Meet Mark L. Adams
Longtime educator. World traveler. Academic leader. Basketball coach. Cyclist. Father. And, now, 20th dean of the University of Idaho College of Law.
By Stacie Jones
Originally published in the 2014 Idaho Law Magazine
On June 22, Mark Adams stepped through the double glass doors of the Menard Law Building to begin his appointment as the 20th dean of the University of Idaho College of Law. Equipped with more than 25 years of experience in law school administration, legal education and professional practice, Adams, a first-time dean, is excited about this new leg of his distinguished career, and he’s enthusiastic about the direction in which he hopes to steer the college, its faculty and staff, and its students.
“I’m thrilled to have the chance to serve as dean at such an outstanding law school and university,” he said. “With its strong sense of community and dedication to teaching, service and students, it’s a natural fit. I felt at home as soon as I set foot on campus.”
Adams comes to the University of Idaho from Indiana’s Valparaiso University Law School, where he most recently served as vice dean. At the University of Idaho, he succeeds interim dean Michael Satz, who was appointed after former dean, Don Burnett, was named interim president of the University of Idaho in May 2013.
“Mark Adams brings considerable administrative experience to the University of Idaho and is well prepared to lead the College of Law as it adds the second-year program in Boise and continues to provide outstanding legal education opportunities on the Moscow campus,” said Katherine Aiken, interim provost and executive vice president.
The Road WestAn Illinois native and son of a retired labor law lawyer, Adams had a natural interest in the law. But it wasn’t his first career choice. After earning an undergraduate degree in 1983 at Williams College in Massachusetts – where he was a member of the basketball team and a percussionist in the school marching band – Adams began a professional life in secondary education teaching history and coaching basketball. But he soon shifted gears.
“Growing up, I always had an interest in law, although I never really thought about pursuing it as a career,” he said. “But after teaching high school for a couple of years, I finally decided it was the right time to go to law school.”
He received a J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1988. Adams was hired as an associate at the Seattle
law firm of Davis Wright Treamaine, where he practiced labor and employment law. He enjoyed challenging work, but the classroom beckoned.
“I missed teaching and wanted to pursue scholarship,” he said.
Adams taught legal writing at Indiana University School of Law. In 1994, he landed at Valparaiso University Law School where, over a span of two decades, he held roles as professor, director of international programs, associate dean for academic affairs, and vice dean. During his tenure, Adams led the creation and development of programmatic initiatives, including a revised curriculum, joint J.D./master’s programs and a master’s program for foreign lawyers.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunities over the course of my career to have a broader influence in legal education and to interact with others domestically and abroad,” he said.
Adams has lived most of his life in the Midwest, but his short stint in Seattle directly out of law school –
along with trips to Montana and Wyoming as a wilderness guide in college – gave him a taste of what this part of the country has to offer.
“I’ve always been drawn to the Northwest,” said Adams, a hiker, kayaker and cyclist. “So when I began looking for dean opportunities, Idaho seemed to be the perfect fit geographically.”
After accepting the position last spring, Adams moved to the Palouse with his wife, Melissa, and the youngest of his three children, Rosemary, now an eighth grader at Moscow Middle School. His two oldest children, daughter Ingrid, who is a senior at Notre Dame, and son Kelly, who is a freshman at George Washington University, made their first visit to Moscow in August.
An International InterestAdams is clearly attracted to adventure, not only as an avid outdoorsman, but also as an academic and world traveler to destinations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Korea, Japan, Thailand, China, and several South American countries.
“One of the great joys in my professional career has been the opportunity to travel all over the world and establish lasting friendships,” he said.
While at Valparaiso, Adams developed the school’s first Master of Laws or LL.M., program in American law, a program designed for foreign-educated lawyers who want to learn about the American legal system.
The project took him to countries around the world, and he formed global relationships. Adams later leveraged these contacts to establish agreements with law schools in Latin America and Europe for student and faculty exchange. He also developed a study-abroad program in South America, where he and a group of students spent four weeks each summer in Chile and Argentina studying human rights issues and examining each country’s history during the military regimes.
Adams plans to draw on his expansive international experiences and network – especially in South
America – to enhance international relations within the University of Idaho College of Law.
“This summer was the first in nine years that I haven’t traveled to South America,” he said. “I’d like to reestablish those connections in Chile and Argentina and explore study-abroad and exchange opportunities for University of Idaho law students and faculty.”
A Map for the FutureBeyond Idaho’s mountainous terrain and worldclass outdoor recreation, Adams’ decision to join the University of Idaho College of Law was largely influenced by the university’s and the college’s commitment to public service.
“I was drawn to the idea of working at a land-grant institution and serving people of the state,” he said.
In addition to building on the college’s already strong pro bono program (like University of Idaho, his former university had a pro bono requirement for graduation), Adams plans to work closely with faculty and community partners to maximize the college’s growing presence in Boise, and to create new avenues for public service, faculty scholarship and collaboration, student learning and career opportunities.
“A big part of our goal as a college is to solidify our position as we prepare to add a second-year program in Boise and for the opening of the new Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center,” Adams said. “We are not only looking at how to deliver education there, but we are also working to connect the two locations [Moscow and Boise] in a very planned and productive manner, and linking them together to serve the needs of faculty, students, alumni and the people of the state in a meaningful way.”
Adams said one of his primary areas of focus is exploring teaching methods that not only teach students how to think like lawyers, but also integrate the practical skills – like writing and research – that can improve the student experience, learning outcomes and success in a rapidly changing profession.
“Legal education is in transition,” he said. “Traditionally, lawyers have been educated through the Socratic method, but we need to find a way to connect the different areas of the law program so there is writing and research across the curriculum.”
“We must identify the body of knowledge and skills that we want all graduates to have so that they are not only prepared for a career in an increasingly globalized and diverse workplace, but also prepared to serve the public and engage in a professional way with a variety of constituencies as legal needs and technologies change,” he continued.
Student learning is a hallmark of Adams’ career and will be central to his approach as dean.
“I may be an administrator now, but at heart I’m a teacher,” he said. “I see my role as acting as a teacher, now just in a bigger and more beautiful classroom: the state of Idaho.”