Dr. Valerie Couch, dean of the OCU School of Law, is stepping down after five years.
Couch wrote that she was privileged to serve as dean in an email sent Jan. 9 to law students.
“It’s hard for me to believe how quickly the last few years have passed,” Couch wrote. “My time here feels no longer than a comet streaking through the sky.”
She informed her students that she will make the transition from dean to full-time faculty member, and a new dean will take her place July 1.
President Robert Henry appointed Lee Peoples, director of the law library, to serve as interim dean until a national search determines who will serve full-time.
“How fortunate the next dean will be,” Couch wrote in her email. “I am excited for that person already!”
Couch wrote in another email to alumni and community that Peoples has her full confidence and support.
Couch began her career as a trial lawyer in private practice for 16 years before she served for 13 years as a federal judge.
Couch was the first female named dean of the law school. She wrote that her experience at OCU has been exhilarating and humbling.
“Entering the unique community of OCU Law turned my eyes and mind to the future,” Couch wrote.
Couch was responsible for many significant changes to the law school during her time as dean. Among these changes is the expansion of the energy law program. Couch said in a 2011 interview with NewsOK that one of her goals as dean was to create an opportunity for students to learn about natural resources and energy law.
Couch was also instrumental in the move of the law building from the main campus to the current downtown campus, 800 N. Harvey Ave.
In her recent email, Couch wrote, “we have transplanted our energy to the fertile soil of downtown Oklahoma City, and we are thriving!”
Couch praises the experience, talent, passion, and commitment of her students and places an emphasis on serving the local community. She also wrote that she takes pride in the traditions of the university and its commitment to innovation within the legal profession, even in a time she calls “tumultuous” for legal education.
“I love this school and appreciate its generous spirit,” Couch wrote. “You have embraced me as a member of this big, lively family, and so have our alums who are doing amazing work all around the world!”
Students characterize Couch as being involved and knowledgeable.
“Even though she’s the dean, she likes to go around and get to know students,” said Emily Ousley, L1 law student. “She’s always personable and asks students how things are going.”
An example of this openness is what Couch calls “couch sittings” wherein she meets with students on a couch and speaks with them about various topics.
Ousley said Couch’s role as a judge and as the first female dean of the law school inspires her in her law career.
“Whenever there’s a woman in her position, that’s something to strive for,” Ousley said.
She said she admires Couch’s open-door policy and her ability to make significant changes on campus. But, on top of that, Ousley admires her ability to be personable.
“I definitely appreciate her being around. Sometimes you can have this stair-stepper situation where you can never see the person at the top,” Ousley said.
Couch spoke at a “State of the Law School” address Jan. 19 and welcomed students to join her and speak about the transition to a new dean.
“We are now in a perfect place,” Couch wrote in her email. “With these great strengths, our school is ready for the next chapter of its history. I welcome your thoughts as we shape this transition together.”
Couch was unavailable for comment last week.