GW Law School Fall 2003
A Magazine for Alumni and Friends

Graphic header "A Way with Words, A Life of Action"

As a child, Roger H. Trangsrud, interim dean of GW Law School, listened to his father’s passionate tales of life as a teacher in a historic one-room school in northern Minnesota, not far from the Canadian border. “He always spoke about teaching with such enthusiasm and excitement that I entered college intent on becoming a professor of philosophy or literature,” the dean says.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Carleton College in his native Minnesota, Trangsrud shifted gears, enrolling at the University of Chicago Law School in search of a job that would “pay the bills.” “I loved the give and take of the law school classroom and enjoyed practicing law and litigation for six years at the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson, but I realized that my first calling was teaching and scholarship,” he says. Trangsrud interviewed at a number of law schools, receiving offers from Tulane, Vanderbilt, William & Mary, and GW. “I chose GW because I was so impressed and excited by the faculty here and believed that Washington, D.C., was the best place in the country, indeed in the world, to study law.”

Since joining GW Law in 1982, Trangsrud has not looked back. “I immediately fell in love with the classroom and the opportunity to work with the kind of students who are drawn to GW Law School,” he says. “It’s an impressive student body interested in important questions of public policy and the role of government and politics.”

During his first decade at the Law School, Trangsrud taught civil procedure, federal jurisdiction, remedies, and complex litigation and chaired the curriculum committee, the faculty appointments committee, and the faculty dean search committee. In 1993, then-Law School Dean Jack Friedenthal asked him to serve as associate dean for academic affairs. “I thoroughly enjoyed working with the dean on every aspect of law school operations,” he says. “GW is one of the five largest law schools in the country, with 78 full-time faculty members and more than 200 part-time faculty members teaching well over 300 courses in a complex academic program involving large full-time and part-time JD divisions, as well as LLM programs for both foreign and U.S. attorneys. The challenge of integrating and coordinating all of these programs and the faculty who teach in them was a terrific opportunity and great fun.”

Trangsrud credits Friedenthal with teaching him the ins and outs of law school administration, most importantly the fact that “we are in the people business.” He explains: “One of our principle missions is to help people improve the skills they bring to the building in order to advance their professional opportunities. In the case of faculty, that means creating the right conditions that permit individual faculty members to succeed in the classroom and in their scholarship. In the case of staff, it means creating a work environment in which people are excited to come to work every day to serve the students and faculty. And in the case of students, it means overseeing a rigorous academic enterprise which tests their mettle and helps them develop the skills and confidence they need to be successful attorneys.”

When Michael K. Young was appointed dean of the Law School in 1998, he asked Trangsrud to stay on as associate dean for academic affairs. As the number of new programs and initiatives proliferated at GW, Young expanded Trangsrud’s portfolio of responsibilities, promoting him to senior associate dean for academic affairs in 2000. “During the next four years, I was excited to be involved in almost every aspect of planning and oversight at the Law School, including the renovation of our existing physical plant and the addition of several new or renovated buildings to our complex,” he says. “Under Mike Young’s direction, the Law School significantly increased the space available for student lounges, as well as the number and quality of classrooms and faculty and staff offices, and our law library has grown into one of the finest academic research libraries in the country. I found it exhilarating to be part of the transformation of the law school during this period.”


Trangsrud greets alumni during a reception in November

Trangsrud speaks to guests at a Law School event at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.

Photos by Claire Duggan

Tom Morrison, senior associate dean for administrative affairs, has worked alongside Trangsrud for six years and has seen Trangsrud’s dedication to the Law School. “Dean Trangsrud brings to the job of interim dean 20 plus years of administrative and academic scholarship that could not be matched by anyone else on our faculty,” he says. “I have been continually impressed with both his insight and foresight. He has a true compassion for student issues yet exercises decisive judgment in all curriculum matters. He is a hard worker who has spent countless hours to develop an academic course of study that is one of the strongest and most refined in the country. It is my sincere pleasure to now call him both my boss and my friend.”

When Young departed GW Law this past summer to become president of the University of Utah, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg named Trangsrud interim dean for 2004-05. “I’m deeply honored to serve as interim dean because I very much shared Dean Young’s vision for the future of the Law School and very much wanted the positive momentum he created to be sustained until the next permanent dean is found,” Trangsrud says. “During this coming year, I look forward to completing the next phase of our multiyear program to renovate and expand the Law School physical plant, to continuing the outstanding academic initiatives and the aggressive recruitment of the best law professors and scholars, and to working with what I believe to be the finest law school staff of any school in the country. They are an extraordinarily talented and hardworking group, who every day make the law school run well.”

Trangsrud says that he’s sure GW Law will attract the very best dean candidates in the nation. “The obvious upward trajectory of the Law School, its ideal location, its impressive student body, and its large and talented faculty make GW the most attractive law school looking for a dean this coming year,” he says.

In the meantime, he’s happy to man the helm of GW Law, helping to keep the school moving forward as one of the nation’s premier institutes of legal education. He says: “I have been thrilled throughout my time here by the insights students have shared with me in class, by the extraordinary success my former students have found in their careers, by the opportunity to work and teach with some of the brightest and most interesting people I’ve ever met, and by the friendships I have formed over the years with faculty members, staff members, and students as we pursue this collective enterprise.”

Trangsrud says that his passion for academic life, ignited in him early in life, is here to stay. “I’ve come to fully understand the enthusiasm and excitement my father felt when he was a teacher,” he says. “Nothing can compare to the feeling of helping young people make sense of the seemingly tangled web of ideas and rules that comprise our law. It’s both fun and endlessly challenging, and I’m grateful every day for the opportunity to come to work and do what I do. It’s the greatest job in the land.”


Roger H. Trangsrud

Interim Dean and Professor of Law and Oswald Symister Colclough Research Professor of Law
BA, Carleton College
JD, University of Chicago

After serving on the University of Chicago Law Review, Trangsrud clerked for Justice Walter Rogosheske of the Minnesota Supreme Court and practiced law with D.C. firm Hogan & Hartson. In 1982 he joined the faculty of the Law School, where he has taught civil procedure, federal jurisdiction, remedies, and complex litigation. His writings are primarily in the fields of complex litigation and jurisdiction. He was appointed associate dean for academic affairs in 1993 and senior associate dean for academic affairs in 2000. Recently, he co-wrote a new casebook, Complex Litigation and the Adversary System, and a treatise on Complex Litigation: Problems in Advanced Civil Procedure.

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