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W&L Mourns Former Law Dean Randy Bezanson

Randall P. “Randy” Bezanson, the dean of the Washington and Lee University School of Law from 1988 to 1994, died on Saturday, Jan. 25, in San Antonio, Texas, following a long illness. He was 67.

Bezanson is credited with enhancing the national reputation of the law school and laying the groundwork to secure its financial future. Among his numerous accomplishments, he rejuvenated the first-year curriculum with the introduction of small, writing-intensive classes.

“Randy’s deanship brought about monumental changes,” said Dean Nora Demleitner. “While his death is to be mourned, his legacy will live on through each of us and our law school.”

Bezanson received his B.S. and B.A. from Northwestern University and his J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law. After clerkships on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and U.S. Supreme Court, he returned to the University of Iowa to teach, where he established himself as one the nation’s leading experts on the First Amendment, libel law and mass communications law.

In 1979, Bezanson became the University of Iowa’s vice president for finance and university services. He served in that post until 1984, directing one of the then largest budgets in state government and overseeing three successful capital improvement projects, including the construction of Iowa’s Boyd Law Building.

He left Iowa in 1988 to become dean of W&L Law. During Bezanson’s tenure at W&L, the University planned and constructed a major addition to Lewis Hall. This addition included more space for clinical programs, the library reading room, faculty offices, and the law school’s archives, to which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. ’27, ’31L┬ádonated his personal and professional papers.

At W&L, Bezanson emphasized what he called “the role of writing as the principal medium of learning” in making curricular changes. Even in expanding clinical programs, he pointed to W&L’s “taught clinics” with their “focus on the skills of analytical writing and oral expression.”

David Millon, J.B. Stombock Professor of Law at W&L, was just beginning his teaching career when Bezanson came to Lexington.

“More than any single individual, Randy made the law school what it is today. He was a visionary leader who, together with President John Wilson, articulated and built the ‘liberal arts’ model of legal education that emphasizes small classes, close student-faculty interaction, intensive writing instruction, and interdisciplinary inquiry,” said Millon. “In the decades since Randy’s deanship, many law schools have tried to emulate our model, but it was Randy who set us on our on-going course of leadership in curricular innovation.”

Bezanson returned to the University of Iowa in 1994 after the completion of his W&L deanship. In 1998, he became the Charles E. Floete Distinguished Professor of Law, and in 2006 he became the inaugural holder of the David H. Vernon professorship. An extraordinary teacher, he was recognized in 2009 with the President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence, the University of Iowa’s highest teaching honor.

Bezanson’s scholarship spanned the fields of administrative law, constitutional law, the First Amendment, defamation and privacy law, law and medicine, and the history of freedom of the press. The author of dozens of articles, Bezanson also wrote, co-wrote or edited eight books, two monographs and six book chapters. His book with co-authors Gilbert Cranberg and John Soloski, “Libel Law and the Press: Myth and Reality,” received the National Distinguished Service Award for Research in Journalism in 1988 from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Bezanson was preceded in death by his wife, Elaine Croyle Bezanson. He is survived by their two children, Melissa Bezanson Shultz and Peter Bezanson, and five grandchildren.

A celebration of Bezanson’s life will be held on Saturday, Feb. 15, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the Levitt Center for University Advancement at the University of Iowa. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, memorials be directed to the Randall Bezanson Memorial Fund at the University of Iowa Foundation, Iowa City, IA, 52242.