Daniel P. Tokaji has been named dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, effective August 1, 2020.
He was a professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law from 2003 to 2020, serving as an associate dean for faculty since 2018. His scholarship focuses primarily on the field of election law, addressing questions of voting rights, racial justice, free speech, and democratic inclusion.
A graduate of Harvard College and the Yale Law School, Tokaji clerked for the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Before arriving at Ohio State, he was a civil rights lawyer in California for eight years.
“I am thrilled to have Dan assume the deanship of the Law School,” says Provost Karl Scholz. “He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, and his impactful teaching, outstanding scholarship, and commitment to public service match the qualities that make UW–Madison such a special place.”
“Serving as dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School is my dream job,” says Tokaji. “For many years, I have admired the Law School for its tradition of scholarly excellence, law-in-action approach to legal education, and devotion to public service, including communities in Wisconsin, the nation, and around the globe. It will be an honor to serve and lead a law school that so ably embodies the Wisconsin Idea of advancing knowledge to make life better for everyone.”
As dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, Tokaji hopes to capitalize on the Law School’s excellence in multidisciplinary scholarship and experiential education, while furthering the university’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
He will be joining the University of Wisconsin–Madison community with his wife, Renuka Mayadev. A graduate of Georgetown Law School and Northwestern University, she most recently served as an executive at the United Way of Central Ohio, and prior to that, as executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund–Ohio. Tokaji and Mayadev have two school-aged children.
An Interview with Dean Tokaji
You’ve expressed a connection and enthusiasm for UW Law School and Madison. What excites you about this law school and this city?
What excites me most about UW Law School is the people. From the remarkable student body to its hardworking, incredibly capable staff and its faculty of fantastic teachers and world-class researchers to the alumni, the UW Law community is an exceptional group making a difference in Wisconsin and around the world.
Over eighteen years ago, when I first visited UW Law, I was impressed by both the campus and broader community. I have always thought of Madison as a slice of heaven. I’ve returned several times over the years for scholarly conferences and presentations to groups like the League of Women Voters. I’m delighted to be joining not only the UW community, but also the Madison community.
What do you look forward to during your first year?
My top priority is getting to know the people who make up the Law School community, including students, alumni, faculty, and staff. I am tremendously excited about talking with everyone and listening and learning from the community. I have a pretty good idea about some of the things that make UW Law great, but I’m interested in ideas from all of the UW Law community. I want to hear about what we are doing well, what we might do better, and what we aren’t doing but should consider doing.
The responsibilities and purview of a law school dean are vast. What priorities are key to you?
Students come first. Our mission, first and foremost, is to educate students to become great lawyers, ones who have the necessary skills to go out in the world and make a difference.
“Serving as dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School is my dream job.”
Research excellence is another top priority, and something that attracted me to UW Law. This law school boasts an amazing research faculty, who are advancing knowledge in many different ways across a variety of fields.
The public service tradition of the school and campus is something I deeply value — the notion that the education we provide and the research we conduct always have an eye toward making everyone’s life better. To shine a light on how we bring the Wisconsin Idea to the world is something I look forward to in my capacity as dean.
Especially important is our commitment to diversity, equity, and justice.We welcome people with a diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences. We aim to include everyone and to have everyone feel included. “Equal Justice Under Law” should be more than just words that appear on the entrance to the Supreme Court; they are the values we aspire to live as lawyers and leaders.
We are at a time of great upheaval as a society, confronting our history of racial and economic injustice in the midst of a global pandemic. How is becoming dean at this moment resonating for you?
The challenges we face are formidable.
The present moment has made clear that our system of law enforcement and criminal justice has perpetuated serious, long-standing injustices against our communities of color. Solving these problems will take a sustained commitment over time, and I believe law schools must be at the forefront in fighting for a more just society.
Justice is a part of our mission as lawyers, judges, and legal educators. While we benefit from a diversity of viewpoints and can disagree on what justice means, we shouldn’t be afraid to engage in conversation and work collectively toward achieving our shared goals.
As difficult as the pandemic has been — especially for our students — I think there are some great opportunities that come out of this, including a greater level of comfort with online teaching and learning. Although video technology isn’t a substitute for in-person instruction, we’ve all seen ways it can augment in-person learning.
In a time of such profound national divisiveness, what is the importance of a legal education, of a law school?
This is one of the major topics of my research over the last years: political polarization and what the law can do to address it. It’s a huge problem, particularly in a system like ours that depends on consensus to get things done. I believe lawyers can do a great deal to bridge the ideological gap, to bring us together, to help find common ground, even when the common ground is hard for others to see. Lawyers are great problem solvers. We can help opposing parties reach settlements, even when emotions are running high. This is a skill set we can use to help deal with the problem of political polarization, and indeed, we have a responsibility to do so as legal educators and members of the bar.
How do you hope to connect with our alumni community?
As soon as it is possible to do so, I want to meet in person with alumni. I can’t wait to do that. I’m looking forward to connecting in whatever ways are possible and safe in the midst of this pandemic. Until we are able to meet in person, I’ll schedule phone calls or Zoom meetings. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it is possible to make connections this way.
- Favorite legal movie: To Kill a Mockingbird, a great movie about fighting for racial justice in the most difficult circumstances.
- Role model in law: Thurgood Marshall, someone who was not just committed to fighting for racial justice but was also an amazing strategist.
- Cheese curd preference: Fried or squeaky fresh? Since I have to watch my cholesterol, I have to select squeaky fresh.
- Favorite subject in law school: Con Law, especially free speech law. At the core of the First Amendment is the idea that we should be able to speak freely and express dissent, in order to have a thriving democracy. This is also core to my system of beliefs.
- Secret talent: I sing and play guitar. Listeners will have to judge whether it is a talent or not.
- Favorite song: “Born to Run”
- Best advice received: Sometimes a leader needs to shut up and listen.
- UW–Madison experience you are looking forward to: Joining Hoofers Sailing Club and learning how to sail on Lake Mendota.
• BY KAREN KOETHE