Benson becomes youngest woman ever to lead U.S. law school


 Jocelyn Benson was selected for permanent deanship after national search

Jocelyn Benson, who has served as interim dean of Wayne State University Law School since December 2012, has been appointed permanent dean.

At age 36, Benson becomes the youngest woman ever to lead a U.S. law school.

WSU Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Margaret E. Winters announced the appointment, which is effective Monday, June 16.

“While serving as the law school’s interim dean since December 2012, Dean Benson has improved bar passage rates, increased the law school’s ranking with U.S. News & World Report and added hands-on learning opportunities for students,” Winters said. “I’m excited to see her future accomplishments in the years ahead.”

Benson, who joined the Wayne Law faculty in 2005, was selected for the permanent deanship after a national search. She becomes the law school’s 11th dean and the second woman to hold the job since the founding of Wayne Law in 1927.

Prior to serving as interim dean, Benson was an associate professor of law and associate director of the law school’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.

Her areas of expertise include civil rights law, education law and election law. She is widely quoted on those subjects in local, regional, national and international media and has written numerous book chapters and law review articles.

In 2010, her book, “State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process,” was published. It is the first major book on the role of the secretary of state in enforcing election and campaign finance laws. That same year, she was the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s secretary of state.

Benson is founder and executive director of the nonpartisan Michigan Center for Election Law, which hosts projects that support transparency and integrity in elections. She serves with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the board of iCivics Inc., a national nonprofit organization that O’Connor created to improve civics education throughout the country.

Benson also is founder and director of Military Spouses of Michigan.

Prior to joining the law faculty, Benson clerked for Judge Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She also worked as a legal assistant to Nina Totenberg at National Public Radio and investigated hate groups and hate crimes for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

She holds a bachelor of arts degree from Wellesley College, master of philosophy degree from Oxford University and law degree from Harvard Law School.

Benson has ambitious goals to accomplish for Wayne Law. As interim dean for 18 months, she already has gotten a head start on them.

In addition to the accomplishments that the provost cited, during Benson’s tenure as interim dean the law school has created several new law clinics; debuted an Alumni Speaker Series, Good Governance Lecture Series and alumni mentoring program; and started a master of laws degree in U.S. Law for foreign lawyers.

“I am proud to be leading Wayne Law at this historic moment,” Benson said. “We strive to be the leading legal education institution in the Midwest for providing opportunities to serve the public. As Detroit’s law school, we also have a responsibility to be a magnet for the next generation of advocates for justice in our region.

“In addition, my hope is that all graduates of Wayne Law, no matter where they land, are instilled with a desire to integrate service into their careers. And all students of the law school should have the opportunity to actually practice and experience the law before they graduate. Students who come to Wayne Law become part of a network of advocates committed to the same ideals. Together, they are something larger than themselves. We are a family here.”