Jelani Jefferson Exum Named Next Dean of St. John’s University School of Law

Jelani Jefferson Exum
January 8, 2024

After an extensive national search, Jelani Jefferson Exum has been appointed the next dean of St. John’s Law. Currently the Dean and Philip J. McElroy Professor of Law at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, she will assume her new position on June 1, 2024.

“The School of Law is a critically important part of St. John’s University,” says University President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. “The search for the Law School’s next dean yielded an extraordinarily strong pool of finalists, and I’m confident that in Jelani Jefferson Exum, we have found the right person to lead the Law School forward.”

Dean Jefferson Exum’s appointment was announced by University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Simon G. Moller, who convened the search last summer. “The search process revealed Dean Jefferson Exum to be an effective communicator, an experienced law school leader, an innovator in legal education, and someone who cares deeply about St. John’s mission,” he says.

Before joining the faculty at Detroit Mercy, Dean Jefferson Exum was a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law and the University of Kansas School of Law. She also taught as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School and as a fellow at Tulane Law School. At Toledo Law, she served as the school’s inaugural Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. At Detroit Mercy, the students honored her as Professor of the Year.

When she starts at St. John’s Law as its 10th dean, Dean Jefferson Exum will be the second woman and the first African American to lead the Law School in its nearly 100-year history. She will also hold a named professorship at the Law School.

“I'm honored to serve as the next dean of St. John’s Law,” says Dean Jefferson Exum. “The Law School’s tremendous legacy of strengthening the legal profession and serving the community by providing a mission-focused education is inspiring. These values have also driven my career and fueled my passion for leadership in legal education. I look forward to working with the St. John’s Law community to build upon the school’s strong foundation and move St. John’s Law into its next century of impact and prominence.” 

Prior to starting her academic career, Dean Jefferson Exum earned her undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Harvard College, received a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and held federal clerkships with Hon. Eldon E. Fallon, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, and Hon. James L. Dennis, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Engaging with students as a law professor, she has taught Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Investigations, Criminal Sentencing, and Race and American Law, among other courses. Her scholarly work on comparative criminal law and procedure, policing, and the impact of race on criminal justice has appeared in a range of publications. Outside the academy, she has served as a member of the editorial board of the Federal Sentencing Reporter and chaired the advisory board for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit. 

“I’m thrilled that Dean Jefferson Exum will succeed me,” says Michael A. Simons, who will return to teaching full time after 15 years as dean. “Throughout her career, she has advanced the Vincentian values that have defined St. John’s Law: access, opportunity, and excellence. Her deep understanding of our mission, coupled with her extensive experience in legal education and notable scholarly work in criminal law, sentencing, and racial justice, perfectly position her to lead the Law School forward into its second century.”

Queenie Paniagua ‘12, a member of the St. John’s University Board of Governors, served on the 18-member Dean Search Committee. “I’m incredibly proud to be a member of a community that was so engaged in selecting our law school’s next dean,” she says. “I have no doubt that, under Dean Jefferson Exum’s leadership, St. John’s Law will continue its ascent among New York’s preeminent law schools.”

St. John’s Law Student Bar Association President Kiaya Rose Dilsner-Lopez ‘24, who also served on the Search Committee, is just as enthusiastic about the selection. "I’m ecstatic that Dean Jefferson Exum will join St. John's Law,” she shares. “Her life’s work exemplifies St. John’s student-centered approach, along with our commitment to anti-racism in the field of law. I’ll miss Dean Simons’ leadership, but I’m equally excited to welcome Dean Jefferson Exum to our St. John’s family!"

A formal event celebrating Dean Jefferson Exum’s installation as the Law School’s next dean will be held in the fall.

For more information, contact Lori Herz, Director of Strategic Communications, at [email protected]