(1970-1981) Dean Ronald R. Davenport

Ronald R. DaveportThe school’s next dean would be even younger than Manderino at the time of his appointment—only 35 years old—one of the youngest in the nation at the time. Even more remarkable to outside observers, but fully in keeping with Duquesne’s historic commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, Ronald R. Davenport was the first black dean of a major American law school.

Like most of his predecessors, Davenport was hired from within. Another of Dean Quinn’s appointments, he came to Duquesne in 1963 to teach personal property, criminal law and wills.

Duquesne’s first African American law professor arrived with impressive credentials, including an undergraduate degree in economics from Penn State and law degrees from Temple and Yale.

At Yale, he earned the prestigious Francis Kellor Prize for a paper defending American military peacekeeping initiatives in the Congo. He went on to devote his efforts to the emerging civil rights movement, earning a respected reputation as an NAACP staff attorney and writing the brief in the first “Freedom Riders” case, Abernathy v. Alabama.

Some of Davenport’s priorities were a throwback to the school’s early emphasis on ensuring access to legal education for all. Funding for scholarship aid was increased, leading to significant increases in the enrollment of women and students of color. In an effort to challenge the top American law schools, academic and externship programs were enhanced and expanded.

The school’s national reputation improved; its graduates became more marketable locally and across the country. Alumnus Kellen McClendon, L’74, now a member of the faculty, also credits Davenport with engendering a contagious attitude of confidence among the student body. 

That attitude was reflected in the students’ success. For example, every one of the 185 members of McClendon’s 1974 graduating class passed the Bar exam on the first sitting, making Duquesne the only law school in Pennsylvania with a 100 percent first-time pass rate that year.

Those confident students, however, were also more and more crowded. While the top three floors of Rockwell Hall comfortably accommodated fewer than 200 students in 1958, they were woefully inadequate to house three times as many—along with the accompanying growth of faculty and staff—less than 15 years later. Dean Davenport began the process of raising funds and gaining university approval for a new law school building on campus, but like many of the deans before him, he would not be able to see the project through to fruition. 

While serving as dean, Davenport also had outside business interests in a network of radio stations serving minority communities across the country. The demands of the business, a desire to spend more time with his family, dissention among segments of the faculty, and differences of opinion with the university’s new president—the Rev. Donald Nesti, C.S.Sp.— culminated in a June 1981 announcement that Davenport would resign at year’s end. The day before that news surfaced, ground had been broken for construction of the school’s new home—Hanley Hall.