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KU Law community mourns passing of former dean

Thursday, January 09, 2020

LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas School of Law community is mourning the passing of former dean and longtime professor Martin Dickinson, who died Jan. 5 in Estes Park, Colorado. He was 81.

Dickinson was KU Law’s longest-serving faculty member. He gave 48 years to the law school, from when he started teaching in 1967 until his retirement in 2015. He served as dean from 1971 to 1980, overseeing a time period that included the dedication of the law school’s current home at Green Hall.

Martin Dickinson

He was a visionary leader, advocating for the advancement of diverse and female law students and faculty well before the legal profession as a whole began to do so, said Stephen Mazza, dean and professor of law.

“He was also a fantastic classroom teacher who truly cared about his students,” Mazza said. “KU Law alumni across the nation frequently recognize him as one of their favorite professors.”

By Dickinson’s own estimate, 4,000 law students passed through his classes during his nearly five decades as a professor. In a recollection of his tenure for the fall 2015 edition of KU Law Magazine, Dickinson described his time as “a fascinating ride that included revolutionary changes.”

Under Dickinson’s leadership, KU Law navigated a successful lobbying effort to fund the construction of its current home at Green Hall. The school had seen rapid growth due to booming demand for legal education in the early 1970s and had outgrown its former building, now known as Lippincott Hall.

Dickinson was a highly respected teacher and mentor, receiving the Immel Award for Teaching Excellence in 1997; the Moreau Student Counseling Award in 1988, 1995, 1997 and 2009; the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1988; and a Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in 2002. He was also a noted scholar of tax and estate law, serving as a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, the American College of Tax Counsel and the American Bar Foundation.

“Martin Dickinson’s insightful leadership as an administrator and his dedicated approach to his craft as an educator will be remembered at our law school for many years to come. On behalf of the entire university, I offer my sincere condolences to his family, his friends and the many people whose lives he touched during his time at KU,” Chancellor Douglas A. Girod said.

Former students and colleagues remember Dickinson for his dedication to teaching, support of students and his professionalism.

“I was a member of Professor Dickinson’s first tax class in 1967,” said Terry Arthur, L’69. “He inspired me to become a tax attorney and gave me the knowledge to pursue that specialty in the law. I am sure he did the same for many other KU Law students over his 48 years of teaching. He expanded the excellent reputation of the KU School of Law as dean and was instrumental in the building of a new Green Hall. He will be missed.”

Dickinson earned a bachelor’s degree from KU in 1960 and a master’s degree at Stanford University in 1961, then completed his law degree at the University of Michigan in 1964. Before returning to KU, he worked as an associate at the Denver-based law firm of Holme, Roberts & Owen.

Professor Emeritus Mike Davis worked with Dickinson for 44 years on the KU Law faculty. Davis taught at KU Law from 1971 to 2015, and he served as dean from 1980 to 1989. He said while the longevity of Dickinson’s career is noteworthy, it was the substance of his time at KU Law that set him apart.

“His nine years as dean in the 1970s were a time of growth, increased quality and significant diversification of both the student body and faculty. Once back on the faculty, Martin settled into 35 years of stellar teaching, steady and prolific scholarship, and a firm footing in the practice of law he taught and wrote about. He became a valued friend of many of us experienced faculty members, as well as a successful mentor to many who came later,” Davis said.

“Perhaps most notably, throughout his lifetime he continued to grow as a person, becoming by his words and acts a man more fully immersed in the daily issues of our time. In short, Martin Dickinson was a remarkable individual, one who will live on for decades in the memories of his grateful students and colleagues,” Davis said.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Remembrances and condolences can be shared at allnuttestespark.com.

The family suggests memorial contributions to KU Endowment, in support of the Dean Martin B. Dickinson Teaching Award, kuendowment.org/givenow; and Hospice of the Estes Valley, Rocky Mountain Conservancy.