MSU College of Law



February 21, 2008


Joan Howarth Named New Dean of MSU College of Law

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Joan Howarth has been named the new dean of Michigan State University College of Law following the approval of the law school’s board of trustees on Feb. 20.  Howarth will be the 11th dean and first woman dean in MSU Law’s 117-year history.  


Joan Howarth

Howarth has been a professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, since 2001. She was instrumental in building the Boyd School of Law, founded just a decade ago, serving for four years as associate dean and helping to establish Boyd’s early and strong national reputation.

"I am honored to join this faculty as dean. MSU Law’s achievements and the boldness of its ambitions make this one of the most exciting opportunities in legal education," said Howarth, 57.

"Joan Howarth’s impressive record of academic and professional achievements make her an outstanding choice to be the next dean of the MSU College of Law," said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. "With her strong leadership, the Law College will continue to build upon its tradition of excellence."

Howarth would replace Cliff Thompson, who has served as acting dean of the Law College since February 2007. Thompson, who was part of the search process, said Howarth is an excellent choice to lead the college and its 46 full-time faculty.

"I’m delighted," Thompson said. "She has the credentials and skills to help continue the integration of the Law College into a great university. All constituencies of the law school give her strong support. The search committee did outstanding work."

Founded in Detroit in 1891, MSU College of Law remains the oldest continuously operating independent law school in the nation – and one of only a few private law schools to be affiliated with a research university. The law school partnered with MSU in 1995 and moved into a state-of-the-art law building on the East Lansing campus in 1997.

Howarth, a New Jersey native, earned her law degree Order of the Coif (top 10 percent of her class) in 1980 from the University of Southern California. After stints with California’s Office of the State Public Defender and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, she began her career as a law professor in 1989.

She has been a faculty member at the Golden Gate University School of Law and a visiting professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, UC Hastings College of Law and UC Davis School of Law. At the Boyd School of Law, UNLV, she was named William S. Boyd Professor of Law in 2003, served one year as associate dean for clinical studies and three years as associate dean for academic affairs.  She is a leader in legal education through work with the Association of American Law Schools, the American Bar Association and the Society of American Law Teachers.

"Professor Howarth’s experiences as an academic leader are a perfect match with the college’s needs at this important time," said MSU Provost Kim Wilcox. "She is an innovator in legal education, with bold ideas for helping the MSU College of Law assume a leadership role in legal education nationally."

Howarth was recommended by a search committee chaired by MSU Law professor Alvin Storrs and made up of MSU College of Law faculty and the senior associate dean; the MSU Graduate School dean; and a student and alumni representative. Wilcox and Clifton Haley, president of the MSU College of Law, then recommended Howarth’s appointment to the full law school board, which approved her appointment.

"I am more than pleased with the outcome of our comprehensive search for a dean," Storrs said. "Professor Howarth exemplifies the outstanding qualities we were looking for in a candidate. I look forward to her leading our Law College."

The Law College has made significant progress in virtually every measurable criterion since its affiliation with MSU. "With Professor Howarth's leadership, we expect to accelerate our upward movement to become a top-ranked law school in the nation," Haley said.

Howarth will begin as dean of the MSU College of Law in July 2008.


MSU College of Law was in founded in 1891 and is a private institution of higher learning devoted exclusively to professional education in law.  The Law College is one of only a few private law schools to be affiliated with a research university, enabling it to provide a comprehensive interdisciplinary legal education program.  Classes offered in its state-of-the-art facilities provide students the benefits of a Big Ten campus while maintaining the small school culture.  The Law College is one of the oldest continuously operating independent law colleges in the nation.  For more information about the Law College, visit