The Gavel: A Vibrant Community at the UND School of Law
Dean Pappas Looks to build on school’s strong support
By Kylie Blanchard, Clearwater Communications
Brian Pappas stepped into the role of Dean of the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Law in July with the drive to impact students and faculty and prepare law students to serve others in their future careers.
“My main goal is to build a strong and vibrant community of students, staff, faculty, alumni, lawyers, judges, and community members,” he says. “I want us to develop a shared vision that can drive us forward and enable us to reach our full potential. I also want to help people find their passion and innovate to do more than they thought possible.”
An Early Interest in Law
Pappas says he has always had an interest in law, government, and history. His grandfather and father worked in higher education, and his uncle, Ed Pappas, a lawyer for nearly 50 years, spurred his interest in the profession. “He is someone I looked up to and he encouraged me to go into law and eventually mediation,” he says. “Ed was also a state bar president in Michigan, and he impressed upon me the value of service to the profession.”
Growing up primarily in Michigan, Pappas received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan. He went on to receive a law degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, a masters of law in dispute resolution from the University of Missouri, and a doctoral degree in public administration from the University of Kansas. “When I went to college, my mom decided to go back to school at the same time to become a dentist,” Pappas notes. “That might be where I learned that it’s never too late to get more education.”
An Active Family
“My wife, Debbie, is a speech pathologist who grew up in Topeka, Kan. We have three boys, Charlie (11), Ben (8), and Sam (4),” Pappas says, noting his family has happily transitioned into the Grand Forks community.
He notes, because of their Michigan roots, they are Michigan football fans and follow all the Detroit professional teams. “We are big sports fans in my family,” Pappas says. “We like to play basketball, golf, and we are avid sports watchers as well. We are very excited for UND sports – football, basketball, and, of course, hockey.”
The Pappas family also enjoys traveling, often stopping to see state capitols. “Bismarck is one of my favorites,” he notes.
“I have been a mediator since 2005, and I do a lot of mediation training and mediating in all areas of law,” says Pappas. “I feel so fortunate to have found something I love.”
During his career, he notes he spent most of his time as a faculty member at Michigan State University’s College of Law. “I directed the conflict resolution clinic and taught mediation, negotiation, and contract negotiation.”
He also worked as Boise State University as the head of an interdisciplinary conflict resolution program in its school of public service. He taught a variety of classes, including a Difficult Conversations class for freshman, designed to train students in conflict resolution skills. “Most recently, I worked as associate provost for faculty affairs at Eastern Michigan University, where I oversaw academic hiring, promotion, tenure, conflict resolution, bargaining, and leadership development,” says Pappas. “I also taught courses in their political science department, including mediation, administrative law, and American government.”
Pappas specializes in organizational development, conflict management, interdisciplinary collaboration, and high-impact experiential learning. He has taught more than 80 alternative dispute resolution, law, and public administration courses, and has trained thousands of mediators in courts, community, business, and government. “My research focuses on how formal and informal systems interact,” notes Pappas. “I look at mediation and how it interacts with our legal system, and Title IX and how organizational managers resolve conflict and comply with law and regulation.”
The recipient of a multi-country Fullbright Grant, he recently visited Denmark and is currently studying whether mediation training impacts how academic administrators handle conflict. “I am also looking at cultural differences,” Pappas notes. “The other countries in the grant include Greece and Japan.”
Pappas’ works have been published 19 times and have appeared in the “Journal of Legal Education,” “Harvard Negotiation Law Review,” and “Law & Society Review.”
Working with Others
“One of the most fulfilling parts of my career has been my service to the community,” says Pappas, noting service to the bar has been important in his career, serving as a council member for the State Bar of Michigan’s ADR section and currently serving as chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Dispute Resolution.
In Michigan, Pappas trained mentors at the state’s network of community mediation centers, which were funded by the courts and provide training and opportunities for community members to provide mediation, restorative justice, and a variety of community building activities and services. “At the center in Muskegon, I partnered with them to conduct peer mediation trainings in two prisons,” Pappas notes. “I included my law students in competitions where the inmates and students competed as lawyers, clients, and mediators before community members and judges. The goal was to reduce prison violence, provide meaningful life skills, and aid in the transition back to society. It was a fantastic experience and foundational for my students.”
Working with students is also an important component to Pappas’ success. “I have always loved working with students. I have a lunch with student organization leaders every month, and it is great to hear their ideas,” he notes. “I’ve always found that if I am willing to listen, people will talk and tell you ways you can improve.”
“I care about student and lawyer wellness, and I am completing a two-year program training me to be a mindfulness instructor,” Pappas continues, adding he has started weekly mindfulness sessions for students and will be offering an online mindfulness mini-class through SBAND.
Looking to the Future
Pappas says he is looking forward to what the future holds for the UND School of Law and the opportunities available for both students and faculty. “We have amazing people at the law school, and incredible support from everyone in the state. We are here to serve and to be impactful, both on the lives of our students, but also on the communities and individuals for whom they will represent and serve,” he says. “We need everyone’s help to reach our full potential, and I am grateful for everyone’s support for our great law school.”