UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin has been selected to serve as the 30th leader of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The University of Wisconsin’s regents announced her appointment as chancellor on May 16. Her term will begin on August 4.
Mnookin has served as UCLA Law’s ninth dean since August 2015. Her tenure has been marked by a significant increase in the opportunities available to the law school’s students and the continued excellence of its program of legal education. Today, UCLA Law is more brimming with talent, engagement, and promise than ever before in its history.
An announcement of an interim dean is forthcoming, and a national search for UCLA Law’s next dean will take place within the next year.
“It has been both an honor and a pleasure to serve as dean of this law school I love so much,” says Mnookin, who first joined the UCLA Law faculty in 2005 and is the Ralph and Shirley Shapiro Professor of Law. “I am certainly proud of the achievements of the past seven years, but it has, in every respect, been a team effort.”
In an announcement to the UCLA community, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Michael Levine applauded Mnookin as a widely admired leader both within the law school and, through many cross-campus collaborations, across the university. “It is a well-deserved testament to Jennifer’s leadership abilities and record of success that she has been chosen to helm the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin system,” Levine wrote.
“Dean Mnookin has elevated the school in so many ways,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block says. “As dean, she has always focused on access and excellence. Her leadership, innovation, and dedication to her faculty, students, and staff were everywhere apparent. While I am sad to see her go, I know she will be an exceptional leader in Madison.”
Mnookin is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a former professor at University of Virginia School of Law, and a former visiting professor at Harvard Law School. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard University, J.D. from Yale Law School, and Ph.D. from M.I.T. A renowned authority on scientific evidence law, she is one of the most cited scholars in the field of evidence and co-founded the innovative PULSE @ UCLA Law (Program on Understanding Law, Science, and Evidence).
“Jennifer’s deanship has been extraordinary,” says Ann Carlson, the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and a founding faculty member of UCLA Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, who currently serves as chief counsel of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “One of the hallmarks of her leadership is just how good she is at so many parts of the job. She’s a great manager, a great strategist, a great fundraiser, a great teacher, a great colleague, a great scholar, a great institution builder. Wisconsin is very lucky to have her as their new leader.”
Supporting Students and the Community
Mnookin’s tenure as the dean of UCLA Law has been characterized by a spirit of innovation, collaboration, and excellence, achieved through the contributions of every member of the community.
“One of the many things I admire and like about Jennifer is that she is always interested in hearing alternative points of view and fosters a culture that supports this openness,” says alumnus Richard Sandler ’73, who chaired the law school’s board of advisors during several years of Mnookin’s deanship. “Even when we disagreed, I found her to be intellectually curious, fair minded and willing to listen. She leads with an open mind and an open door.”
That ethos drove many notable successes that UCLA Law’s dynamic and celebrated professors and scholars earned during Mnookin’s deanship. During her deanship, the school hired academics and policy makers in tax law, technology and the law, immigration law, corporate law, health law, and constitutional law, among other areas. The collective faculty steadily rose into the premier levels of rankings that track each law school’s scholarly impact and citations. And UCLA Law enjoyed its best-ever overall ranking, plus No. 1 placements for environmental law and entertainment law.
Opening the doors to that outstanding education was a priority for Mnookin, and she oversaw many successful efforts – including the creation of the Achievement Fellows program, which offers full-tuition scholarships to high-achieving students who have overcome significant hardships, and the First Gen Initiative – to support UCLA Law’s growing number of first-generation college students attending law school. Under her leadership, the most recent entering class is 56% women, 49% students of color, and 15% who have no parent or guardian with a college degree, and, in the most recent year for which full data is available, 27% percent of students were Pell recipients while undergraduates.
“Jennifer encouraged all of us to think big and think bold, but also to get things done,” says Devon Carbado, the Honorable Harry Pregerson Professor of Law and UCLA’s former Associate Vice Chancellor of BruinX for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. “Her extraordinary ability to both envision and problem-solve will leave the law school more inclusive, more intellectually vibrant, more externally facing, and more student-centered than it has ever been.”
For Mnookin, that boldness has meant emphasizing community, equity, diversity and belonging. Among many other efforts on her watch, UCLA grew its trailblazing 25-year old Law Fellows Program; greatly expanded its innovative UCLA Law Women LEAD alumnae network, welcomed the law school’s first vice dean for community and justice, and created a number of new scholarships, including student-led initiatives on behalf of the Black Law Students Association and the Asian/Pacific Islander Law Students Association, as well as the landmark Graton Scholars to support tribal members and tribal advocates, supported by a transformative $15 million gift from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Mnookin’s commitment to elevating student voices also led to her creation of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council (DSAC), one important avenue through which students could be leaders and contribute to shaping their legal education.
“I was lucky to meet Dean Mnookin early on, and she was so supportive of students, wanting to hear from us and find actionable ways to implement our ideas for how to make our law school even better,” says recent graduate Sarah Pfander ’22, who served on DSAC as well as a task force that spearheaded curricular innovations for first-year law students. “That energy will certainly be missed at UCLA, and I am grateful for the mark it left on me and my three years here.”
An advocate for pedagogical innovation, Mnookin oversaw the creation of several cutting-edge courses or programs. This included the successful launch of the Master of Legal Studies degree program, UCLA Law’s first new degree in a generation, which offers non-lawyer professionals training to understand legal issues that they encounter in a range of fields. The law school’s experiential education program also saw substantial growth, including through a greatly expanded trial advocacy program that quickly put the law school on the map as one of the very best training grounds for trial advocates in the nation, in courses that teach legal skills vital to contemporary legal practice in areas from business law to technology to intellectual property as well as additional legal clinics that allow students to directly serve veterans, immigrant families, and documentary filmmakers among others.
