Law dean breaks new ground

By Joseph Guzy | Photo Editor Interim Dean of the Duquesne University Law School Nancy Perkins poses for a photo in her new office. Perkins is the first woman to lead the 105-yr.-old school.

By Joseph Guzy | Photo Editor
Interim Dean of the Duquesne University Law School Nancy Perkins poses for a photo in her new office. Perkins is the first woman to lead the 105-year-old school.

By Kaye Burnet | News Editor

As Ken Gormley cleans out his office in preparation for his transition from dean of Duquesne’s law school to president of the university, his replacement is quietly breaking new ground for the 105-year-old school of law.

Nancy Perkins, interim dean, is the first woman to take on the responsibility of leading Duquesne’s law school. She assumed the role in November as Gormley began a sabbatical to prepare for his upcoming installation as president.

“Being the first woman dean of the law school makes my appointment all the more special,” Perkins said.

Gormley said he believes there is still “a lot of work to be done” to ensure that women have access to leadership roles in the legal profession, but he thinks this is a step in the right direction for Duquesne.

“I think there couldn’t be a better person than [Perkins] to break this new ground,” Gormley said.

According to Perkins, she intends to follow the path set forth by her predecessor as she adjusts to the new position.

“The important tasks ahead, aside from bringing the academic year to a successful end for our students, include recruiting and selecting next year’s incoming class, and conducting a search for a new, permanent dean,” Perkins said.

According to Gormley, Perkins’ nomination received “universal support” from law school faculty when University President Charles Dougherty named her as Gormley’s temporary replacement in early November, just days after Gormley was announced as Dougherty’s replacement.

Perkins took the job with the expectation that she would return to her teaching and research as soon as a national search committee selects the next dean, which Gormley said should take place before the fall semester begins.

“She’s really doing this as a service to the law school,” Gormley said.

A Boston native with a love for theater and music, Perkins earned her law degree from Nova Southeastern Law Center in 1986 and has spent more than 20 years teaching at Duquesne. Perkins was named the law school’s associate dean of academic affairs in 2009, then took on the role of the endowed Noble J. Dick Chair in Academic Leadership during the fall semester.

Her specialties include a focus on environmental law, sustainability and feminism.

While very accomplished in her field, Perkins did not always dream of being an attorney. She graduated from the all-women’s Mt. Holyoke College in 1975 with a bachelor’s in music, then began studying music in graduate school.

“I left graduate school because I wasn’t sure about pursuing a career in music,” Perkins said.

“I knew I was ready for graduate school, and was torn between seeking an MBA or a [Juris Doctorate]. Ultimately, I decided I’d enjoy law more, and I was right.”

However, Perkins’ journey through law school was fraught with challenges. When she began her studies, her first child was four months old and her father had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“I wanted to postpone law school for a year, but my father — one of my heroes — was adamant that I begin my studies,” Perkins said. “So I approached law school, and my life at that time, by taking it one day at a time.

“My second child was born just hours after completing an exam in my final year at Nova, and my father sadly succumbed to cancer two months before I graduated.”

Perkins believes that her past experiences, especially as part of Duquesne’s faculty, have equipped her to do well in the news leadership role, saying that she looks forward to working within legal education in a “very different and dynamic way” as interim dean.

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