A Lasting Legacy of Law School Leadership
Dean Garry W. Jenkins wraps up seven years of innovation, collaboration, and diversification, setting up Minnesota Law for a continued bright future
Garry W. Jenkins knew he was walking into a challenge when he arrived at University of Minnesota Law School in 2016 as the new dean. It was a tough time for law schools nationwide, with many facing decreased student enrollment, and a specifically difficult time at Minnesota Law, where budget shortfalls and stagnant student diversity prevailed. With strategic and visionary leadership, Jenkins leaves the Law School primed for success.
Jenkins, the William S. Pattee Professor of Law, departs this summer to become president of Bates College in Maine. During his tenure in Minnesota, he amassed a long list of accomplishments that brought fresh energy and enthusiasm inside and outside of Minnesota Law. Jenkins guided the Law School to burnish incoming students’ academic qualifications, refill its coffers to provide robust support for students and innovation, and boost diversity in the student body.
“Dean Jenkins leaves us in a great place,” says William McGeveran, Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett Professor of Law, who served alongside Jenkins as associate dean for academic affairs for four years. “He has quite a list of accomplishments on behalf of the Law School, and the single most significant one is around diversity. We have a lot more work to do, but he put that as a central goal and moved us in the right direction.”
Jenkins led during an especially fraught time, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the ensuing civil unrest, which presented complex, overlapping challenges for the Law School community. “Garry was a steady hand through all of that,” McGeveran says. “I give him kudos because those were really difficult times, and he was so unflappable. He really showed exceptional leadership.”
These skills helped Jenkins eliminate budget deficits and complete a record-setting capital initiative. The Driven to Lead campaign aimed to raise $80 million; it secured $106 million for numerous needs, including scholarships, professorships, research, and clinics. In addition, Minnesota Law nearly doubled its endowment during Jenkins’ tenure and obtained its largest gift ever, a $25 million donation to permanently endow the James H. Binger Center for New Americans.
“Garry really inspired donors,” says David L. Jensen, chief advancement officer at Minnesota Law. “He’s been instrumental in building a greater sense of pride among alumni due to some excellent outcomes.”
Jenkins leveraged his experience in philanthropy, including serving as chief operating officer and general counsel of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. “He took a great law school to a higher level of national impact and reputation,” says Jensen. “We’re in a very strong place to continue to lead into the future.”
When Jenkins accepted the deanship, he knew he would be leading an acclaimed law school contending with some struggles. He worked with faculty, staff, students, and alumni to develop a strategic plan for tackling its financial difficulties and student diversity, which lagged behind regional peers.
“I’m proud of all of the things we’ve accomplished, specifically the culture we have nurtured at the Law School,” Jenkins says. “I’m proud of the way we have been a leader in legal education. Minnesota Law has played an important role in collaborating more broadly to make sure we’re attracting the best students and providing them with the kind of resources they need to be lawyer-leaders who serve their communities. That’s ultimately what it’s all about.”
Enhancing the caliber of the Minnesota Law student body and deepening its diversity have been key focus areas for Jenkins and ones where he has been especially impactful, says James Chosy ’89, senior executive vice president and general counsel at U.S. Bancorp, who saw Jenkins’ leadership in action during the Driven campaign and board service for Equal Justice Works and the Guthrie Theater.
The numbers speak for themselves. The Class of 2025 is the most accomplished and diverse in the Law School’s 135-year history, considering their undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores. For two years in a row, 25 percent of the incoming classes are domestic students of color. Half of the current 222-member class is LGBTQ+, students of color, and or/first-generation college graduates, says Robin Ingli, assistant dean of admissions.
Jenkins also created the position of assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and hired Ra’Shya Ghee ’13, a lawyer, professor, and racial equity consultant. Minnesota Law opened the Racial Justice Law Clinic to serve the community and provide experiential learning to students, helmed by Liliana Zaragoza, a civil rights attorney who joined Minnesota Law last year as associate professor of clinical law. For this work and more, Minnesota Lawyer recognized Jenkins with its Diversity and Inclusion award in 2022.
