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Whatever existential trauma the millennium might be causing computer programmers, the Olympic organizers, and psychics, it won't be coming to the University's College of Law. Panicking in the face of change, even apocalyptic change, is not the style of new dean Scott Matheson, Jr.

"Dedicated," "brilliant," "of towering integrity," "genuine," "a straight arrow," and "modest" – adjectives frequently used by colleagues, students, and friends to describe him – Matheson is not one to be driven off course.

New point man Scott Matheson Jr. possesses the traits necessary to propel the law school reputation even further. But he'd rather talk about anything else.

And he's not given to bragging – okay, even talking – about it.

Only a few months into a position vacated by eight-year dean Lee Teitelbaum, Matheson brings to it a sterling resume and reputation, along with a reluctance to toot that sterling horn.

One of his oldest friends, Jim McBroom BS'76, confirms that. "I didn't see his appointment in the paper; I must have been out of town," he recalls. "And he didn't tell me! We were on the tennis court – we still try to play about once a week – and somebody there congratulated him. I said, 'What's that all about?' I had to press him before he'd tell me that he had been appointed dean! That just typifies his low profile."

Perhaps that's not unusual for someone who's learned to live with such a recognizable name in Utah (his late father, Scott BS'50, was two-term governor of the state, 1977-85). But Matheson's lack of braggadocio is indicative of more than a quiet nature. His sincerity and intellectual rigor, his determination to do things right, are obvious; there is nothing careless about him. "When I've made a commitment to do something, I hope I have contributed what I could," he says.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for Utah David Schwendiman BA'74 JD'76, who worked with Matheson for the four-and-a-half years he served as United States Attorney for Utah, puts it more directly: "He'll do the right thing even if it's tougher, if it takes longer, if it doesn't look right at the time. And I've never once seen something Scott decided to do – even if it's something I initially disagreed with – that hasn't worked out in the end. He's just brighter than most people."

That sentiment is borne out by the 45-year-old dean's path to his most recent appointment: Rhodes scholar. Yale law degree. Associate with Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. Deputy county attorney. Visiting professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. U of U law school faculty. United States Attorney for Utah. It's not surprising that Matheson says he has not had a lot of free time.

Chances are, free time won't be available soon. His predecessor, Teitelbaum, points out that "being dean of the law school is a complicated job. There is the task of recruiting faculty and staff, and developing external funding is essential." Teitelbaum, who will continue to teach family law, evidence, and criminal law at the school, says that while "the challenges will always be there," Matheson "is one of the really remarkable people in the state, and through his creativity will meet those challenges."

Matheson believes that "the law school enjoys strong momentum, and that itself was attractive to me coming into the deanship. This law school is moving in a very positive direction.

"I'm taking the first year to work very closely with students, faculty, and our administrative staff to define priorities and goals, because this is a team effort, and we need to focus ourselves through consensus-building," Matheson continues. "We have some important challenges ahead in continuing to hire outstanding faculty, to recruit the best student body we can, and to ensure that our students receive the highest quality legal education possible."

Matheson mentions specifically his hope to "take a serious look at what we are doing with the curriculum so that our students are prepared to enter a legal marketplace with many challenges that were not there just a few years before." That sentiment is echoed by John Flynn, the Hugh B. Brown Professor of Law at the college. "We need to be open to a constant re-examination," he says, noting that many lawyers today don't go to court (to practice what Flynn calls "Perry Mason-type law") but find themselves in transactional work or corporate management. He believes the college may consider more clinical teaching, to give students greater hands-on experience, as well as more flexibility in the first-year curriculum, especially in the second term.

Flynn – who calls the new dean "one of the most decent, honest, thoughtful people I've encountered on the faculty" – believes that the college Matheson will serve as dean is unique in a couple of ways. "One, there is a long history of collegiality among the faculty. Everyone here prizes that." Second, "Lee [Teitelbaum] did a wonderful job of getting outside funding," something that has enriched the college's capabilities and reputation.

According to Matheson, another distinguishing aspect of the law school is the Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment, with its mission to honor Wallace Stegner's profound knowledge of the American West and his cautious optimism for the future. "We think that by virtue of our location, our faculty, and our curricular program in environmental and natural resources law, we have the potential to be the premier law school in that field."

