Incoming Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum Named Inaugural Rose DiMartino and Karen Sue Smith Professor of Law

Incoming St. John's Law Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum and St. John's Law alumna Rose DiMartino.

L-R: Jelani Jefferson Exum and Rose DiMartino

March 27, 2024

Recently, when they came together for Celebrating Women in the Law—an annual event co-hosted by the Law School’s Alumnae Leadership Council (ALC) and Women’s Law Society—alumni, students, and friends had even more to celebrate when it was announced that incoming Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum will be the inaugural Rose DiMartino and Karen Sue Smith Professor of Law.

Established with a generous gift from Rose F. DiMartino ‘81 and her wife, Karen Sue Smith, the named professorship supports faculty members who teach and study in the area of human rights or social justice. “Karen and I believe—and believe strongly—that teachers change lives,” DiMartino says. “My St. John’s Law professors taught me a new way of thinking and communicating. They gave me the skills to be a successful advocate and problem solver. Our hope is that this professorship will contribute to the already superb learning environment at the Law School, and to the success of our alumni. Karen and I also hope our gift motivates other alumni to consider this way of giving back.”

Over the years, DiMartino has modeled what it means to be an active and impactful alumna. Soon after retiring from Willkie, where she was a longtime partner with a successful asset management practice, she helped to form the ALC as a chapter of the St. John’s Law Alumni Association. In just a few years, with her vision and leadership, the ALC has become a vibrant network of alumnae in different career phases who connect with each other and with current students, sharing their prodigious talents and skills. DiMartino also gives back to alma mater by funding the Rose DiMartino Women in Public Service Fellowships. Through her generosity, students spend the summer building practical knowledge and skills while serving the greater good in a range of public interest and public service settings.

With the named professorship, DiMartino continues to help women thrive at St. John’s Law and in the field. 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 brings a depth of experience as a law professor who has taught Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Investigations, Criminal Sentencing, and Race and American Law, among other courses. She is also an accomplished scholar in the areas of comparative criminal law and procedure, policing, and the impact of race on criminal justice. 

When he made the announcement on behalf of the University’s president and provost, Dean Michael A. Simons reflected on the history-making professorship, its donors, and its recipient: “When Rose established this professorship—the first professorship named for a female graduate of the law school—she and Karen particularly wanted to support an adept scholar who was committed to social justice, and hoped that the professorship would go to a woman. Fortunately, we have found just the right person in Dean Jefferson Exum.”

University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Simon G. Moller, who convened the dean’s search last summer, shares in the excitement about the inaugural Rose DiMartino and Karen Sue Smith Professor of Law. “As an educator and as a scholar, Dean Jefferson Exum reflects and animates St. John’s Vincentian mission of selfless service to the community and larger society. With this named professorship, Rose DiMartino and Karen Sue Smith have given her a singular opportunity to carry that mission forward as she leads the Law School into its second century of educating outstanding lawyers the world sorely needs.”

Preparing to start at St. John’s Law on June 1, 2024, Dean Jefferson Exum says: “To hold a named professorship designed to support social justice work and inspired by the impact of teachers is such an honor because it reflects what has motivated me throughout my career. As a lawyer, a teacher, and a leader in legal education, I’m invested in training and supporting the next generation of legal changemakers. I’m grateful to Rose and Karen for their generous support in this endeavor, as together we further the important mission of St. John's Law."

DiMartino also welcomes the partnership ahead. “Karen and I are beyond thrilled that Dean Jefferson Exum will be the inaugural holder of the professorship we created,” she says. “Her career embodies so much we value—inclusion, justice, academic excellence, community engagement. And her being female is just an added bonus as we specially want to encourage female scholars and teachers. Her leadership is sure to impact our Law School and our students for the better, and we couldn’t be happier that we get to be a part of it in this small way.”