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Dean Danielle Holley of Howard University School of Law was recently announced to be the first Black woman president of Mount Holyoke College. The announcement comes amidst the search for Howard’s next president, who President Wayne A.I. Frederick indicated could be a Black woman.
Holley has served as the Dean of the School of Law since 2014. Since 2016, she has worked with the faculty to create a strategic vision for the law school that aims to provide funds for the law school, oversight of the academic program in conjunction with the faculty, career services and also admissions.
“What I like the most being the dean is telling the remarkable story of Howard University and its law school,” Holley said. “What we do is educate lawyers in their community to help them lead the fight for racial and social justice which is incredibly important for the legal profession. That energizes me everyday.”
Frederick announced he would be retiring in 2024, he indicated at the state of the university address in the fall that a Black woman would be a favorable choice to take his place. Before the Feb. 7 announcement, Holley’s track record as School of Law dean caused some to wonder if she would be a potential candidate for the Howard presidency.
Holley shared that while she “was interested in seeing Howard have an outstanding president,” the “timing didn’t match up very well.”
“I don’t think it’s about me,” she said. “There are lots of incredible Black women academic leaders inside our university and around the country.”
Holley indicated that the process of her selection as president of the Massachusetts women’s college Mount Holyoke began before the selection committee for Howard’s next president was formed. She said that neither Frederick or anyone from the Howard administration were aware of her selection process, per standard, she said.
As to why Holley feels as though now is the best time for her to leave after about nine years, she and the law school have hit four primary goals: echoing the relevance of the law school’s mission, raising the school’s profile, recruiting a new generation of faculty, and increasing the amount of money available for scholarships.
She feels as though the school has hit these goals, “So, I feel like the law school is in really good shape, so this was an ideal time for me to pursue some other opportunities that came my way.”
“I’ll always be a member of the Howard family,” Holley added. “I’ll always be a supporter of Howard, and I’ll always be promoting the ideals that Howard University and Howard Law stand for, and I’m hoping, one day, to have a big endowed scholarship in my name and be a major financial supporter of the University.”
Holley spoke of the fond memories she’s held in her time working at the School of Law. “As dean, I also teach and I love being with students, teaching and having an impact on the next generation of lawyers,” she said.
She also recounted some of the successes and challenges that shaped her role at the law school. In regards to financial support and enrollment rates, Holley said that, “We saw a 67 percent increase in applications and enrollment to the law school increased 20 percent, but that was a challenge when I first came to Howard.”
To support the increase in enrollment, Holley sought to increase capital and resources by raising funds.
“It has been a focus of my administration, raising more private dollars but also making sure that we use our resources well,” she said. “Our students are so deserving and our faculty is so deserving, and I wanted to see them have the most resources possible.”
Colleagues and students of Holley have shared their praise and support for Holley since the announcement, with many expressing their congratulations and their farewells. Mariela Olivares, associate dean for academic affairs, called Holley’s leaving “bittersweet.”
“Although I know Dean Holley will always be a part of our community and our Howard family, it’s a loss here for us as well,” she said. “It’s bittersweet in that sense but wonderful that she has this opportunity.”
Matthew Bruckner, associate professor at Howard University School of Law, told the Hilltop, “It has been great under her leadership. She brought in new money for students and faculty. The school’s reputation has continued to grow and develop.”
He spoke more about her legacy, “She innovated in various class offerings and we offer a class in commercial law for example. Schools need money and she has raised a lot of money and a lot of the money goes to the students, student scholarships and helped us keep the cost down for students.”
Bruckner said he was surprised about the timing as it was expected that she was going to depart from Howard in the summer of 2024 as opposed to this summer.
David Carter, a third-year student at Howard School of Law and president of the Student Bar Association said, “I legitimately thought she would stay for another two years. I was surprised but not shocked. I’ve known she’s given long and steadfast service to the school for 10 years and this was a just decision on her part.”
He added, “Dean Holley is a phenomenal leader, she is a phenomenal academic, she is a phenomenal woman, a phenomenal lawyer, and a phenomenal person. She has made it her mission at this campus to make windows, doorways, buildings, whatever it takes to create avenues of opportunity for law students of color, and lawyers of color to be able to have access to the rooms we all never really thought were open and available for us.”
Holley received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1996 and her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1999. She served as a law clerk to Judge Carl E. Stewart on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1999 to 2000. Before joining Howard’s faculty, Holley served as the associate dean for academic affairs at the University of South Carolina School of Law from 2005 to 2014.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee
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