Matheson also notes that while law school applications around the country declined in the last few years, with a slight upswing this year, the U has been ahead of both national trends, with a smaller overall decline and a greater gain last year. While he believes this is due in part to the College of Law's growing reputation, he also says, "I give a lot of credit to our Dean of Admissions, Reyes Aguilar JD'92, who has done an outstanding job in outreach to pre-law students." Flynn also believes the College's reputation among academics has helped prevent a significant drop in applications, and points as well to a rise in the cost of attending private colleges that has driven some students to more affordable state law schools.

Managing student and faculty recruitment, the curriculum, funding, ongoing programs, and the day-to-day business at the College of Law is the type of challenge that suits Matheson. The eldest of Scott and Norma BA'51 Matheson's four children, Scott Jr. was, even as a child, "very disciplined," says his mother. "I've never seen anybody so dedicated to achieving what he wanted to achieve. We never had to tell him to study.

"I remember when he was a kid and he was playing in the No-Champs tennis tournament. He stayed out there until the very end. The [Salt Lake] Tribune called him 'Never-say-die Matheson.' We thought that was so funny. And it's true. He has that dedication, that love of a challenge."

Matheson's childhood instilled in him the importance of family. "I grew up in an extended family environment," he notes. "I had uncles, aunts, cousins in the area. I think that is a tremendous advantage, and I'm glad my children [Heather, 16, and Briggs, 12] have it, as well." After graduating from East High, he received his undergraduate degree from Stanford and was selected for a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. But it was family that called him back, temporarily, from England.

He had always been close to his father, who, says Norma Matheson, "relied on Scott Jr. tremendously." So when the elder Matheson began contemplating a run for governor in 1976, it became a family decision, with Scott Jr. at the center. "At the time, Scott Jr. was traveling in Israel, but his dad wouldn't make the decision without him," his mother remembers. "So we had to track him down and get him a message that he had to get in touch with us. Once we reached him, Scott Jr. said he had to think about it, and that he'd call his dad the next day. He did, phoning him at the office and saying, 'I've written your announcement speech.'"

"I'm taking the first year to work very closely with students, faculty, and our administrative staff to define priorities and goals, because this is a team effort, andwe need to focus ourselves through consensus-building."

Matheson returned to Utah to serve as his father's campaign manager in 1976. Michael Sandel, currently an acclaimed professor of government at Harvard, was a fellow Rhodes scholar and close friend of the younger Matheson who came to Utah that summer to write speeches for the campaign. "His father was a great presence in his life, someone he looked up to. He was his father's confidant," Sandel says.

"It was a great working experience," Matheson says. "I came to admire [my father's] abilities as a leader and public figure through that process, but I was working off a foundation of extraordinary admiration and respect to start out with."

True to his nature, Matheson managed a tight campaign. "I would be dragged out of bed to go to the campaign office at 7 a.m.," Sandel remembers. "Breaks were few and far between. [Scott Jr.] has a lot of stamina and determination. This was on weekends, too. We wouldn't get back till late at night. The few times he did allow us to break, we'd challenge his brother and friends to basketball or touch football. We almost always lost."

His father, of course, did not lose, and Matheson returned to his academic role. He finished his Oxford studies and a law degree at Yale, as well. And he married his wife, Robyn Kuida, a Wellesley graduate from Magna, whom he met during the 1976 campaign. Then he spent about four-and-a-half years at Williams & Connolly, a Washington, D.C., law firm. "The firm is quite well known for its litigation work," Matheson says. "I was fortunate to gain some great experience in a fairly broad range of litigation areas." According to Schwendiman, "He worked for probably the best known firm in the country! David Kendall, the President's attorney, is with them! I mean, Scott worked for Edward Bennett Williams!"

That low-profile thing again.

"He has that dedication,
that love of a challenge."

Both Schwendiman and Sandel point out that Matheson could have stayed in Washington, D.C. – "he was set for life!" – so the decision to return to Utah reflects the dean's commitment to his birthplace. "In 1985, when the opportunity came to join the law faculty here, that was a hard decision for me," Matheson says. "I was very comfortable where I was in Washington, D.C. I felt that I was having an excellent experience there, and it's a very interesting place to live and to work. At that time, we basically made a family decision that if we were going to live in Utah or the West at some point, this was probably the time to come out and do it. Plus, the law school opportunity was a very attractive one."

