Sophia Lee will be the next dean of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School starting July 1, becoming the school's first female dean.
Lee, who has been a law and history professor at Penn since 2009, will succeed Ted Ruger, who will conclude his term as Penn Carey Law's dean on June 30 after eight years in the role, according to an announcement from Penn President Liz Magill. Lee previously served as deputy dean under Ruger from 2015 to 2017.
Deans serve as the chief academic and administrative officers of their schools, reporting directly to the provost of the University. They lead faculty meetings and oversee funding and personnel proposals.
The announcement of Lee as Penn Carey Law’s next dean concludes a search that began in early October, when Magill and Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein announced the formation of an advisory committee for the selection of the next dean. The committee was made up of eight Penn faculty, two student representatives, two alumni, one ex-officio member, three consultants, and two staff members.
"Sophia Lee is a proven leader and a consensus builder,” Magill wrote. “A superb scholar and teacher of constitutional and administrative law, she is deeply dedicated to Penn Carey Law and to the people — faculty, staff, students, and alumni — who are central to its work. She embodies Penn Carey Law’s core values. Sophia Lee is the right leader at the right time to elevate Penn Carey Law’s status to even greater heights.”
According to the University's announcement, Lee chaired the school's Tenure and Promotions Committee from 2020 to 2021. During her time as deputy dean, she overhauled Penn Carey Law's Legal Practice Skills program and served on multiple University committees, including the Social Responsibility Advisory Committee.
"I look forward to working together to build on the law school’s defining strengths, ensure that we remain at the forefront of scholarly excellence, and prepare our graduates for fulfilling lives of practice, leadership, scholarship, and service at the highest levels," Lee wrote in the announcement.
After Lee takes office, Ruger will return to the faculty of Penn Carey Law. Ruger was first appointed as the dean of Penn Carey Law on July 1, 2015, succeeding Michael Fitts. He agreed to extend his tenure until July 1 after the 2022 U.S. News and World Report ranked Penn Carey Law as No. 6 on the “Best Law Schools” List. During his tenure, the law school has seen an improvement in student diversity, higher median LSAT scores and grades, and increased financial aid.
In December, Ruger announced that Penn Carey Law would end its participation in the U.S. News rankings, following a wave of peer institutions that made the same decision.
Ruger also established Penn’s Law Office of Inclusion and Engagement — now called the Office of Equity and Inclusion — in 2019 to increase diversity and inclusion at Penn Carey Law, as well as launching new initiatives to increase equity and inclusion under the purview of Associate Dean for Equity and Justice Arlene Rivera Finkelstein.
Ruger has also played the role of prosecutor in the University’s disciplinary proceedings against Penn Carey Law professor Amy Wax, who has stirred controversy for repeatedly making discriminatory remarks against Asian and Black Americans. After initiating the sanctions process in January 2022, he asked the Faculty Senate to impose major sanction on Wax, as is the procedure of punishment for tenured faculty members.
The process is still underway and no definite disciplinary hearing date has been set as of March 23. In August 2017, Lee joined four other law professors in signing onto an opinion column in The Daily Pennsylvanian, where the professors criticized an opinion article by Wax where she called for a return to "bourgeois" values. The professors called Wax's argument "bad history."
As a professor, Lee led a study examining how constitutional law is shaped by administrative agencies, and she published a book titled "The Workplace Constitution from the New Deal to the New Right" in 2015. Lee previously signed onto a guest column in the DP calling on Penn to pay payments in lieu of taxes, and in October 2018, she joined over 2,400 law professors in opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Winkelstein and incoming provost John Jackson both echoed praise for Lee, with Jackson describing her as exemplifying "what it means to be a good Penn citizen."