Photo of Michael Scharf and Jessica Berg.
Michael Scharf and Jessica Berg

Passing the torch: CWRU law deans step down after a decade

After a decade spent steering the School of Law from recovery to resurgence, co-deans Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf have chosen to step down from their leadership roles this summer. 

When the two first became co-deans in the fall of 2013, the law school faced declining enrollments, financial challenges, and deep concerns among alumni and other supporters. Today they can point to impressive increases in fundraising, faculty diversity and community engagement—as well as other major improvements.

“This is an amazing place to work, with incredible staff, faculty and alumni whose commitment to the law school, to students, and to the broader community have made it possible to achieve so much over the last decade,” Berg added. “I feel lucky to have been a part of it all!”

Added Scharf: “Serving as co-dean with Jessica has been a dream job. We complemented each other so well. I’m astonished by all that we’ve been able to accomplish with the help of our colleagues and alumni these past 10 years.”

Motion carried

The deanship did not begin with visions of a long-term partnership. Berg and Scharf assumed the roles unexpectedly in the middle of a semester, stepping in during a difficult time at the law school.

“We walked in from day one saying we were not interested in being in a holding pattern,” said Berg.

Facing sharp declines in enrollment and revenue, the then-acting (and later, interim) deans created a plan to stabilize finances, restore trust in the school’s leadership and address other immediate and long-term needs.

“They didn’t suggest they had a magic formula to solve every problem,” said Jonathan Entin, professor emeritus of law who was on the faculty for 40 years. “But they understood this place and moved us forward together.”

New standard

During the deanship, the law school’s faculty have been recognized with new distinctions in teaching, research and advocacy. Berg and Scharf are credited with shoring up many of the school’s specialty areas, solidifying experiential education as a standout strength by opening new law clinics and introducing unique degree programs that draw on international partnerships.

Topping the list of their accomplishments are significant strides towards fiscal stability, the growth of new programs, hiring of new faculty and building a solid management team. Among their other gains are an increase in entering class size, a strong employment rate and top rankings of faculty, experiential education programs and specialty areas. 

In their final semester as co-deans, the law school moot court and mock trial teams (one of which is coached by Scharf himself) celebrated unprecedented success, including two national championships. 

“They’ve been distinctly successful in being creative and entrepreneurial,” said Robert B. Ahdieh, dean of the Texas A&M University School of Law. “They have a reputation as deans who are not afraid to try new things, and our fellow deans hold them highly in that regard.”

Berg and Scharf also make regular efforts to build morale, emphasizing community-building and organizing social events—including regular get-togethers at which Scharf’s faculty-student band, Razing the Bar, plays classic rock for students, faculty and staff.

“We both enjoy our jobs,” said Berg. “And we want other people to enjoy their work, too.”

Added Scharf: “Having fun is one way to build a community, and that’s important to us.”  

Moving forward

“Looking back at all that we’ve accomplished, we feel that the school is in a very good position and this is the right time for us to turn the reins over to a new dean,” they said. “We are excited to begin the next chapter of our professional lives.”

For Scharf, that chapter means stepping back into his previous role as associate dean of global legal studies. “With all that is going on in the world, I’m eager to devote more time to projects related to peace and accountability,” he remarked. 

Meanwhile Berg plans to embark on a new adventure as dean of UC Davis School of Law. “While it seems strange to be leaving CWRU, I’m thrilled by the opportunity to work with the incredible people at UC Davis,” she said.

In May, President Eric W. Kaler and Provost Joy K. Ward announced that Paul Rose, associate dean for strategic initiatives at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, will begin as dean of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

“Paul brings exceptional experience to Case Western Reserve—not only as a law scholar but also as an administrative leader responsible for developing critical initiatives that have proven impact,” President Kaler said. “I am eager to see all that he can, and will, do to drive our law school forward.”

Rose’s appointment follows a national search for a successor to Berg and Scharf.

“I want to thank Jessica and Michael for their dedication over the past 10 years,” Provost Ward said. “Now, as we look to the law school’s future, I’m confident Paul’s experience and expertise, particularly in navigating the changing landscape of law schools nationally, make him an ideal choice to lead Case Western Reserve University School of Law.