As dean of the College of Law, Curtis Bridgeman's decision to return to the faculty was not made lightly.
"I felt like I needed to decide how I wanted to spend the rest of my career,” Bridgeman says. “At my heart, I am a teacher first and foremost, and it seemed like the time to return to that role.”
Bridgeman oversaw the college during a period of historically declining enrollment at law schools across the country. Despite the challenges, Willamette Law experienced growth in enrollment, student body diversity and alumni giving.
Bridgeman’s other significant accomplishments include establishing the Business Lawyering Institute and coordinating the response from faculty to the bar challenges of 2016, when more than half the students in the country failed the bar exam. The result was a vast improvement in the bar passage rate for Willamette graduates. In recent years, students’ job placement rates have also been higher than most Northwest schools.
As dean, Bridgeman counts among his biggest influences Steve Thorsett, president of Willamette University; Professor Debra Ringold, former dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management; and Monica Rimai, former senior vice president for finance and administration.
“All three of them showed me the kindness of having difficult conversations with me when someone needed to,” Bridgeman says. He also praised the work of Willamette Law associate deans Melodye MacAlpine and Norman Williams, along with other staff.
“I don't think they get anywhere near the credit they deserve,” he says. “Ashley Stovin in the Dean’s Suite has been one of the most amazing colleagues I’ve had in any job. Our staff, in general, is just terrific.”
There have also been difficult times during his time as dean, including the loss of two colleagues: Professor Gwynne Skinner, who passed away in 2017, and Professor Ed Harri, who died earlier this year.
The school faced significant challenges when it had to move classroom instruction online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bridgeman says he’s learned that, in challenging times, it’s “not just about having good policies and strategies, but also having good buy-in from the various stakeholders," and letting them know they are involved.
Bridgeman says Willamette is a special place with faculty and staff who really care about students. After a yearlong sabbatical to get caught up on research, he looks forward to returning to full-time teaching. He is thankful for the support he has received from everyone, including alumni and people in the law school, the university, the bar community and Salem.
“I'm so grateful for the friendships I've formed with alumni and like to think that, for many more alumni, Willamette is now a part of their present, not just their past,” he says. “The support that I have received and the way that my wife and I were welcomed into this community were amazing. Finally, I am grateful to my wife, Beth, for being so supportive in undertaking this great adventure and also in my decision to return to teaching. She has quietly done so much more for Willamette than most people know.”
A message from Curtis Bridgeman to the Willamette Community
About the Willamette University College of Law
The College of Law is a private law school located in Salem, Oregon at Willamette University, the oldest university in the western United States. Willamette Law boasts an innovative program designed to prepare leaders in government, private practice, and business with the lawyering skills needed in the 21st Century. In recent years, outside industry watchers such as Moody’s and The National Jurist Magazine have recognized Willamette Law for its positive job placement results. Willamette lawyers are the best dealmakers, problem solvers, community leaders, and change-makers in the most innovative and exciting region in the country. Our location — nestled in the heart of the Willamette Valley and across the street from the Oregon State Capitol, Supreme Court and many state agencies — is an advantage that cannot be matched anywhere in the region.