AALS President’s Report on 2023

By Mark Alexander, 2023 AALS President and Dean, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

As my AALS presidency comes to a close, I want to share a few reflections from the past year. 

First, I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve as AALS President. It has been an honor to be part of a 123-year AALS tradition. As you know, the list of former presidents is impressive, and I am truly humbled to be among them. 

Over the past year, I have had the chance to be part of many meaningful discussions and collaborate with fantastic colleagues near and far. I am deeply grateful to the AALS Executive Committee, the House of Representatives, my predecessor Erwin Chemerinsky, and my successor Melanie Wilson. And most of all, I am grateful to the terrific staff of the AALS and its outstanding Executive Director, Judy Areen. 

Last year, as I began my presidency, I asked all of us to think about how we can defend democracy (the theme I selected) because we, as legal educators, have a significant role in ensuring the foundational tenets and norms of a civil democracy. 

I encouraged us all to think about this work in our schools with three fundamental pillars in mind: curriculum, scholarship, and culture. Because collectively, we teach the courses, write the scholarship, and shape the cultures that shape legal education and, therefore, lawyers. 

There are many recent examples of why this work matters, such as the January 6 insurrection that reverberates to this day. Further, we look at recent US Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action in higher education and reproductive rights. Whatever your analysis of those decisions, they stand at the core of our system of laws, our government, our constitution . . . our democracy. 

As president, I have been encouraged by how we, as the AALS, have taken defending democracy to heart. I am proud to say that we have accomplished a lot, whether through speaking engagements and symposia or coming together and having frank discussions at AALS conferences. Of course, I have been greatly anticipating this year’s annual conference and the many sections and programs that have focused on this work. I am grateful to all of you. 

I am hopeful that law schools and legal education will continue to help prepare our students to be engaged in our democracy in meaningful ways. That we continue to work collaboratively to make our profession stronger and to equip our students to fight for what matters to them. Because I believe this is our greatest contribution as lawyers who have chosen to serve as legal educators. And, I know that the AALS will continue to play a vital role in ensuring this work continues. 

Again, thank you for the opportunity to serve as your President. I look forward to continuing our work together. 

As my final action as President, I want to take this time to recognize our stalwart Executive Director, Judy Areen. As many of you know, Judy will be retiring later this year after serving as AALS’ Executive Director for 10 years. Judy has led the association with integrity, dedication and enthusiasm. She has worked tirelessly to preserve our role as an organization dedicated to supporting legal academia broadly, our faculty, staff, and deans individually, and our schools as the important institutions that they are. She has been a careful listener and wise advisor to countless individuals. She has steered the organization (and legal academia) through the pandemic. She has conducted herself as a role model to the hard-working staff at AALS headquarters here just up the street, off Dupont Circle. In those ways and myriad more, Judy Areen has been an extraordinary Executive Director. 

Judy, on behalf of the AALS Executive Committee, Staff and Members, I want to extend my sincere gratitude for all you have done to advance our work. I know there will be other celebrations and recognitions over the next few months, but in front of this group, I would like to present you with this award – it reads “Judy Areen, Executive Director, 2014-2024. In recognition of your service and dedication to advancing excellence in legal education.” Thank you!