Joel Samuels, who has worked as a professor at USC for 17 years, has become interim dean for the university’s biggest college, the College of Arts and Sciences.
Alongside his career as a law professor, Samuels is bringing seven years' worth of leadership skills and philosophy from his time as a roller derby coach to the position.
“The approach in roller derby is, ‘for the skaters, by the skaters,’” Samuels said. “The authority comes from the players, and that really speaks to my approach to leadership in general. In particular, to faculty governance and the importance of faculty voices, but also of student voices, community voices and the range of different actors who are constituents in everything we do at the university.”
Samuels lived in Sierra Leone, in West Africa, for a period of time growing up while his father was serving as a United States ambassador. Samuels said his experience there was a major part of his decision to first come to USC in 2004.
“The Gullah community along — down in the Lowcountry has a very strong connection to Sierra Leone, and in fact, the Gullah language is very close to a language spoken in Sierra Leone called Krio," Samuels said. "Which was actually the first language I spoke, other than English, as a child, though I’ve lost a lot of it since then."
At USC, Samuels primarily focused on international law and civil procedure in his research and teaching. Over the past six years, Samuels has also served as the executive director of the Rule of Law Collaborative, which is a center at USC focused on finding ways to strengthen the rule of law both domestically and internationally.
Samuels has always been a very well-respected figure in the School of Law, Colin Miller, associate dean for faculty development at the School of Law, said. He said Samuels will do a "terrific job" as interim dean.
“He just is a really great teacher and communicator who does a terrific job of getting to know the students, their needs, their issues and helping them to work through those issues,” Miller said.
Samuels also used to serve as the interim vice provost for interdisciplinary studies. During his time in that position, he focused on initiatives to increase interdisciplinary research and teaching throughout different colleges at USC.
“I hope to be able to continue to have a focus on interdisciplinary work within the College of Arts and Sciences, which is really the home to so many interdisciplinary programs, institutes and centers,” Samuels said.
William Hubbard, dean and professor of law at the School of Law, has also worked extensively with Samuels throughout their time at the School of Law together. He said he believes Samuels is very well prepared and will bring a "fresh perspective" to the role as interim dean.
“He's one of the best teachers and scholars at the law school, and has been for a number of years. He brings a lot of energy. He's indefatigable. He moves agendas forward," Hubbard said. "He's a very capable scholar, teacher and leader."
Samuels said his goal as interim dean is to leave the College of Arts and Sciences "in a great position to attract outstanding candidates" when the search for a permanent dean begins.
“My perspective on my role as dean is, it is my job to do everything I can to support our faculty and our staff, first and foremost in teaching our students, undergraduate and graduate, and mentoring them in all the ways that we can,” Samuels said.