Dean Donald J. Guter earned his undergraduate degree in the ROTC program at the University of Colorado. A U.S. Navy gunnery officer and intercultural relations specialist, he studied law at Duquesne and graduated in 1977. Returning to the Navy, he steadily rose through the ranks, becoming Judge Advocate General in 2000. As the navy’s top lawyer, he oversaw 1,800 active duty, reserve and civilian attorneys and 1,000 paralegals, while providing legal guidance to the Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations and civilian officials.
Rear Admiral Guter retired in 2002, becoming chief executive officer of a nonprofit continuing care retirement community and executive director of the Navy-Marine-Coast Guard Residence Foundation. He became involved in Law Alumni Association activities and the opportunity to return to Duquesne appealed to him. “It’s my law school,” Guter told Juris after his appointment in 2005. “That’s the reason that I came here. If it weren’t my school, I probably would not have applied.”
Guter immediately faced several challenges. The passage rate of Duquesne law graduates on the Pennsylvania Bar exam had slipped precipitously. The problem was especially acute among evening students, whose enrollment had significantly declined and whose entering class numbered only 29 in fall 2005.
Guter instituted curricular changes, upgraded the Legal Research and Writing program and Bar exam preparatory services, and asked for increased involvement from the school’s 6,500 alumni.
Guter appointed a full-time director of Bar Services and bar passage rates rose significantly. He also recruited Professor Jan M. Levine away from Temple University as Duquesne’s first full-time legal research and writing director.
Clinical education programs, providing students with an opportunity to work on real cases with real clients in need of services, continued to expand. Clinics in civil rights, veterans’ disability compensation, and environmental law joined existing programs in economic and community development, civil and family justice, criminal advocacy, unemployment compensation, a post-conviction DNA project and other innovative offerings.
In 2008, under the leadership of Professor S. Michael Streib who built the stellar trial moot court program, Duquesne moot court teams won the National Institute for Trial Advocacy “Tournament of Champions” and the Buffalo- Niagara National Mock Trial Competition.
While outward appearances indicated progress, disagreements simmered behind the scenes between the dean and university administration and among members of the faculty. By the fall of 2008, these disputes found their way to the press and the public.
In December 2008, the university announced that Guter would be removed as Dean. He remained on the faculty for the remainder of the academic year before becoming president and dean of the South Texas College of Law. Professor Ken Gormley, a member of the Duquesne Law faculty since 1994, was appointed interim dean.
Gormley came to Duquesne from private practice as a lawyer specializing in litigation, and from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where he had been hired by then-Dean John Murray. A Pittsburgh native who earned his law degree at Harvard, Gormley is an expert in constitutional law who studied with former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, among others. His 1999 biography of Cox won the Bruce K. Gould Book award for best publication relating to the law, and at the time of his interim appointment, he was completing his second book, The Death of American Virtue, an in-depth examination of the Clinton- Starr controversy that threatened a presidency and divided the nation.
Professor nancy D. Perkins, a member of the Duquesne Law faculty since 1993, was named associate dean, and Gormley immediately assembled an advisory board of prominent local legal figures (chaired by Chancellor John E. Murray, Jr., Justice Cynthia Baldwin, L’80 and President Judge Emeritus Joseph Del Sole, L’65), to engage with faculty, students and alumni during the leadership transition.
Gormley’s 15 months as interim dean were marked by continued progress. In august 2009, the new Bridget and Alfred Peláez Writing Center was dedicated. Hailed by Gormley as “the most significant improvement to the Law School in decades,” the new facility was funded by a $500,000 gift from an anonymous alumnus in honor of Professor Peláez’s 44 years of service. Peláez insisted that the center also bear the name of his wife, who had recently passed away.
The 2,400-square-foot writing center houses offices for professors and teaching assistants and a common area suitable for tutoring and meetings. “The donor wanted the gift to provide intensive and high quality training and support to Duquesne’s students, which is something Professor Peláez has provided for his entire career,” said Professor Jan Levine, writing program director.
Underscoring Duquesne’s focus on writing skills, the first-year student orientation expanded to a full week, with three days devoted to intensive research and writing preparation. A new clinical program in electronic discovery was also established. The nation’s first of its kind, the e-Discovery Clinic simulates the complex steps in reviewing digital files in preparation for trial.
The same semester, the entire Pennsylvania Supreme Court convened in a rare special session on Duquesne’s campus, coinciding with a special issue of the Law Review honoring the life and career of the late Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, as Gormley placed a new emphasis on the Duquesne Law Review and other student publications.
The school continued to earn praise from national publications. U.S. News & World Report ranked Duquesne’s Legal research and Writing program as one of the best in the country (it reached top ten status in 2011). National Jurist listed Duquesne as a “Best Value” law school, based on comparatively low tuition, outstanding academic program, excellent job placement and a strong alumni base. Those graduates generated a top 100 ranking from Super Lawyers, which listed 170 Duquesne alumni among the top five percent of lawyers in their respective states.
A $1.4 million gift from the estate of William B. Billock, L’38, a vice president of Gulf Oil Corporation, established an endowment providing annual debt relief to Duquesne law graduates pursuing careers in nonprofit public interest law or government. The program encourages students interested in public interest work to follow their true callings, rather than settling for higher-paying private sector jobs to pay off student loans. In fall 2009, the Billock Loan Repayment Assistance Fund made its first grants to 14 alumni, totaling more than $70,000.
On February 23, 2010, Gormley announced the creation of new resource funds to assist minority law students. The Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars program was named in honor of a law professor and mentor to Thurgood Marshall, the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Houston’s son, a 1968 Duquesne Law graduate, and Marshall’s son were present—along with former Dean Davenport—for the program’s inaugural events.
Funding for one of the $10,000-per-year Houston scholarships was provided through a gift from Robert N. Peirce, L’62.
On March 29, 2010, University President Charles J. Dougherty appointed Gormley to a full term as dean. The announcement followed a wave of national media publicity surrounding the release of The Death of American Virtue, which earned Gormley his second Bruce K. Gould Award and a coveted Gavel Award from the American Bar Association.
“Being appointed to serve as Dean of Duquesne Law School is not just a supreme honor,” Gormley wrote in the Spring 2010 issue of the alumni magazine, which had recently been retitled The Duquesne Lawyer. “It is an awesome responsibility as we step out front to lead the legal academy, and the legal profession, in marking the Law School’s hundredth anniversary in 2011.”