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Dean Guzman reflects on change, challenges and community at USC Gould

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

By Leslie Ridgeway
 
Dean Andrew T. Guzman (photo by Larissa Puro)
The USC Gould School of Law – the first law school in Southern California and one of the top rated nationwide – celebrates its 120th anniversary in 2020. 
 
For Dean Andrew Guzman, who has served in his position since 2015, the milestone is an opportunity to reflect on the core values and qualities Gould has promoted and maintained since its establishment, and to look ahead to the law school’s role in fostering growth and change within the profession, academia and the university itself.
 
Making Strides

Guzman, USC Gould’s first Latino dean, invested heavily in advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives thus far in his tenure, furthering the efforts of past administrations.  Yet, he’s fully aware that more work lies ahead.  
 
“We’ve increased the diversity of our students, faculty and staff, and we’ve improved in our approaches to making everyone feel that they’re part of our community,” he says. “We’ve built a successful C. David Molina First-Generation student support program. It’s very important work, and we recognize that it will always be a work in progress.”
 
Guzman also noted that the investments and improvements made at the law school can have a far-reaching impact for the field.
 
“If we (at the law school) aren’t diverse, then the profession won’t be either,” he says. “We know that you simply do better if you have a diverse group participating in the conversation and the decision making. Having a diverse group at the table will lead to better decisions, better outcomes and a more prosperous and peaceful society.”
 
Changing Landscape

One of the most important changes at Gould in recent years is redefining the educational purpose of a law school or as Guzman puts it, “what it means to be a law school and what it means to teach law.” 
 
Traditionally, the prevailing focus of a law school has been to prepare students to take the bar exam — but that focus has expanded with today’s burgeoning global marketplace. In response, USC Gould has broadened its emphasis toward teaching law from many different vantage points and welcoming more international students.
 
“Virtually every professional in the economy encounters law, whether you’re hiring people, dealing with contracts or making decisions within a complex regulatory world,” Guzman says. “We believe it’s important for all of these professionals to have some familiarity with law, to have a sophisticated engagement with what the legal system requires. We’re doing that through our master’s programs.”
 
According to Guzman, the university’s climate of continuous improvement has created an environment that fosters embrace change and spurs innovative thought.
 
“It’s empowering to be in a university that thinks change is healthy,” he says. 
 
Staying True to the Core

To Guzman, what sets the law school apart – and has for decades – is a strong sense of community. Its small size helps nurture a close-knit camaraderie distinctive to USC Gould, inclusive of students, faculty, staff and alumni.
 
“The students have one another’s back,” he says. “They feel like they’re in it together, not in competition with each other. The faculty and staff understand the importance of supporting our students and supporting one other. That community persists all the way through law school and into the alumni community.”
 
Also important to Guzman is that USC Gould is one of the first, going back to the 1960s, to dedicate itself to the interdisciplinary study of law. He’s proud of how it sparks collaboration and unique intellectual challenge.
 
“We were one of the first schools to realize that examining law through the lens of academic disciplines, like economics, ecology, sociology, political science, philosophy and history, helps us understand the legal system better,” he says. “It brings a different kind of rigor, brings the kind of academic values that exist throughout the university to the study of law.
 
Focusing on the Future

Looking ahead, Guzman’s priorities are centered on what he calls “the bread and butter issues of our mission” — teaching and research.
 
“We’re focused on bringing in the best possible class each year through outreach and scholarship, providing our students with the best possible legal education, and making sure they have the best possible career opportunities when they graduate,” he says. “We’re also focused on our faculty. We continue to bring superb new scholars into our community and plan to grow the size of our faculty over the next few years. This will allow us to offer an even richer curriculum, enable students to have more time with faculty and provide an even more vibrant intellectual climate for our own faculty.”
 
Though, while big plans are on the horizon, Guzman doesn’t lose sight of maintaining the key elements central to USC Gould’s identity.
 
“It’s really important for me to focus on how we can improve, what we can change, how we can become a better law school,” Guzman says. “But we also have to know the things that we don’t want to change. We have to know that our commitment to our students is not negotiable. Our commitment to diversity is not negotiable. Our commitment to interdisciplinary education is part of our DNA. Those features are foundational to who we are, and we continue to guard them fervently.”

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