Law dean plans to promote inclusivity as one of her top priorities

Amy WildermuthAs the fall 2018 semester begins, Amy J. Wildermuth has been adjusting to her new position as dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Before starting at Pitt on July 1, Wildermuth was the associate vice president for faculty and academic affairs and first chief sustainability officer at the University of Utah, as well as a professor in the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Wildermuth also served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens from 2002-03 and, prior to that, for two U.S. Court of Appeals judges.

She holds a juris doctorate and master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois, and bachelor’s degrees in history and engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, the University said.

Her areas of expertise include civil procedure, administrative law, environmental law and U.S. Supreme Court practice.

She relocated to Pittsburgh this summer with her wife, Gwen Foster, and their 6-year-old daughter 

The University Times asked Wildermuth about her goals for her first semester, her impressions of the Pitt community and more. Her answers have been edited for conciseness and clarity.

What drew you to Pitt?

I had a pretty great gig at the University of Utah. … I really wasn't interested in going anywhere that wasn't going to be just a terrific opportunity. And I’m very fortunate that Pitt has been, and Pitt law in particular, has been in such great hands. I'm walking into a job where I often think the people around me, they know exactly what they're doing. And they're doing it so well. It's such a nice team to be part of.

What attracted me here was the possibility to be on what I thought was a pretty good team, and has only shown itself to be an even better team than I could've imagined. So being part of that and being part of the enthusiasm for some new ideas and new projects — that's what brought me here.

What are some of your goals for your first semester?

The first thing is to be a good listener. I really want to listen and learn as much as I can about this place, and I learn something new every day. When I think about listening and learning, I mean not just in the law school, but at the university level, in the community —especially with our alums and the practicing bar.  

One of the big interests of the law school moving forward is inclusive excellence. And we are looking for a person to fill our … equity and inclusive excellence directorship. We are beginning to incorporate more education and training on inclusive excellence for everyone in this building. It's a very big priority for us. It's a passion of mine.

What is inclusive excellence?

What we want folks to think about is that this is largely in the diversity space. And what we're hoping people will understand a little better is the people who are coming from lots of different backgrounds and lots of different experiences — what we all bring to that table.

Which includes our implicit bias, right, and how you think about your own bias and where you come from ... and how you communicate with that. And that's duly important in law because we have clients that are going to come from lots of different experiences, lots of different backgrounds, and we need to know how to interact with them in an effective way so that we can do a good service for them. So, we're bringing in lots of folks from off campus as well, as outside the law school but from the University, to help us think about what we can do to really be more inclusive and to think differently about equity and diversity than we have in the past.

What are your impressions of Pitt's law program so far? What are some of its strengths and weaknesses?

The first thing I'll say is that Pitt Law is an outstanding law school. There are really fabulous faculty here. I mean very, very high-quality faculty that have consistently been ranked as one of the top and most productive faculties that you can find in any law school. The staff here are fantastic. I often feel like there's not as much for me to do because they do such a great job. I sometimes offer my services out in the hall: “Does anybody have anything for me to do?” They have it running so well. We get great, great students here at Pitt Law. And we continue to get even better students.

I think one of the things we collectively see as worth improving is to really get the message out about the law school. This is a place that has fabulous faculty and they are doing extraordinary things — cutting-edge work — and we need to talk more about that. So that's on us.

I think the other area that we all see as one — in all law schools that people are working on — (is) experiential learning. We need to get more practice-like experiences, real-life experience, if you will, in the hands of our students as early as possible.

In terms of the strengths of the law school ... this is a place that is very well-known in health law and for its sort of interdisciplinary work with health sciences. This is a terrific place for global and international engagement. We have outstanding international students that join us every year, and that's the result of the great work being done by our Center for International Legal Education. We have a great immigration clinic. We also have an innovation practice institute …. which goes to the sort of tech enthusiasm that you see in the community.

What are your impressions of the city of Pittsburgh?

It's interesting. When I interviewed here, I didn't expect Pittsburgh to feel as much like my home. I'm from a suburb of Chicago. And, I have to say, after being out West for as long as I have been, it's a little bit closer to what I'm used to in terms of home. So, I think one of my biggest impressions is how warm and friendly people are. It's a very kind and warm place. I sense the community and the sense of community people that people have and the pride that people have in this community. It's pretty terrific, and we have felt really embraced by this place and we're just excited to be here.


Donovan Harrell, or 412-383-9905