Nance, Cynthia

views updated

Cynthia Nance


Lawyer, educator, college dean

Cynthia Nance is a widely respected lawyer and legal scholar who became dean of the School of Law at the University of Arkansas (UA) in 2006. Nance was the first African-American woman to become dean of a school or college in the history of the university. She was also the first woman and the first African American to be named head of the law school.

Cynthia Eleanor Nance, often known as Cyndi, was born September 3, 1958, in Chicago, Illinois. The first member of her family to attend college, Nance worked in management for the Ace Hardware Corporation while majoring in economics at Chicago State University. She graduated in 1986, earning a bachelor's degree with high honors. Despite a longtime interest in law, Nance hesitated to attend law school because, as she told an unnamed interviewer in the Iowa Advocate in 2007, "the thought of going back to school and being broke wasn't appealing to me." The persuasive recruiting efforts of Dennis Shields, then the law-school admissions director for the University of Iowa, convinced her otherwise, however. Once in Iowa, she studied for two degrees simultaneously, earning both a master's degree in finance and a law degree in 1990. It was at this time that Nance began intensive work in what have since become her specialties of employment law and labor law. Following her admission to the Iowa bar, she taught at both the law school, where she served as a faculty fellow, and at the university's Labor Center, a division of its continuing education program. According to its Web site, the Labor Center "annually reaches over 3,000 Iowa union leaders with a wide range of non-credit educational programs in the areas of practical industrial relations, labor law, labor history, communication, leadership, and citizenship skills."

In 1994 Nance moved from Iowa to the University of Arkansas, where she accepted a position as an assistant professor in the School of Law. Among the courses she taught were classes in Labor Law, Workplace Legislation, Employment Law, Torts [wrongful acts or injuries], and Worker's Compensation. Her reputation grew steadily throughout this period, as she published papers in legal journals, spoke at international conferences, and served, often as chair, on a number of boards and councils for legal professionals, including the Employment Law and Labor & Employment Law sections of the American Association of Law Schools. Visible in all of these activities, according to acquaintances, was a profound concern for her students, her colleagues, and the university. In a letter posted on the University Provost's Web site on the occasion of Nance's promotion to dean in 2006, for example, former student Caroline L. Curry wrote of Nance, "I know of no one else who has loved our institution and served it so well."

In August of 2005, Richard B. Atkinson, longtime dean of the law school, died. While Professor Howard W. Brill served as an interim replacement, a nationwide search was launched for a permanent successor. In the end, however, it was Nance, an internal candidate, who won the job in the spring of 2006. According to a press release issued by the university on May 23, 2006, "Professor Nance was the unanimous choice of the Law School faculty, Chancellor [John] White and Pro- vost Bob Smith." Her initial two-year appointment has since been extended.

In and interview in the journal Diverse Issues in Higher Education (DIHE), Nance outlined her philosophy as an administrator. Asked whether a dean "can really impact the direction of a law school," she answered in the affirmative, remarking, "I think the faculty wants leadership. They want someone to help them get the institution to a new level. And so I really do think that you can [have an impact], particularly if you are willing to say, ‘I don't know everything, and I'm willing to listen to you, and let's do this together.’" Among other initiatives, Nance has worked to improve the ethnic, racial, and economic diversity of the student body, noting in a "Message from the Dean" on the school's Web site, "We have made significant progress in attracting one of the most diverse student bodies in American legal education, while significantly improving the academic profiles of our entering classes." While her presence as an African-American woman has undoubtedly helped attract minority students to the school, Nance has modestly downplayed her own trailblazing role, emphasizing instead her efforts to convince all students of the benefits diversity holds for them. As she pointed out in DIHE, "If you haven't interacted with people who are not like you, you are at a disadvantage when you get out into your professional life."

Nance has also brought to the law school a new emphasis on public service, an area she has stressed in her own life as well. Nance was a board member of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), an organization that has facilitated the resettlement of nearly 350,000 refugees since 1939. As part of her work for LIRS, Nance once traveled to Mexico to investigate conditions in shelters for women and youth. Such activities have brought her a number of public-service awards, notably a Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award for Public Service from the University of Arkansas Alumni Association in 2004 and recognition as an "Outstanding Lawyer-Citizen" from the Arkansas Bar Association the following year.

Nance has also devoted much time to the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Fayetteville, Arkansas, teaching Sunday school and chairing several committees. In a 2008 article in the online edition of the ABA Journal, a publication of the American Bar Association, writer Debra Cassens Weiss noted that Nance sees her work as a lawyer and educator as an expression of her religious faith. "As lawyers, we're called to be a voice for those whose voices wouldn't be heard otherwise," Nance said in remarks quoted by Weiss that first appeared in The Lutheran magazine. "I hope that I've been able to blend my legal knowledge with what I believe I'm called to do as a person of faith."

At a Glance …

Born Cynthia Eleanor Nance on September 3, 1958, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Eual Dean and Fern Elizabeth Nance. Religion: Evangelical Lutheran. Education: Chicago State University, BS, economics, 1986; University of Iowa, MA, finance, 1990, JD, 1990.

Career: University of Iowa Labor Center, labor educator, c.1990-94; University of Iowa Law School, faculty fellow, c.1990-94; University of Arkansas School of Law, associate professor, 1994-2006, dean, 2006—.

Memberships: Alpha Kappa Alpha; American Association of Law Schools; American Bar Association; Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers; Arkansas Bar Association; Law School Admissions Council, board member; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, board member; National Association for Law Placement Foundation for Law Career Research and Education, board member; National Bar Association; Phi Delta Phi; W. B. Putman American Inn of Court.

Awards: Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award for Public Service, University of Arkansas Alumni Association, 2004; Outstanding Lawyer-Citizen, Arkansas Bar Association, 2005; NIA Professional Achievement Award, Northwest Arkansas Minority Awards Committee, 2006; Arthur A. Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award, American Association for Affirmative Action, 2007.

Addresses: Office—c/o University of Arkansas, School of Law, Fayetteville, AR 72701; E-mail—[email protected].



All Things Academic (University of Arkansas), September 2006.

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 12, 2007.

Iowa Advocate, Winter 2007.

The Lutheran, May 2008.


Curry, Caroline L., personal communication to University Provost Bob Smith [posted by permission], May 23, 2006, (accessed October 30, 2008).

"Cyndi Nance," University of Arkansas School of Law, (accessed October 30, 2008).

"History," University of Iowa Labor Center, (accessed October 30, 2008).

"Nance Named New Dean of UA School of Law," University of Arkansas Daily Headlines, May 23, 2006, (accessed October 30, 2008).

Weiss, Debra Cassens, "Arkansas Law Dean Wants to be Known as Lawyer of Faith," ABA Journal, May 1, 2008, (accessed October 30, 2008).

—R. Anthony Kugler