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Q&A with Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea

Jennifer Rosato Perea joined DePaul on Jul 1, 2015. Rosato Perea comes to DePaul from Northern Illinois University College of Law, where she has been the dean since 2009. Rosato Perea is an active voice in the national dialogue about legal education. She serves on the Illinois State Bar Association Task Force on Legal Education and Student Debt and the Association of American Law Schools Membership Review Committee. She also formerly chaired the Association of American Law Schools New Law Teachers Conference. As one of a small number of Latina law school deans in the country, Rosato Perea strives to enhance diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. In recognition of her efforts, she received the Distinguished Leadership Award from the Illinois Secretary of State, the Vanguard Award from the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, and the National Latino Law Students Association Leadership Award in Education and Advocacy. 

Dialogue sat down with Dean Rosato Perea to discuss her ideals and aspirations for the College of Law. This interview originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Dialogue. Read the full interview here​.

Q. What aspects of DePaul most appealed to you in deciding to pursue the deanship?

My interest in DePaul goes way back. I’ve known DePaul for a long time and was always attracted to its reputation – the reputation of its faculty, known locally, but also nationally and internationally. For a regional school, it’s an amazing asset to have a faculty of such breadth and depth in quality. The specialty programs are another strength. Before becoming a dean, I was a health law teacher and scholar, so I knew about the national reputation and the quality of the health law program here at DePaul. I knew many of the professors in that program and I thought it was very reflective of the entire faculty’s excellence. When I started the deanship at NIU and began working among Chicago lawyers, I learned about DePaul’s alumni and their strength and leadership in the community and, even though it was out of one corner of my eye, I saw how much dedication the alumni had to the law school. Those were three things that attracted me to DePaul.

Q. What do you think is most exciting about this opportunity?

I really am looking forward to the opportunity to work with the faculty, the law school administration and the university in helping to plan DePaul law’s future as sustainable and dynamic and to enhance its reputation. I look forward to leading initiatives to achieve those ends. During this critical time in legal education and the legal profession, it’s really important for law schools like DePaul to think about and build on what’s distinctive about the school—to leverage those particular strengths and the uniqueness of the law school and the university.

Last, but certainly not least, I’m really interested in engaging with students and helping them be successful—helping them get jobs, helping to train them for the legal profession as well as other professions in which their law degree can be a wonderful asset. I’m really looking forward to getting them well-placed in their careers and well-mentored before they graduate. 

Q. You mentioned that distinction is important for law schools. What strikes you as distinctive about DePaul? 

I think those distinctions are, in part, determined by us as a community. Some of the bright lights, the spotlights I already see include specializations that are very well known and have wonderful reputations, like intellectual property, health law, international law and aviation law. Another strength that we have is our university. The university is a tremendous resource. I believe we can attain a mutually rewarding partnership, where we can also reflect the Vincentian mission—which is very important—the charity, generosity, the dignity and respect for others. The mission really does infuse all that we do at the university and at the law school. Not only is it distinctive, but I think it is a real guiding principle for a lot of folks that I’ve talked to. More specifically, I think public service—both the public service mission and what we’re already doing in the community—can be deepened and strengthened, especially in light of the university’s mission and current strategic plan. 

I do think that our recently adopted 3YP [Third Year in Practice] and Preparing to Practice (P2P) programs are distinctive ways that we’re really being proactive about helping our students succeed with action, not just encouragement. I think we can do a lot more with our distinctions in strategic ways, such as tapping into our alumni base to get more engaged with the law school, to work with our students, to work with our administration, to really strengthen those relationships.

Q. What will be your priorities in the first year as dean?

First, I’m going to be listening. I’m going to meet with every faculty and staff member in the law school and talk about their hopes and dreams for DePaul Law. At the same time, I will be working on a strategic planning process with the faculty and the university and other constituencies, to build a strong future for DePaul, to build on its foundation, its strengths and to develop a consensual movement toward some of those priorities and some of the ways that DePaul can be distinctive.

I think it’s really important to put students first and to make sure our students are the most marketable, that they have the best opportunities and that our law school is as attractive as it can be in a very competitive market. And all those things of course go together. Last, but certainly not least, I will engage with the community, the outside community, talk to alumni, talk to leaders of the bar, talk to the law firms about how we can engage better with them. I would like to connect with legal service organizations and those that serve the indigent in our community to see how we can maybe partner in strategic ways to help not just our students and DePaul, but also the community and have more impact there. 

Q. What are your hopes for DePaul over the next five years?

It’s hard to be particular at this point, but in more broad and aspirational terms, I would like to enhance DePaul’s reputation, regionally and nationally. And I don’t just mean U.S. News rankings, because that’s only one way of considering reputation. I think it’s really important both to build internally on the quality of our programs and the human resources, and also to make sure that everybody knows all the great work that we’re doing and the impact that we’re having. It’s in part my job, as an ambassador of the law school, to make sure that our reputation is matched more proportionally to the quality that we already have and that we’re building.

I want to admit more smart and engaged students to our community over these next five years. And, as I mentioned before, I’d like to go into the colleges and the high schools to also recruit the next generation of law students. I would like to build on impactful public interest work that will increase access to   justice. We can’t do everything, but I think there are some initiatives that we can probably seed and start to grow in the next five years, to have an even greater impact and footprint in Chicago, and particularly in assisting the indigent and others who need legal services.

I’d like to put the spotlight on—this all continues from what we were talking about earlier—some program areas or points of pride. This means identifying those areas, and also strategically targeting resources (of all kinds) to those points of pride and building on them in the next five years. And my biggest hope and aspiration is a fulfilling job for every graduate who desires one.​