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Benson stepping down as Wayne Law dean to lead national campaign in sports for equality

September 6, 2016


DETROIT – Jocelyn Benson will step down as Wayne State University Law School dean this month to serve as CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a venture led by professional sports organizations, including the NFL, NBA and MLB, to improve race relations in America.

She also will serve as a special advisor on philanthropic investments to RISE founder Stephen M. Ross, whose total donations to higher education rank behind only those of fellow American billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Benson will continue her affiliation with Wayne Law as director of the Levin Center at Wayne Law and co-teaching a course on Legislative Oversight with former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. Under her leadership, the law school founded the center in 2015 in honor of Levin’s distinguished career in public service. The center seeks to educate future attorneys, business leaders, legislators and public servants on their role ensuring that public and private institutions further the public good.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as dean of Wayne Law over these last four years,” Benson said. “I am immensely proud that in that time Wayne Law has risen to be ranked as the second most prestigious law school in Michigan.

“We’ve also seen a steady increase in our enrollment and the credentials of our incoming students while keeping the cost of tuition affordable through increased scholarship opportunities for all of our students. And I am proud that we launched several new clinics, externships, programs and centers, including the Levin Center at Wayne Law, which I’m excited to have the opportunity to now lead.”

WSU Provost Keith Whitfield will be meeting with the law school faculty soon to discuss appointing an interim dean and launching a search for a permanent dean, who will take office in June.

Benson first was appointed interim dean in December 2012 and was named dean in June 2014 after a national search. At the time of her appointment, at age 36, she became the youngest woman ever to lead an accredited U.S. law school.

A hallmark of Benson’s leadership has been creating new opportunities for hands-on learning for law students. Under her guidance, the law school created two new law clinics, launched a new externship program and founded the Levin Center. Benson also created an Alumni Speaker Series to welcome alumni – including Dan Gilbert, class of 1987, and Ross, class of 1965 – from various fields back to the law school to network with students.

In 2015, The National Jurist honored Wayne Law as among the nation’s best law schools for practical training. For that same year, preLaw magazine named the Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer Clinic, one of the new clinics established under Benson, as one of the top 15 most innovative law school clinics in the nation.

Wayne Law has received several other accolades under Benson’s leadership, as well. For 2017, the law school has returned to the top 100 in U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Law Schools. For the past three years, Wayne Law has been recognized as a Best Value Law School by The National Jurist and preLaw magazine.

Under Benson, the law school has posted enrollment increases for first-year students for each of the past two years – a 10 percent increase in fall 2015 and a 5 percent increase for fall 2016. Benson also launched an academic success and bar exam preparation initiative, which has seen the state bar exam passage rate continue to climb for Wayne Law graduates.

Most recently, Benson worked to create partnerships with Oakland University and Wayne State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree and a law degree in six years instead of seven.

Benson also expanded the law school’s communications and community outreach efforts with greater use of social media and video, targeted electronic communications, a redesigned alumni magazine, and increased community partnerships and public events.

Her time as dean also has been marked by personal accomplishments. Crain’s Detroit Business named her one of Michigan’s 100 most influential women in 2016. In October, Benson was inducted into the 32nd class of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She is one of the youngest women inductees in the history of the hall of fame, second only to Serena Williams, a 2012 inductee.

And in April, Benson earned national headlines as one of only a handful of women in history to complete the Boston Marathon in her eighth month of pregnancy.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Benson has been a member of the law faculty since 2005. Prior to serving as dean, she was an associate professor of law and associate director of the law school’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.

Benson is founder and executive director of the nonpartisan Michigan Center for Election Law, which hosts projects that support transparency and integrity in elections. She serves with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the board of iCivics, a national nonprofit organization that O’Connor created to improve civics education throughout the country.

Benson also serves on the Southern Poverty Law Center Board of Directors and is founder and president of Military Spouses of Michigan.