UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Meet Brian Pappas, new dean of the UND School of Law

Pappas shares first impressions, goals and inspirations for School of Law leadership in Q&A

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

The University community welcomed Brian Pappas as dean of the School of Law on July 1.

Pappas comes to UND from Boise State University and Michigan State University, and has been getting acquainted with campus.

He sat down with UND Today for a quick visit.


How are you liking UND Law so far?

I’m so happy to be here. It’s been terrific. It’s a very collegial, warm academic school which has a close relationship with the practicing bar and a small student population. You can get to know everybody’s names. It has an ethos that comes from Patti Alleva [longtime professor who retired in 2019], that we’re going to take care of the whole student. It’s wonderful.

What are your first impressions of UND?

It’s really a dynamic place. You have the breadth of the different schools and the opportunities for students, and I’m very impressed with that. There’s a lot here with aerospace, law, medicine, and more.

I’m also impressed with the approachability of the administrators here. In meeting with the deans and the provost, with everyone really, you can tell that everyone really likes one another, they like to work together, and they like being here. It’s the same experience I’ve had meeting the faculty – it’s a warm group of people, and it makes a difference when you have that kind of collaboration.

What drew you to practice law?

I have an uncle who was a lawyer, and I enjoyed spending time with him. He’s in Michigan, was a former State Bar president, and someone I looked up to. I was interested in law from a young age, and he encouraged me. He taught me about professionalism and service and he is a great role model.

You also have specialties in conflict resolution and interdisciplinary collaboration. How did your interest in those develop?

I was a law student, decided to study abroad, and chose South Africa and the University of Missouri. One of their specializations is mediation and dispute resolution, and I learned a lot about it that summer. I kept that in the back of my mind, trained as a mediator, and decided to take the leap and become an academic. I led a conflict resolution program at both Michigan State and Boise State, and got to do all kinds of interesting things, including training prison inmates as peer mediators. I also worked in different community arenas, helping to facilitate coalitions around better prevention and health promotion for opioid abuse and facilitating meetings that resulted in expanding a regional transit authority.

I discovered that I have a skill for mediating and for training mediators. More recently, at different universities, I helped academic departments with conflicts, whether between staff, faculty or students.

How will you incorporate those skills here?

I don’t think I can separate my mediation/collaboration orientation from my work as an administrator. It is just who I am.

I’m a big believer that lawyers today have to be leaders in our communities, and to help us all have tough conversations. I don’t think there’s anything that we can’t fix or overcome if we sit down and work through it together. I think it’s really important to be able to disagree, even in an adversarial environment like a courtroom, but then afterwards be colleagues and even friends.

One of the things I’d really like to do is help our students engage in those kinds of conversations, because they’re going to be leading them when they leave school.

There are also a lot of opportunities, whether we’re talking about energy law or Indian law. Almost every subject touches the law in some way. How do we create collaboration, not just in terms of joint degree programs, but how do we collaborate with other degree programs and create opportunities for faculty interaction and research?

Most important, how do we best serve the people of North Dakota? If we’re going to help the state address difficult issues, it’s going to be together.

It’s early days, but what are some of your goals for the Law School?

I want to get to know everyone and learn about the School and UND. I know the University is engaging in a strategic planning process. We want to build on that and figure out our key performance indicators. Where are the areas in which we can improve? I do a lot of mindfulness work, and I’m especially interested in incorporating mindfulness into the work of the law school. Nationally, law students have higher than average rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to provide a supportive environment. Law school is tough, but it shouldn’t be debilitating.

Tell us about your family.

I have three sons, 11, 8 and 3, and they are already wearing UND gear!  They and my wife are really excited to be here and put down some roots!

About Brian Pappas

Before joining UND, Brian Pappas served as associate provost and associate vice president for faculty affairs and academic personnel at Eastern Michigan University.

From 2017 to 2019, Pappas served as a faculty member in public policy and administration and directed Boise State University’s conflict management department. He spent 10 years at Michigan State University’s College of Law as clinical professor, associate director of alternative dispute resolution, and director of the Conflict Resolution Clinic, where he developed innovative experiential programs.

Pappas specializes in organizational development, conflict management, interdisciplinary collaboration, and high-impact experiential learning. His teaching includes more than 80 alternative dispute resolution, law, and public administration courses. A frequent mediator and trainer, Pappas also trained thousands of mediators in court, community, business, and government.

His research examines formal and informal dispute systems and focuses on Title IX and dispute resolution. His 19 published works appear in journals such as the Journal of Legal Education, the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, and Law & Society Review.

He is the chair-elect of the American Bar Association’s Section of Dispute Resolution and serves on the Mindfulness in Law Society board.  He holds a doctoral degree in public administration from the University of Kansas, an LL.M. in dispute resolution from the University of Missouri, a law degree from Wayne State, and a master’s degree in public policy and bachelor’s degree in political science, both from the University of Michigan.