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UK Board Approves 1st Woman Dean of Rosenberg College of Law

The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees has approved the naming of Mary J. Davis as full-time dean of the J. David Rosenberg College of Law effective Jan. 1, 2021. Davis, the Ashland, Inc-Spears Distinguished Research Professor of Law, has been serving as interim dean. She will become the first woman to serve in the role of permanent dean at the college.

“In addition to her university service, Mary has made contributions to the profession at the state, regional, national, and international levels through scholarly activities, including service as a visiting professor at four law schools and authoring a leading casebook on product liability. She is passionate about continuing to enhance the college’s strong reputation,” said Provost David W. Blackwell.

“It is an exciting yet challenging time at UK, and announcements like these remind us that our brightest days are ahead,” Blackwell said in an announcement to the college. “As we continue to work toward our ambitious goals, I’d like to thank you for the work you do every day. Please join me in congratulating Dean Davis and supporting her as she leads your college to the next level of excellence.”

Davis has served on the faculty since 1991. She began a tenure as interim dean on July 1, 2019, as the college transitioned from its two-year temporary location into a $56 million rebuild on its original site. Prior to becoming interim dean, Davis served as chair of the college’s building committee. In this role, she was instrumental, from design through construction, in the College of Law having a facility to provide a 21st century legal education through teaching, learning, research, practical skills training and co-curricular programming.

During her tenure as interim dean, the UK College of Law also became the UK J. David Rosenberg College of Law in December 2019 following a generous gift from alumnus J. David Rosenberg and his wife, Dianne. The couple pledged $20 million to fund an endowment and non-endowed gift to support student scholarships, faculty recruitment and retention, and programs for the college.

Davis will succeed David A. Brennen, who was the first African American dean of the college, serving from 2009-2020.

In spring 2020, Davis led the college through unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning when the university quickly transitioned all classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she has been instrumental as the law school continues to adapt and thrive through the health crisis.

“When I received an offer to teach law at the University of Kentucky in 1991, I thought that I had won the lottery,” Davis said. “I have been honored to serve this institution as a member of a faculty of first-rate scholars and educators and to teach the exceptional students who attend the UK Rosenberg College of Law. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve this institution as its dean. I was excited in 1991 for the future, and I remain excited for what the future holds for the UK Rosenberg College of Law.”

Davis joined the law faculty at UK after spending six years in products liability litigation defense practice for the law firms of Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe in Richmond, Virginia. Her practice experience involved management of nationwide litigation and she is a leading scholar in the nation in the field of products liability.

Davis is a 1985 magna cum laude graduate of the Wake Forest University School of Law, where she served as managing editor of the law review, and a 1979 cum laude graduate of the University of Virginia.

“Dean Mary Davis has devoted years of excellence to the UK Rosenberg College of Law,” said former Kentucky Deputy Chief Justice Mary C. Noble, a UK Rosenberg Law alumna now serving as Secretary of the Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet. “She is an outstanding professor, and during the last three years she has overseen the renovation of the law school building, moved the college in and successfully opened the new space, and has presided over a virtual campus during the Covid crisis. She excels with students, faculty and alumni. She is a brilliant choice for dean, and I am looking forward to working with her as we move ahead."

Jonas Bastien, president of the UK Student Bar Association, also praised the selection. 

“It was a refreshing announcement of good news that interim Dean Mary Davis was offered and accepted the position of official Dean of the University of Kentucky Rosenberg College of Law," Bastien said. "Dean Davis has been a zealous advocate for the student body throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, helping usher in changes to the grading system during the spring semester with the help and support of the Student Bar Association, maintaining constant communication with students through Zoom town halls, and overall leading the entire college to adapt to the newfound challenges of online learning. I am excited for the path of our College of Law under her leadership, and for the continued success of the students as a result of proper administrative guidance.”

By Shawntaye Hopkins

Posted Dec. 8, 2020
Updated Dec. 15, 2020