Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr. Announces Departure, Leaving a Lasting Legacy at AUWCL

Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr.

In a heartfelt announcement to the American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) community, Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr. revealed his decision to step down as dean at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year.

"I did not make this decision lightly. I love American University and the Washington College of Law," he expressed, emphasizing his deep connection to the law school. "WCL is thriving, and we have made tremendous progress on all facets of our strategic plan. I adore our brilliant and passionate students, our talented and committed staff, our extraordinary and accomplished faculty, and our loyal and generous alumni and supporters. Leading this great law school has been the privilege of my career."

Starting on July 1, 2024, Dean Fairfax will assume the role of dean at Howard University School of Law, a move rooted in his deep personal ties to the institution.

"I have a special and personal connection to Howard University, which has shaped the trajectory of my family's journey from slavery to where I proudly stand today as the Dean of the American University Washington College of Law," he said. "My family's strong legacy of Howard alumni, staff, and faculty makes this a particularly compelling opportunity to lead one of the most impactful institutions in the nation and honor those who have come before me."

Dean Fairfax expressed his concern over the civil rights challenges facing the nation, describing it as a pivotal moment in history.

"At this critical juncture in our nation's history, when there has been an assault on civil rights gains made over the past 70 years since Brown v. Board, the Howard University School of Law will be called upon once again to reinforce its role as a training ground and thought leader in the struggle for racial justice and equality," he said.

A hush fell over the room during the community meeting when Dean Fairfax emotionally conveyed his genuine commitment to leveraging the valuable lessons learned at AUWCL toward his leadership at Howard University School of Law. This commitment aligns with the sentiments expressed by Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and an alumna of Howard Law School.

"As a proud Howard Law alum, I am pleased that Dean Fairfax will bring his visionary leadership to further the historic mission of Howard University School of Law," said Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby. "His leadership has been instrumental in fostering a legal community that values excellence and inclusivity, and his dedication to advancing the legal profession sets an inspiring standard for future leaders."

Dean Fairfax has led AUWCL to make significant strides in scholarship and teaching, recruiting ten talented tenure and tenure-track professors and amplifying the law school's reputation and national impact. Despite the turbulence of rankings, the law school's core metrics demonstrated substantial improvement. The current first-year class boasted the strongest combined admissions metrics in AUWCL's history. The institution's reputation among peers and legal professionals remains robust, with top rankings and continued acclaim for specialty programs.

Dean Fairfax was instrumental in making the 2023 commencement address at the American University Washington College of Law the first one delivered by The Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, since she assumed her role on the Supreme Court.

Under his leadership, AUWCL has prioritized diversity, community, civility, and respect. Initiatives to expand faculty and staff diversity, establish a staff advisory council, launch a first-generation student orientation, and introduce Sport and Society programming underscored AUWCL's commitment to inclusivity. The law school extended its D.C. community engagement by establishing a pipeline program in partnership with local schools, demonstrating dedication to nurturing future legal minds, efforts that have prompted the District of Columbia Bar to commend Dean Fairfax for his contributions to the legal profession.

"Dean Fairfax's decades of experience as an educator and legal scholar have strengthened the ties between academia and the legal community in the D.C. area and beyond," said D.C. Bar President Charles R. Lowery. "His leadership continues to foster a culture of innovation and inclusivity, which is much needed in today's challenging times."

AUWCL's commitment to a world-class student and alumni experience was evident in strategic investments. The newly introduced Dean's Professionalism Certificate, student health and wellness activities, along with increased support for public interest initiatives emphasized AUWCL's dedication to student success. Dean Fairfax highlighted the law school's historic investment in public interest, including doubling the number of Public Interest Program Scholarships (PIPS) and tripling summer public interest grant funding.

Blake Morant, former dean of George Washington University Law School, who began his law career as an adjunct professor at AUWCL and later became the president of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), praised Fairfax's commitment to legal education as well as the legal profession.

"For the over 25 years that I have known him, Dean Fairfax has confirmed his stature as an exemplary scholar, gifted teacher, and talented leader who combines administrative acumen with an embedded sense of humanism," Morant said. "He remains an asset, not only for any institution for which he works but also for American legal education in general."

Recognizing the importance of financial resources and sustainability, Dean Fairfax led an ambitious new budget model. Exceeding fiscal year development goals each year, the law school demonstrated significant gains in dollars raised, new donors, and donor retention – showcasing ongoing support from the alumni community, which has embraced Dean Fairfax's launch of the alumni association. Generous contributions from alumni and donors played a pivotal role in AUWCL's achievements, enabling the law school to outperform budget projections and maintain a strong fiscal outlook.

"Dean Fairfax has made an indelible mark on American University and the Washington College of Law," said American University Provost Vicky Wilkins. "His unwavering commitment to excellence has propelled the law school to new heights, and we are grateful for his dedication to our students and university."

As AUWCL bids farewell to Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr., throughout the spring semester, the community will reflect on a transformative era marked by academic excellence, diversity, and an unwavering commitment to the future of legal education.

AUWCL Professor of Law Lia Epperson reflected on Dean Fairfax's impact on the academic community, saying, "Dean Fairfax’s vision, leadership, integrity, and enthusiasm have deeply inspired our law school community. His commitment to raising the bar of academic excellence, creative legal partnership, diversity, and equity is unparalleled. While we will miss him greatly, American University will benefit from the myriad ways his uniquely impactful contributions have transformed the law school, its students, and its faculty for the better for many years to come."

Despite his pending transition, Dean Fairfax has no plans to slow down over the next seven months.

"I fully endorse American University's important recognition that 'Change Can't Wait,'" he said. "Over the remaining seven months of my deanship, I will work tirelessly to 'Champion What Matters,' and will continue to do so when I arrive at the Howard University School of Law."

~Story by Keith Pierce.