Starting July 1, Laura Ann Rosenbury will officially take her place as the first permanent female dean of UF’s Levin College of Law in the college’s 106-year history.
Rosenbury, from northern Indiana, moved to the New York suburbs her junior year of high school. It was then she met a guidance counselor who pushed her to apply to schools she never even considered.
She graduated from Harvard-Radcliffe College with a bachelor’s in women’s studies before taking a couple years off to travel in Europe.
Rosenbury then returned to New York, where she met a handful of people with law degrees who were making a difference outside the courtroom at the National Planned Parenthood offices in New York City.
They affected policy and gave advice, offering solutions to problems without the traditional courtroom.
“That’s when I realized you could do a lot with a law degree,” Rosenbury said.
She graduated from Harvard Law School in 1997.
Following five years of law practice, Rosenbury joined Washington University Law School’s faculty, becoming vice dean from 2010-2012.
The school is located in St. Louis, about 20 minutes from Ferguson, Missouri, an area that was peppered by protests that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
Rosenbury didn’t hesitate to modify her Fall lessons, teaching her first-year property law students how property law perpetuates forms of racial inequality by racial segregation.
Given the situation in Missouri, Rosenbury chose to put theory into practice, demonstrating to her students that property law can also be used to challenge racial inequality.
“Law can be used as a tool to maintain the status quo,” Rosenbury said, “or it can be used as a tool to produce change.”
Original. Creative. Provocative. Smart. These are words Rosenbury’s colleague Susan Appleton used to describe Rosenbury’s academic success and teachings.
The two have worked together over the last 13 years and often collaborated on writings.
Appleton said she has always admired Rosenbury’s fierce advocacy for social in- justice.
“She is a very original and creative thinker,” said Appleton, a professor of 40 years who was on the committee that interviewed Rosenbury. “She brings a fresh perspective and new ways of thinking.”
Rachel Mance, Rosenbury’s assistant of two years, said that over an eight-year period and about 25 professors, she considered Rosenbury to be one of the best she’s worked with.
Her open-door policy allowed her to be as accessible to everyone as much as possible, Mance said.
She’ll take on multiple projects at once, Mance said, but she handles them well. While her teachings aren’t exclusive to one group, Rosenbury is geared toward women empowerment and fueling social justice as a whole.
Even with that, Rosenbury has always managed to set aside time in order to help out her students.
Rosenbury would wake up early every Wednesday to meet with her students at 8 a.m. at a nearby coffee shop to discuss anything from law practices to networking.
“She does the best she can to get back to everyone,” Mance said.
Provost Joe Glover’s email came on April 24 and he and Rosenbury spoke two days later, when he offered Rosenbury the position as UF’s Levin College of Law dean.
She accepted the offer and will earn a salary of $350,000 per year.
Rosenbury informed her students about her leave via email a day before it was officially announced.
“I wanted the students to hear from me that I was leaving the law school,” she said.
She offered help with letters of recommendation and encouraged her students to stay in touch.
If her students ever needed anything, Rosenbury would help in any way she could, an offer she considers to be a norm of the legal profession.
Before migrating to The Swamp, Rosenbury will travel to Shanghai, China, with Appleton for a conference about feminism and law in the U.S. and Asia.
Once she returns from her travels, Rosenbury said she will also be teaching an online course, something she said she believes is increasingly becoming a great alternative to pursuing higher education.
Rosenbury said she’s excited to begin working and helping guide the UF law faculty and the Student Body.
“The law school at UF is very lucky to have her,” Appleton said. “Being a dean will be a new challenge to her, but I have every confidence she will be a great success.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 5/14/15]