“I am a huge fan and admirer of Garry’s,” says Chosy. “He has really raised the profile of Minnesota Law and done a lot in the diversity, equity, and racial justice space.” Chosy notes in particular the new Racial Equity and Justice milestone program for students to build a deeper understanding of race and American law, and the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship in Law. “He’s brought a lot to the table in emphasizing equity and racial justice in the last couple of years. It’s been transformative, and it’s been a huge plus for the University.”
In addition to recruiting a more diverse student body, Jenkins also worked to ensure that all students can succeed at Minnesota Law. That meant augmenting support systems, such as hiring staff who focus on academic and bar success and expanding counseling and advisory services. Collectively, these efforts helped the Law School achieve its record-high 97 percent bar passage rate.
“It’s one thing to bring in diverse students, and it’s another to help them succeed,” says Rachel Croson, executive vice president and provost of the University of Minnesota. “Dean Jenkins has led support for student belonging on campus by adding the assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and enhancing support for mental health and wellness.”
Jenkins also shared his leadership abilities with the broader University, chairing the Twin Cities Dean’s Council and serving on the emergency planning task force that navigated Covid. “He’s very smart and capable and all the things you’d want in a collaborative dean,” Croson says. “But he’s also visionary about seeing the world that he wants to create and effectively working across boundaries to create it.”
Meredith McQuaid ’91, who recently retired as the University’s associate vice president and dean of international programs, observes that Jenkins forges a path to success with palpable optimism and a big-picture view of the issues. “Garry always looks for the positive in things, which I think in a leader is critical to getting people on your side,” says McQuaid, who spent 14 years in Minnesota Law leadership. “He’s genuine and he’s justa class act. When you get a leader who people are drawn to, you get a lot more done. He certainly will be missed.”
Jenkins’ traits of being authentic, engaging, and thoughtful helped him build a culture of collegialitythat attracted students to Minnesota Law, Ingli says. Jenkins empowered staff and was accessible to students, giving both a voice at the Law School. “Changes have been made due to students’ input,” Ingli says. “I think that’s something that will continue. His leadership has made this a much more supportive and inclusive place.”
Another key reason Jenkins succeeded in recruiting 15 full-time, top-caliber faculty and exceptional students can be attributed to Minnesota Law’s hearty roster of clinics—centers of hands-on learning. In recent years,the Law School added six clinics and created the position of assistant dean of experiential education. New clinics are focused on clemency; rural immigrant access; sports and name, image, and likeness; and gun violence prevention, which is believed to be the first such law school clinic in the nation.
This spirit of innovation has been a hallmark of Jenkins’ tenure, both in bringing forward his own ideas and supporting others’. It created an environment ripe for fresh thinking and approaches, says Robert Stein ’61, Everett Fraser Professor of Law who served as dean for 15 years and has taught at Minnesota Law for 50 years.
“He encouraged the faculty and the students,” Stein says. “He made them feel very positive about the school, and there is great pride among the student body. I think you’d describe his time as dean as an excellent one for the school.”
For Jenkins, other highlights include helping establish the Jones Day Diversity Fellowship that provides a full tuition scholarship, mentoring, and career opportunities; expanding undergraduate education opportunities at Minnesota Law; and hosting three U.S. Supreme Court justices: Elena Kagan, John G. Roberts Jr., and Sonia Sotomayor.
Under Jenkins’s leadership, the Law School has reached record highs in national rankings of law schools. Minnesota Law is currently ranked as a top five public law school, as a top six law school for practical training, and nationally ranked 16th overall (the highest since U.S. News rankings first began in 1987).
As sad as she is to see Jenkins leave, Barbara Jean D’Aquila ’80 is grateful for how far Jenkins moved Minnesota Law forward. Chair of the Law School Boardof Advisors and an employment lawyer at Fisher & Phillips in Minneapolis, D’Aquila especially appreciates that Minnesota Law’s now-solid financial foundation will provide enduring support for faculty and students, leadership development, innovation, varied experiential learning opportunities, and a more diverse student body that enhances learning for all.
“Garry is leaving us in such fantastic shape, with a strong vision for the future,” D’Aquila says. “When you leave a place better than it was when you started, with a plan that can be implemented by the people who remain, you have left a legacy. And that is the sign of an exceptional leader.”