JoAnne Epps stepped foot onto Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in 1969 with modest expectations.
“I thought I was going to be a professional secretary like my mother,” Epps said.
Now Dean of the Beasley School of Law, Epps was named in National Jurist magazine’s list of the “Top 25 Most Influential People in Legal Education” last month for the fourth consecutive year.
Epps will also receive the 2016 Spirit of Excellence Award this Saturday from the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession for her work to encourage change in promoting “a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession.”
“It feels good to have work that I do judged as having some meaning,” Epps said. “It’s certainly an honor, but it’s also the kind of thing that makes you worry about when you fall off the list.”
Her time at Temple began in 1985 when Phoebe Haddon, then-professor at the Beasley School of Law and now the chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden, recommended Epps join Temple’s faculty.
“I encouraged her hiring,” Haddon said. “I thought highly of her, and I thought of her as a leader.”
After accepting the teaching position, Epps rose through the ranks. She was named associate dean to Robert Reinstein four years later, a position she held for 19 years.
“When she started as an associate, the reason I selected her, she has several qualities, some of which are remarkable,” Reinstein said. “She’s really smart and has excellent judgment. I quickly realized I could delegate a lot of my problems to her.”
When he stepped down from his position, Reinstein recommended Epps as his replacement, and she was named Dean in 2008.
In the months following her promotion, Epps faced unique obstacles due to the economic recession that same year. Some of the problems Epps and the law school faced were a smaller job market, a shrinking applicant pool and fundraising issues.
“The law school has done quite well, despite all these tremendous external problems,” Reinstein said. “We really trust her and know she’s going to act well for the law school.”
“Law schools must be innovative and ready to change,” Haddon said. “She’s been an effective leader. She encourages and tolerates change. I would imagine she is able to help her faculty appreciate that change is necessary.”
“She’s been a fabulous dean,” Reinstein added. “She instituted new programs, she hired some really great new faculty members.”
Since 2010, two years after Epps became the dean, the Beasley School of Law has gone from being ranked 72nd in the nation up to 52nd in 2015, according to top-law-schools.com.
Epps also makes it a priority to connect with the students in her school. This year, in addition to serving as dean, Epps taught a class for first-year law students.
“It allows me to reach a quarter of each first-year class,” she said. “It also lets me do what a law school does—teach. I think it is important for the leader of [an] enterprise to do what the enterprise does.”
“I’m just happy to be able to share my passion of law for the next generation of students,” Epps added.
Brett Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.