Benjamin Spencer becomes the first Black dean of America’s oldest law school

Mohammed Awal May 25, 2020
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A. Benjamin Spencer has made history by becoming the new dean of the oldest law school in America – The William & Mary Law School. The appointment is expected to take effect on July 1, 2020.

Currently, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, Spencer, an acclaimed civil procedure and federal court expert, is the first African American dean of any school at the University since its start 241 years earlier, including the law school.

According to W&M Law School, apart from being dean, Spencer will also serve as the Chancellor Professor of Law at W&M. Spencer is joining W&M from the University of Virginia, where he has been since 2014 as a professor.

A former Director of the Francis Lewis Law Center and associate dean of research at Washington and Lee University, Spencer is also a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve and argues appeals on behalf of the army. 

“William & Mary is thrilled to welcome Ben Spencer as our next dean of the law school,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “Since the beginning of the search process we sought a leader who values all three aspects of the law: the academy, the bar, and the bench. Ben brings that broad view of legal practice, together with a deep appreciation of the ethos of the citizen lawyer that has inspired the oldest law school in the country since its founding.”

“I would like to take this moment also to express W&M’s heartfelt gratitude to Dave Douglas. This university is better for his leadership in so many ways. On a personal level, his friendship and partnership these last two years have been a gift.”

Spencer graduated from the Harvard Law School in 2001 and as a member of the esteemed Harvard Law Review, he received the Judge John R. Brown Award for Excellence in Legal Writing and won the ABA Section of Antitrust Law Student Writing Competition. He was also named best oralist in the semi-finals of the Ames Moot Court Competition and won the best brief in the first-year Ames Moot Court Competition when he was at Harvard.

Spencer spoke of his appointment saying: “It was not until the hiring committee from William & Mary approached me back in 2003 that I gave any thought to becoming a law professor. I am tremendously excited that after all these years, I am finally able to join this wonderful community of impactful scholars.”

He added: “I am particularly enthusiastic about the university’s commitment to a whole-person, whole-university approach to learning and its commitment to understanding and meeting the most pressing needs of our time.”

Spencer holds a master’s degree in criminal justice policy from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College.

A native of Hampton, Spencer’s father James R. Spencer, was said to be the first African American chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, becoming the first African-American federal judge in the commonwealth of Virginia in 1986.

His grandfather, Dr. Adam S. Arnold, was the first Black professor at Notre Dame University and his mother, Alicia Spencer, is a retired elementary school principal in Newport News.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: May 25, 2020


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