At Stanford, New Medical and Law Deans Expect to Work Collaboratively

Brian Smale

Mary Elizabeth Magill
September 23, 2012

Stanford University's two newest deans say that some of the most compelling areas of study emerge where medicine and law intersect: analyzing the impact of changes in health-care laws, for instance, or considering the legal implications of genetic testing.

Stanford's president and provost say that a commitment to cross-disciplinary learning was a key reason the university selected the new deans: Lloyd B. Minor, who will lead the medical school, and Mary Elizabeth Magill, who just took office at the law school.

Dr. Minor, provost of the Johns Hopkins University, doesn't officially become Stanford's medical dean until December 1, but this month he was moving boxes into a temporary office here, where he will work for a few months alongside the school's departing dean, Philip A. Pizzo. Dr. Pizzo, dean since 2001, will continue to teach and do research at Stanford following a sabbatical.

Dr. Minor, 55, an otolaryngologist who specializes in the diseases and disorders of the inner ear, says that overseeing the academic activities of nine schools at Johns Hopkins has given him a perspective on "the connectivity and intricacies of a research university" like Stanford.

He has been at Johns Hopkins for 19 years and provost there since 2009. He says the chance to oversee a leading medical school that shares a campus with two teaching hospitals and six other schools attracted him to Stanford. "The challenges we face in medicine today are far too complex for any one school to tackle," he says, citing health care's costs and the often disappointing outcomes of medical treatments.

In his new job, he says, "I'll be getting back into the front lines of the debate over health care" and the role that academic medical centers can play in shaping it.

Across campus, working in a building whose lush second-floor garden patio serves as a meeting place for scholars and students, Stanford's new law dean is also looking forward to collaborating with the university's other professional schools. Topics like bioethics and health-care law bring together researchers from different schools for discussions.

Ms. Magill, who was previously vice dean and a professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law, became dean of Stanford Law School on September 1. She replaced Larry Kramer, who left to become president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Stanford's provost, John W. Etchemendy, says the deans of the university's seven schools form "a tight-knit group" that helps set the university's academic direction.

"For this reason, we consider it extremely important to appoint deans who can and will take a universitywide perspective while leading their schools," he wrote in an e-mail.

Stanford's law school, for instance, offers 28 joint degrees, including a new J.D./M.D. that might appeal to people pursuing careers in health policy.

Ms. Magill, 46, taught at Virginia for 15 years, focusing on administrative law, constitutional law, and food and drug law.

She's taking on her new role at a time when rising student debt and a constrained job market have prompted law schools nationwide to re-evaluate how they're educating the next generation of lawyers.

"These conversations should always happen, but they happen with the greatest intensity at a time when people are worried," Ms. Magill says. "But if you think that the biggest barrier is that people are going to resist change, if it's a time when people are openly discussing change, it's a good time to be a leader."

At the medical school, Dr. Minor is also ready to embrace new directions in his profession. He would like to see academic medical centers, which are known for their expertise in handling complicated medical cases, continue to evolve into academic "health" centers, focused on keeping people well and treating patients with multiple chronic conditions.

Dr. Minor, whose wife is a primary-care physician, says genomic medicine holds promise as a way to tailor health plans to each individual.

The implications of such breakthroughs, and the expertise needed to reach them, will extend beyond the medical school, he says. "Everyone has a seat at the table in coming up with solutions, and I find that very exciting."