both faculty and students,” she said. “I’m looking forward to encouraging faculty to pursue all their diverse interests.”

Fountaine said there are changes in how law firms operate and she wants to meet with attorneys, judges, and others in the legal profession to define where the profession is going and “how we as a law school can best prepare our students to participate.”

Fountaine believes social media networks are important. She will continue with her blogs: http://www.fountaineonline.blogspot.com/ and http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/civpro/ and web site http://www.fountaineonline.com/. She also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

“ I think that these electronic communication portals provide an excellent opportunity for us to communicate with different constituencies in different ways,” she said. “They provide a way for people to stay connected to the law school even though they may be in a distant location.”

Fountaine sees faculty development as a three-part process of scholarship, teaching, and service. Including Fountaine, the law school has 35 faculty and 37 staff.

“One of my priorities is to encourage faculty in all of those areas,” she said.

Fountaine also emphasizes the importance of law school alumni in the students’ lives. The law school’s 3,528 alumni include 75 judges. Alumni are in 49 of 50 states, with South Dakota the exception. Fifty-seven percent of the alumni live in Illinois.

“It provides opportunities for mentors for students and helps prepare students for the job market,” she said. “I want the alumni to feel like this is still their law school and I want them to feel involved. The law school can benefit in many, many ways from alumni involvement.”

A challenge that all law schools face is relying upon smaller budgets with the desire to provide more to students, she said.

Fountaine 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 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. She was also an instructor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law from 1992 to 1997, and 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 firm O’Melveny & Myers.