(1982-1993) Dean John J. Sciullo
John Gedid, L’67, became acting dean, overseeing the building of Hanley Hall and the search for a permanent successor. At the June 1982 Commencement, Fr. Nesti announced the appointment of Professor John J. Sciullo. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation.
Faculty who had been at odds under the Davenport regime quickly united behind Dean Sciullo. Students rejoiced in learning that he would retain a full teaching load while serving as dean.
The son of Italian immigrants from Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, Sciullo earned undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Pittsburgh and served in Korea with the U.S. Army. Returning home, he clerked for the legendary county judge Samuel Weiss, A’24, L’27, opened a private practice, and became legal counsel for the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission.
In 1963, Dean Quinn, a member of the Planning Commission, heard Sciullo’s presentation on the emerging field of land use planning law. Quinn was so impressed that he offered Sciullo an opportunity to teach a course on the topic. One year later, Sciullo joined the full-time faculty, adding a course in Estates and Trusts which, despite the perceived dryness of the subject, quickly earned rave reviews from students for his engaging classroom performance. Sciullo earned more admiration from students and colleagues during eight years as associate dean under Davenport.
After becoming dean in 1982, Sciullo was appointed to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission. His chance meeting with Quinn two decades earlier had come full circle.
The first milestone of Sciullo’s tenure occurred that September with the opening of Hanley Hall. After 71 years, the Law School finally had its own building on campus.
Upon assuming the deanship, Sciullo remarked that, “We should not be afraid to try something because it may fail.” Sciullo would have a hand in many new developments (most of which, indeed, flourished), but he is also remembered for building on the school’s foundational values.
Davenport’s efforts to enhance scholarship funds for minorities, women and the needy were accelerated. At a time when the boundaries of legal ethics were being tested, Sciullo asserted that a religiously-affiliated law school was perfectly positioned to examine the tough questions. Crucifixes—which had disappeared from classroom walls in the 1970s—reappeared.
Sciullo masterfully balanced tradition and innovation. research and writing programs were expanded and strengthened, while an array of new electives were added to the curriculum. Duquesne undergraduates with a minimum 3.5 grade-point average were permitted to enter law school a year early. This “3-3” program would later expand to welcome students from nearly a dozen other private universities and the State System of Higher Education. Five-year joint programs were introduced allowing students to earn both a Juris Doctor from Duquesne and a Duquesne MBA or Master’s in Environmental Science and Management, or a Master’s in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
The region’s best trial moot court program got even better, winning the prestigious Gourley Cup in six out of eight consecutive years.
The School itself was reaccredited by the ABA in 1988. From 1987 through 1989, 93 percent of graduates passed the Pennsylvania Bar exam on the first attempt, more than 10 percent above the state average. Admissions became more selective; while applications increased 25 percent between 1988 and 1989 alone, only one of every 12 applicants was admitted.
In 1991, the Law School reached a faculty exchange agreement with the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. The first exchange took place in 1993, just as Sciullo was voluntarily relinquishing the deanship to refocus fully on his passion for teaching.
“When I first started teaching, I felt I was cheating someone because I loved it so much,” Sciullo told a Juris interviewer in 1969. “I almost felt willing to do it for nothing.”
Longtime faculty colleague Robert S. Barker, L’66, recalled that, years later, the dean’s ardor for teaching was just as strong. “In 1982, with Hanley Hall nearing completion, Dean-designate Sciullo was asked whether the name plate outside his faculty office should read ‘Dean Sciullo’ or ‘Professor Sciullo,’” Barker wrote in 2005. “John insisted on the latter, explaining that while he might be Dean for a while, he always wanted to be Professor Sciullo.”
Still, the faculty unanimously requested that Sciullo be granted the title of Dean Emeritus, the first such designation in the school’s history. His faculty colleague John Murray—now back on the Bluff as University president and law professor— wholeheartedly approved.
Dean Emeritus Sciullo continued to teach a full course load until he retired at the end of 1999. He passed away just two months later, on February 22, 2000, at the age of 68.
Writing for Juris, Professor Ken Gormley recalled, “The morning Dean Sciullo died was the first day since I began teaching at Duquesne University School of Law that all meaningful work ceased. It was as if God had knocked the collective wind out of the faculty, and students, and every judge or friend who called on the telephone to see if the news was somehow mistaken. The building itself seemed lifeless. It wasn’t until the black cloth was draped over his portrait in the library, and a spray of white flowers placed beneath it, that the unthinkable sunk in.”