Professor Michael D. Gilbert, an expert on election law, democracy, and law and economics, will serve as the new vice dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, starting July 1.

“Mike Gilbert is an outstanding scholar, teacher and colleague who is held in high esteem in the UVA Law community and beyond,” Dean Risa Goluboff said. “I’m thrilled that he will serve as vice dean, following a long line of distinguished faculty to serve in the role. Mike approaches everything he does with total commitment, careful thought and utter humanity. I am excited to work with Mike and to see the wonderful contributions he will make in this new role.”

The vice dean is responsible for faculty development and intellectual life, student affairs, University-related academic affairs, and service on the appointments committees and other committees. The vice dean also coordinates with the associate dean for curricular programs, Professor George Cohen, on curricular issues.

Gilbert, who joined the faculty in 2009, said he is excited to begin a new role.

“The Law School feels like home to me,” he said. “We have wonderful students, staff and faculty, and together we do good work in a beautiful place. I treasure our spirit of community and collegiality, and I’m excited to support it as best I can.”

Gilbert, the Martha Lubin Karsh and Bruce A. Karsh Bicentennial Professor of Law, teaches courses on election law, legislation, and law and economics. His current research focuses on campaign finance law, corruption and the adjudication of “culture war” disputes, and his scholarship has appeared in multiple law reviews, peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. He has lectured throughout the United States and around the world, including in Ecuador, Germany, Hong Kong, Mexico and Israel.

Gilbert directs UVA Law’s Center for Public Law and Political Economy, which serves as a hub for faculty who apply insights from economics and political science to the study of public law. He is a member of the Democracy Initiative’s Corruption Lab for Ethics, Accountability, and the Rule of Law at UVA. Last spring, he served as a visiting professor at Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires. Gilbert has won UVA’s All-University Teaching Award and the Student Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

Prior to joining the faculty, Gilbert clerked for Judge William A. Fletcher on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He received his J.D. and Ph.D. (in jurisprudence and social policy) from the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as articles editor on the California Law Review and received multiple distinctions, including Olin fellowships in law and economics and a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Grant.

As vice dean, Gilbert succeeds UVA Law professor Leslie Kendrick ’06, who will return to teaching and research full time in July.

“I’m so grateful for Leslie’s service through both challenging and joyful times at the Law School,” Goluboff said of her “Common Law” podcast co-host. “She has done an amazing job supporting and showcasing our faculty — from playing a pivotal role in the recruiting process for 22 new resident faculty members to working to create 11 new academic centers. On top of that, she has been a critical part of guiding the Law School through the pandemic.”

Gilbert answered a few questions about his new role and work as a scholar.

What inspired you to study law, and later, become a law professor?

After college, I worked as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board, which is the nation’s central bank, in Washington, D.C. This was during Alan Greenspan’s heyday as chairman. The whole world seemed to hang on his words, and I was fascinated by the decisions he had to make and the constraints he faced. I came to realize that law structured virtually all of the board’s work. I left the Fed with deep interests in economics, research and this new thing, law. Attending law school, and becoming a law professor, were natural next steps.

What are your current research interests?

Just about all of my writing applies concepts from economics to public law. Does campaign finance disclosure cure or cause corruption? When should lawmakers trade votes, and when should they vote their conscience? To improve compliance, should agencies use rules or standards? These are the kinds of questions that interest me. I’ve been working for some time on a book, titled simply “Public Law and Economics,” that synthesizes a bunch of research and attempts to carve this out as a distinct field of study. I hope to finish that project in the next year.

What excites you about your new role as vice dean?

Many things! I look forward to working closely with Dean Goluboff and the staff, helping to chart our curriculum and clinical programs, and supporting students and student groups. I love to learn new things, and this job will give me many opportunities for that. I also feel indebted to the Law School and so many people who occupy it. This will give me a chance to give back. Leslie Kendrick leaves big shoes to fill, but I’ll do my best. 

Your work on election law and democracy has never been more timely. What strikes you about the last several months?

The last election made me both proud and anxious. Amid controversy and chaos, dozens of courts adjudicated dozens of election-related cases calmly and professionally. That was a triumph for the rule of law. But the election underscored the critical role of trust in democracy. Elections are complicated affairs. Fifty states, thousands of polling locations, millions of voters, different procedures, new technology — there is much to organize. For voters to have confidence in outcomes, they need to have faith in the system. That faith, it turns out, is easy to shake, and rebuilding it might be tough. How can you engender trust in a system that’s complicated and opaque to many people? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. Sometimes it keeps me up at night.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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