The dawn of a new year heralded the arrival of The University of Tulsa College of Law’s new dean, Oren Griffin. During his first month at the helm, Griffin kindly made time in his bustling schedule to shed some light on his background and insights into what makes TU Law such a promising place for students from across the country to gain a first-class legal education.
You taught at Mercer University School of Law in Georgia since 2006 and, most recently, served as its associate dean for strategic initiatives. What motivated you to pull up stakes and move across the country to Tulsa and The University of Tulsa?
In my view, TU is an outstanding institution with great programs and facilities, and well-positioned for the development of interdisciplinary programs that intersect with law and policy. Moreover, I’m impressed with the City of Tulsa, which offers a welcoming community.
You received your Juris Doctor degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law in 1996. Thinking back to your time as a law student, what were some of the highlights, and are there any you might consider introducing at TU Law?
TU Law has many wonderful programs including its diverse array of clinical and externship opportunities. I had a great experience working in the public defender’s clinic in law school and I’m very impressed with the robust clinical education programs available to TU Law students. I’m committed to supporting these and all our programs going forward.
After graduating from law school, you worked as a labor and employment attorney with law firms in Atlanta and Kalamazoo. What motivated you to enter academia?
Practicing law in state and federal courts was very rewarding for me; however, I’ve always had a strong interest in higher education and academic leadership. Legal education has given me the ability to merge my interest in law and policy while serving the higher education community.
What are the major challenges facing legal education in the United States today?
Of course, navigating the difficulties of the public health emergency associated with COVID-19 is a major challenge. However, law schools are also confronted with tremendous competition for the best and brightest students, recruiting and retaining talented faculty, and offering an affordable education at a time when many students enter law school with significant student loan debt.
As a champion of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion, what is your vision of the role those principles play in the education of future legal professionals?
It is critical that students are equipped to enter the legal professional with an appreciation for principles of equity, fairness and inclusion. While problem-solving and critical thinking are among the core competences that lawyers bring to the legal profession or their work in government, the nonprofit sector and other arenas, the values of diversity, equity and inclusion must play a central role in our efforts.
It is important to lead by example in these areas, but to also create safe spaces for students to learn and explore these subjects with experienced faculty and skilled practitioners.
With hundreds of law schools in the U.S. to choose from, why would someone do well to entrust their education to TU Law?
TU Law’s commitment to academic excellence and personal attention are fundamental ingredients of the academic programs that make it a special place for aspiring person to learn, grow and excel, both academically and personally.
Peering ahead five years, what do you hope you will have been able to accomplish at TU Law and at TU more generally?
My top aspirations are raising our law school’s national profile, recruiting outstanding faculty, expanding our programs and offerings in Native American Law, and making contributions to the Tulsa community. With regard to the latter, I’m looking forward to supporting the ongoing development of the Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic, which is named in recognition of a courageous attorney who distinguished himself defending survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Outside of your life as an academic administrator and scholar, what else would you like people to know about you?
My wife, Theresa, and I are the parents of two wonderful sons. Our family has been very active with our local church and our boys keep busy schedules in school working with special needs children in the Special Olympics, as well as school band and the golf and basketball teams. We are all looking forward to being a part of the TU community.
Prepared. Practiced. Proven. If that’s the kind of top-flight legal education you’re seeking, you need to consider applying to The University of Tulsa College of Law.