May 30 , 2006
Law school’s Alexander recognized for career dedicated to service
BY Michael terrazas
It’s a safe bet that never has Emory bestowed its Thomas Jefferson Award—given each year to a faculty member or administration officer for significant service to the University—to a more deserving person than the 2006 recipient.
Frank Alexander, professor of law and interim dean of the School of Law, received the award from President Jim Wagner at Emory’s 161st Commencement, held May 15, but Alexander has spent virtually his entire professional life earning it, at least if one broadens one’s idea of “service to the University.”
To be sure, the last year qualifies even under the strictest of definitions; Alexander took over the school’s reins last summer after former Dean Tom Arthur stepped down. Within months of assuming the deanship, Alexander was confronted with a problem more vexing than he could have possibily anticipated, as Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, leaving hundreds of law students from several schools academically homeless for the semester. Immediately, Alexander stepped up to help.
“In this year of transition, blessings came from unexpected quarters,” Alexander wrote in a year-ending letter to the school. “Throughout the fall semester our lives and our community were enriched and strengthened by the presence of 30 students from Tulane and Loyola law schools and several of their faculty and staff. Their own enthusiasm and strength in the face of adversity reminded us of the things that are truly important and the power of pulling together.”
Alexander said the year was bookended by this spring’s passing of former Professor Bill Ferguson after a long bout with cancer, which though painful served to bring together the school’s faculty, staff and alumni to mourn their beloved former colleague.
In between and around those emotional experiences, there was also plenty of accomplishment: The school more than doubled the total funding for public interest law fellowships, awarded through the Emory Public Interest Committee. It grew a loan repayments assistance program, created two new clinical arms in the Indigent Criminal Defense Clinic and Juvenile Justice Clinic, celebrated many new arrivals and appointments, and watched its faculty publish some 22 books and 35 articles.
Not too bad for an interim dean.
“It’s been such a joy,” Alexander said. “To meet so many of my former students as I’ve traveled around the country, to be able to work in new ways with our current students and to see the excitement they have and the staff has for our common endeavors. I’m more excited about Emory law school—and, indeed, Emory University—than at any point in the past.”
Of course, service is nothing new for Alexander. A longtime scholar of and advocate for affordable housing and urban redevelopment, he helped create the mixed-income development in East Lake and more recently has spent time working on comparable projects in Flint, Mich., and Little Rock, Ark.
“I have a real passion for being involved in the community, and one of the privileges of being at Emory is the invitation and even the encouragement to be engaged with a much larger community,” Alexander said. “The first thing I did last summer [as interim dean] was say, let’s devote the year to celebrating the profession of service, and that’s become the moniker on which we based everything all year.”