MORGANTOWN -- John W. Fisher II announced May 17 that he will retire after 10 years as dean of the West Virginia University College of Law.
Fisher, 64, began teaching 36 years ago. He will step down June 30, 2008, but will continue to teach at the law school.
"I'm honored and humbled by the opportunity I've had to lead this great law school," Fisher said. "As a West Virginian who grew up on a family farm in Hardy County, I know first-hand the transformational power that comes with a West Virginia University education. I feel very privileged for my all my experiences here, and I hope that I've given back to others as generously as I've received."
Fisher began talks with WVU officials about a 2008 retirement more than a year ago.
"I have always believed it is one of the chief responsibilities of any dean to ensure continuity of leadership," he said. "With the University poised to initiate a new capital campaign, new facilities approved for the law school, and the forthcoming completion of our self study in the next academic year in preparation for the regular ABA-AALS reaccreditation visit, a new dean will have the opportunity to place his or her imprimatur on the future of the school."
WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr. praised Fisher's leadership.
"John is enormously respected as both a teacher and a dean, and his service to WVU and the state over the past several decades has been exemplary. In fact, the fund-raising success at the law school is due in large measure to the deep respect that John has earned from former students and the state bar in general."
Hardesty said the University would begin the process of putting together a search committee immediately, and expects members to be announced before the beginning of the next academic year.
President-elect Mike Garrison commented, "As a native West Virginian and a distinguished graduate of the WVU College of Law, John Fisher has a unique and remarkable commitment to the people of this state. His steady and thoughtful leadership has been an absolute benefit to this University for many years. We are thankful for his service, and fortunate that he will continue his excellent work as a member of the College of Law faculty. On a personal note, I look forward to calling upon Dean Fisher for his sage advice and guidance as I begin my transition into office."
Hardesty and Garrison agreed that two of Fisher's enduring legacies will be the significant increase in alumni support and the fostering of an atmosphere that placed value on the power of individuals to have an impact on the school.
Over the past decade, the endowment for the school has more than doubled -- from $10.6 million in 1998 to about $23 million today. In addition, the school has 11 new named professorships, one new named chair, and 49 new endowed scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $250,000.
"Dean Fisher has been the driving force in communicating the value that the College of Law brings to the state of West Virginia," said Lyn Dotson of the WVU Foundation. "That's really paid off in terms of building a deep foundation of support that will continue to yield benefits for faculty, students and the people of West Virginia for years to come."
In the area of faculty development, Associate Dean Joyce McConnell commented, "Thanks in large part to John's leadership style, the WVU College of Law is truly a place where people matter and initiative is rewarded. That's without question one of the reasons we are so competitive nationally in the area of recruiting and retaining such premier faculty."
Professor of Law Judith Scully called Fisher "an extraordinary fundraiser, a deliberate and fair-minded leader, and a good friend to many."
"Dean Fisher's strong ties to various members of the West Virginia State Bar have benefited the law school tremendously, Scully said. "And, his commitment to diversity has helped make the law school a better place. Although he will no longer be the dean, he will continue to be a valued colleague and mentor. In addition, our students will continue to reap the benefits of his excellence in teaching."
Professor Gerald Ashdown added, "I've been around 8-9 deans in my time in legal education and John by far was the fairest of all of them – and I expect that sentiment is true with respect to other WVU faculty as well. He has always put the law school first -- before anything else -- and I appreciate that."
Students at the College of Law have benefited from superior teaching, faculty-student mentoring and hands-on experience through such initiatives as the Clinical Law Program.
"Dean Fisher will be missed," said law student Mary Claire Johnson, editor-in-chief of the West Virginia Law Review. "I have worked with him when he was in both his administrative and educational capacity, and one thing I always noticed is how he made a point to get to know each and every individual with whom he was working. He actually took the time to call the office last summer when I was a summer clerk to discuss an arcane property issue with me."
Graduates from the school go on to careers at major law firms in West Virginia and around the world, as sole practitioners meeting community needs, as member of the state and federal judiciary and positions in government.
U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley, a WVU College of Law graduate, has known Fisher since 1977. He was her teacher and later a colleague on the bench.
"I have a great admiration for Dean John Fisher," Keeley said. "Throughout my years as a lawyer and a judge, I have known him as a great teacher, leader of the University and friend.
"His contributions to the law in West Virginia – through his expertise as the leading property lawyer in our state – have been enormous, and his contributions to the members of the bar – both through his mentoring of students and his concern for the practicing lawyers in West Virginia – are beyond compare," she noted. "West Virginia University will miss his leadership as dean, but I'm pleased that he has chosen to remain on the faculty and continue to guide the future lawyers of our state."
Fisher will retire as the second-longest serving dean of the College of Law since its founding in 1878. He said stepping down as dean "will allow me more time to do some of the things I love to do most: teach law students and spend time with my wife and grandchildren."
Fisher and his wife, Susie, met as WVU undergraduates and got married the summer before he started law school.
"From the earliest days of our relationship, Susie has been there as a true partner and source of strength for me and our whole family," he said. "Susie and I have a long list of things we've been wanting to do 'some day.' Now we're both looking forward to working on that list."
A native of Moorefield, Fisher graduated first in his class from the WVU College of Law in 1967. As a student, he served as editor-in-chief of the West Virginia Law Review and was selected for membership in the Order of Coif.
Upon gradation, he clerked for The Hon. Robert E. Maxwell of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. In 1968, he became associated with the law firm of Farmer & Farmer in Morgantown, and in that same year he became a lecturer at the College of Law.
He joined the faculty full-time in 1971, and in 1978 became a full professor at the school. Administrative positions have included service as Executive Officer of the University, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the College, Acting Dean of the College and Interim Dean. From 1978-1998, he served as a part-time magistrate for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
Fisher received the Fred H. Caplan Civil Justice Award in 1998, was a recipient of the WVU Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1997, and was selected Professor of the Year by the 1996 College of Law graduating class.
He is president of the West Virginia Chapter of Order of the Coif, a permanent member of the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference, a member of Phi Delta Phi, Phi Alpha Theta, the West Virginia State Bar, the West Virginia Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. In 2000 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and a Fellow of the West Virginia Bar Foundation.
His contributions to the legal profession include serving as a member of the committee that drafted new Local Rules for Civil Practice for the Northern District of West Virginia, and drafting of the statutory provision on limited liability for landowners granting easements to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails Project adopted by the legislature.
He was reporter for the West Virginia Law Institute's project on Intestate Succession and Elective Shares, and co-reporter for the Civil Justice Reform Act Advisory Committee. He has also made numerous Continuing Legal Education presentations on property law.
Fisher has published numerous law review articles on aspects of Property Law in West Virginia, including Restrictive Covenants, Joint Tenancy, Title Examination and Intestate Succession and Elective Share. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has recognized Fisher as one of the foremost authorities on West Virginia Property Law.