Seattle University selects new dean to lead law school

February 17, 2022
Dean-Designate Tony Varona
Dean-Designate Tony Varona Photo by Yosef Kalinko

Former Miami Law dean Anthony E. Varona brings strong legal background, leadership experience to position

After a nationwide search, Seattle University has selected Anthony E. Varona as the new dean of Seattle University School of Law. He joins the law school — with an annual enrollment of more than 600 students and a strong emphasis on social justice — from the University of Miami School of Law, where he served as dean and M. Minnette Massey Chair in Law from August 2019 through June 2021, and now holds the Massey Chair as a tenured professor and dean emeritus.

“Tony Varona is the right dean for this pivotal moment in Seattle University School of Law’s history,” President Eduardo Peñalver said. “His roots in Jesuit higher education, along with his deeply held commitment to public service, are a perfect match for Seattle University’s Jesuit-inspired mission to educate powerful advocates for justice. With his personal warmth, strong vision, and tremendous energy, Tony will accelerate the law school forward. I have long admired Tony’s work as a legal academic and administrator, and I am excited to have the opportunity to work with him over the coming years.”

Varona, who officially begins on July 1, succeeds Annette E. Clark '89, who will step down at the end of June after a nine-year tenure as dean. Born in Cuba and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Varona is the first in his family to graduate from college, having earned undergraduate and law degrees from Boston College and an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center.

“With his accomplishments and background, Tony values and embodies our Jesuit educational mission and will be a tremendous fit for our law school and university,” said Provost Shane P. Martin.

“I am elated by the opportunity to serve as Seattle U Law’s next dean, because this is an extraordinary law school, with a superb faculty comprised of first-rate scholars and teachers and a talented and student-centered staff,” Varona said. “The students are well-rounded and richly diverse, and they graduate to serve as distinguished and justice-minded practitioners and judges, entrepreneurs, and public servants, throughout the Pacific Northwest and the nation.”

Varona said he looks forward to collaborating with Seattle U Law colleagues to take the law school to “new heights of achievement and prominence,” adding: “Seattle U Law is the ideal place to study and teach law. It is located in the heart of a vibrant, beautiful city that is a future-oriented and rapidly diversifying global capital of innovation and technology, industry, entrepreneurialism, and culture, and at Seattle University, whose values-based Jesuit identity and dedication to the rigorous pursuit of truth and justice provide a strong foundation to deliver a first-rate legal education to our students.”

As Miami Law dean, Varona led the school in recruiting the two strongest classes in its recorded history, with record-breaking incoming student credentials and selectivity. He and his team achieved a 10 percent increase in the law school’s bar exam pass rate (with a new #2 ranking in the state of Florida), increases in national reputational ratings, and a new Top 25 rank for Clinical Education and Top 30 rank for International Law.

Even as his deanship largely coincided with the COVID pandemic, Varona launched new partnerships and programs in such areas as international law, environmental law, transactional skills, racial justice, and human rights. A seasoned fundraiser, he brought in critical resources, including several large sustaining gifts and much needed emergency support for COVID-disrupted students. He elevated the intellectual life of the law school, attracting high profile speakers and showcasing faculty accomplishments nationally and globally, and he recruited nationally renowned faculty and senior staff colleagues.

Varona built strong relationships with his students and faculty and staff colleagues. Longtime Miami Law Professor Donna Kay Coker observed that “Tony was an outstanding dean – a model of integrity, compassion, and effective leadership. Tony worked ceaselessly to improve the school and to champion the work of our law school community. I am confident Seattle University’s experience will be no different.”

He also built strong relationships with Miami Law’s distinguished alumni base.

Miami Law alumnus and Miami-Dade Chief Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez, who also is licensed in Washington state, said that “Seattle is getting a fantastic dean” in Varona. He added that Varona “did outstanding work as Miami Law dean, raising funds, engaging students, alumni, and the legal community, boosting our national reputation, and raising the bar passage rate.”

Jeffrey Fine, a prominent South Florida attorney, chair of the Alma Jennings Foundation, and Miami Law alumnus and major donor, said, “Seattle U Law students, and the entire Seattle U School of Law community, will excel under his leadership, as the Miami Law community did with him as dean. He achieved unprecedented success by carefully diagnosing and addressing challenges as soon as he arrived.”

Before becoming Miami Law’s dean, Varona spent 14 years at American University Washington College of Law where he served in several key leadership roles, including as vice dean and academic dean, in addition to his position as a tenured professor of law. Previously, he also was an associate professor at Pace University School of Law, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

An award-winning scholar and teacher, Varona has written or taught in the areas of administrative and public law, media and communications law, sexuality and gender law, contracts, intellectual property, and diversity in legal education. He has been published in many notable law reviews/journals, including those associated with American, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Seattle, and Stanford universities, New York University, the College of William & Mary, and the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota. He is a co-author of Administrative Law: A Contemporary Approach, published by West, has served as a Huffington Post contributor, and has for decades appeared across traditional and electronic media outlets as a legal commentator.

A member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Membership Review Committee, Varona is an ABA and AALS law school accreditation site inspector and reporter. Varona is a recent Executive Committee member of the AALS Section on Teaching Methods. He is also a former co-editor of the AALS Journal of Legal Education and has served on the national boards of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Stonewall National Museum and Archives, and the Alliance for Justice.

Before entering academia, Varona served as the first general counsel and legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. He was a Wasserstein Public Interest Law Fellow at Harvard Law School and practiced as a communications/media law associate at the law firms Skadden Arps and Mintz Levin, both in Washington, D.C. He started his legal career as an honors program enforcement attorney at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Varona was named to the 2020 Power List by Lawyers of Color Magazine. He helped launch both the ABA Legal Education Police Practices Consortium and the Florida Law Schools’ Consortium for Racial Justice. Additionally, he was a member of the District of Columbia’s Global Legal Practice Task Force and led the host/planning committee for the Fourth National People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference, in 2019, thought to be the largest domestic gathering of minority law scholars in history.

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