Allison Korn, UCLA Law’s assistant dean for experiential education, highlights Mnookin’s emphasis on opening clinics, such as the Veterans Legal Clinic and Immigrant Family Legal Clinic, within the communities they serve: “She understands the important role that a public research institution must play both on- and off-campus and has led the growth to make it happen.”
Mnookin also championed student career success, including new programs on professional development and expanded advising across public and private sectors. During her deanship, UCLA Law graduates enjoyed top career placements at impressive and increasing rates with American’s leading law firms. Meanwhile, Mnookin led expansions of loan-forgiveness efforts that permit graduates to pursue a greater range of career options and grew UCLA Law’s public interest infrastructure, assisting graduates to earn the most competitive fellowships at rates matched by only three or four other law schools in the country.
Expanding the Frontiers of Leadership
Technology law. Human Rights. Media and entertainment. Nonprofits and philanthropy. Mnookin’s years as UCLA Law dean were marked by her collaborative vision and leadership in creating several high-impact, philanthropically supported centers that broadened the school’s reach into many of the most topical and timely areas of legal practice that also linked to core faculty strengths and priorities.
Centers launched during her tenure include the Institute for Technology, Law and Policy; Promise Institute for Human Rights; Ziffren Institute for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law; Center for Immigration Law and Policy; Center for Reproductive Health and Policy; and Program in Nonprofits and Philanthropy. Driving leadership on vital local, national, and global issues, the centers amplify the research of premier scholars and train students to work with leading advocates on issues that stand to be at the core of their work as lawyers.
Another remarkable success was Mnookin’s partnership with alumni and friends to build UCLA Law’s donor base and bring in transformative gifts. “As her board chair for a number of years, I still marvel at the way Jennifer can engage people in a shared vision about what the law school can do and be,” says Alicia Miñana de Lovelace ’87, now chair of the whole UCLA campus’s Foundation Board. “It is the key to her great success as a fundraiser. She instinctively knows how to connect a donor’s desire to do good in the world with the work of the school.”
During Mnookin’s deanship, UCLA Law raised more than $180 million, including the most successful fundraising year in the school’s history, and five of the top six. The law school exceeded its goal for the Centennial Campaign for UCLA by an impressive 20%. Mnookin was instrumental in securing several of the law school’s largest gifts ever, including $20 million for the Promise Institute for Human Rights, $15 million for scholarships and programs that benefit Native Nations, and $11 million for the Center for Immigration Law and Policy. She also helped secure meaningful support for endowed faculty chairs and student scholarships, among other priorities.
During her final years as dean, Mnookin helped steer UCLA Law through the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, spurring adaptations to make student, faculty, and staff transitions to the remote environment – and back – as seamless as possible. At the same time, she fostered a sense of community as people in and around UCLA Law weathered the storm.
“Throughout her deanship, but particularly in the past two years, UCLA Law has thrived under her leadership,” says William Boyd, the Michael J. Klein Chair in Law and faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute. “She is careful and deliberate. Her instincts and judgment are impeccable, and she does not shy away from making the hard calls. She also understands the importance of following through and turning words into durable institutional commitments.”
Mnookin’s service was also characterized by her commitment to UCLA and collaboration with other campus leaders. She was one of two deans in the Chancellor’s Leadership Cabinet during the pandemic, and she served for five years as chair of the Professional School Deans’ Council, a strategic space for collaboration and problem solving for UCLA’s 12 professional school deans.
“Jennifer is a visionary with a keen sense of hope and possibility for the future, and her leadership combines wisdom, personal warmth, and intellectual brilliance,” says Eileen Strempel, dean of UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music. “Her extraordinary tenure at UCLA is notable for her ability to navigate with grace while building consensus and shared purpose.”
Taking On a New Challenge
“Jennifer made a wonderful impact on UCLA Law, opening our school up to a wider audience that it ever had before, with students, with faculty, and with our national reputation,” says alumnus Ralph Shapiro ’58. “She will be greatly missed but will have a huge and positive impact on the University of Wisconsin-Madison.”
At the University of Wisconsin, founded in 1848, Mnookin will oversee a 938-acre campus that includes 13 schools and colleges, nearly 48,000 students, more than 24,000 faculty and staff, almost half a million living alumni, and a budget over $3.6 billion. Like UCLA, it annually ranks among the top public universities in the country, and academic leaders across the country emphasize that Mnookin is poised to thrive there.
University of Pennsylvania President-Elect M. Elizabeth Magill says, “Jennifer Mnookin has been a national leader as a law dean because of her ability to see the challenges and opportunities ahead and her capacity to bring leaders with different views and interests to the table to work together. She is an inspired choice for one of the country’s great public research universities.”
“Jennifer was born to be the leader of a great research university like the University of Wisconsin,” says Michael Schill, who served as UCLA Law’s dean from 2004 to 2009 and is now the president of the University of Oregon. “She is incredibly smart, strategic, inspiring, warm, and collaborative. She has been an amazing dean of one of the nation’s best law schools and has moved it dramatically forward in a short period of time.”
Mnookin says, “I am incredibly excited for this next adventure and to become a Badger, but I will also be a Bruin for life. I will carry with me all that I have learned from my colleagues at the law school and across campus, and the amazing students whom I have been privileged to teach and know.”