Matheson is well suited for teaching law. "The classroom environment is a very satisfying and extremely valuable experience if everyone's working hard at a common objective," he says. "At the end of a term, I've always come away with the feeling that the time the students and I have invested has been significant and the overall experience has been well worth the effort."

He served the school as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 1990 to 1993, continuing to teach, research, and write while performing administrative functions. His interests in constitutional, media, and procedural issues in the law are reflected in his published articles. In fact, he notes that "one of the real trade-offs in becoming dean is that I won't be able to do as much teaching or research as I would otherwise like to do. I feel very strongly that teaching and research go hand-in-hand, that they are core responsibilities of being a member of the faculty. And that's a value that I intend to reinforce as the dean."

When the opportunity to become the United States Attorney for Utah presented itself (through a presidential nomination supported by Congresswoman Karen Shepherd BS'64), Matheson couldn't very well refuse. "It's a position my grandfather held under President Truman and one of the truly great public law opportunities for any lawyer to have," he notes. Taking a leave from the U, he spent four-and-a-half years downtown working for the Department of Justice as the state's chief federal prosecutor.

As U.S. Attorney, he was, according to Schwendiman, "under a lot of pressure every day." Matheson explains, "The U.S. Attorney exercises a great deal of power, and the job requires constant commitment to effective law enforcement and the principle of fairness." True to form, Matheson was careful in deciding which cases to prosecute and how to present those cases before the court. He and Schwendiman prosecuted a homicide case arising on the Utah portion of the Navajo Reservation. For procedural reasons, the trial was presented simultaneously to two juries, the first time that has ever happened in Utah.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brooke Wells BS'73 JD'77 believes Matheson will ultimately be remembered for the people he hired. "Scott really encouraged and increased the diversity in the office. He brought me in, for example – a defense attorney for 15 years – and doubled the number of women, as well as bringing in more minorities."

The teacher in Matheson seems to have revealed itself even at the U.S. Attorney's Office. Wells, who speaks highly of Matheson's intellectual curiosity, also says, "He was always prepared. In every capacity I have ever known him, from board work to individual cases, he has always been consummately prepared." And Schwendiman notes, "I feel like my time working with Scott was like a four-year postgraduate education. I learned something from him every day. He's just a great guy. I'd walk off a building for him."

Matheson's return to the law school faculty at the beginning of this year did not inspire leaps from the Quinney law library, but students are clearly happy to have him back. Ryan Carter JD'98, now working in the West Jordan City Attorney's office, gives high marks to Matheson's Scientific Forensic Evidence seminar. Matheson's course, which covers collecting, analyzing, and using crime-scene evidence, emphasized both in-class and field presentations by various forensic experts: a former ATF agent, a polygraph expert, a forensic anthropologist, detectives, and DNA researchers, among others. "This course is one of the few that thoroughly prepares you for field work," Carter says. "Professor Matheson was extremely knowledgeable. But he loves to give credit to everyone else; he makes people feel that they are running the show. That's why he's such a good leader."

Current student and president of the Minority Law Caucus Sherman Helenese says that while students were sad to see Lee Teitelbaum leave, they are very happy with his replacement. "Dean Matheson is a brilliant man and very sincere. He'll take the school in the right direction. And he makes an effort to get to know you. Classmates have commented on his genuineness."

Perhaps it is this authenticity that makes Matheson well suited for a deanship. It has been part of his father's legacy, which remains, to his son, much more than a name on a building or park or scholarship. "When I see those things, it reinforces that feeling of pride. But I don't have to see those things to feel that or to think about him. I think about him every day, many times a day. He was so influential in forming the person I am." And to those who know Scott Jr., his mark is also deeper than a title. As his Harvard friend Sandel says, "Of all the people I've encountered in academia, I know of no one who is his equal in character, integrity, leadership, and commitment to the ideals of the legal profession. The University of Utah is very lucky to have him at the helm."

Theresa Desmond is managing editor of Continuum.

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