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Change is in the air at School of Law
July 19, 1999

Changes are afoot at the University's School of Law. Dean Hugh Macgill has said he will be stepping down as dean, and longtime Professor John Brittain has announced he will be leaving the University.

Macgill, who joined the faculty in 1971 and was appointed dean in 1990, will step down at the end of the 1999-2000 academic year. Brittain will leave at the end of the summer.

Macgill noted that the average life expectancy of a law school dean is about three years. Change in leadership is a positive thing for UConn's law school, as for any other institution, he remarked.

"I think it is not good for the institution for one person to be the dean for a long time," Macgill said. "Every person has blind spots; ordinarily two people in a row don't have the same blind spots."

During his tenure as dean, Macgill has overseen numerous changes at the School of Law, a new state-of-the-art law library being the most visible. In addition, the law school has started two graduate programs, opened the Insurance Law Center and redesigned the curriculum while Macgill has been dean.

Yet despite the great number of advances that have happened on his watch, Macgill is quick to share the credit with others at the school. "If you're lucky, as dean you can help people get the things done that they want to get done," Macgill said. "I don't regard the things that have gone on here in the past nine years as things I have done."

Kurt Strasser, associate dean and professor at the Law School, however, says Macgill has made tremendous contributions to the school.

"He has done the job extremely well for nine years, and I think I speak for everyone here when I say we'd be happy to have him for another nine," Strasser remarked.

Following a one-year sabbatical, Macgill will return to the law school as a professor.

While Macgill will be making the transition from dean to professor, John Brittain will be making the move from professor to dean. Brittain has been named dean of Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, effective in August.

Brittain, who joined the Law School in 1977, is well known throughout the state for his work on the Sheff v. O'Neill lawsuit to end segregation in Hartford's public schools. Through his efforts on that case and others like it, Brittain has helped make society better, Strasser noted. Equally important is Brittain's work as a dedicated teacher and mentor to many of his students, Strasser said.

Brittain promises to take what he's learned in Connecticut to Texas, where he hopes to make a significant difference.

"After 30 years in law in general and 22 years in education here, I've decided I can make a better contribution there," Brittain said.

A graduate of Howard University, Brittain sees his new position as a natural progression of the civil rights work that he began as a young lawyer in Mississippi and has continued here.

"I'm going back to the South to continue that tradition of providing access to legal education across a broad spectrum of people," Brittain said.

The Norwalk native is no stranger to Texas Southern University. During the 1997-98 school year, Brittain was a visiting professor at the university's law school, which was created in the 1940s to avoid admitting an African-American student to the law school at the University of Texas. The school now has a diverse student body and stands as a model of integration.

The colleagues Brittain is leaving behind have mixed emotions about his departure.

"It's, for the school, a very bittersweet thing that John is going," Strasser said. "We're glad for him, but sorry for us."

Allison Thompson