An ideal educational leader must possess a balance of qualities, including insight, emotional intelligence, and collaboration skills. They must work alongside diverse stakeholders such as students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, community leaders, public figures, and corporate executives. Leaders who achieve success comprehend the significance of data and relationship building. In today’s world, crisis management skills are also indispensable for leadership. Camille Davidson, Dean and Professor of Law at Southern Illinois University School of Law, is a prime example of such an exceptional leader. Her inspiring journey has positively impacted the lives of numerous students.
Pursuit of Academic Excellence and Career Path Exploration
Influenced by her parents’ strong background in education, with her father as a respected superintendent and university professor and her mother as a dedicated high school teacher, Camille initially pursued a career in law. However, her path took an unexpected turn when she gravitated towards working with young people during her law school years and legal practice.
While in law school, she engaged with the pre-college program DC Works, which prepared high school students for college. She also mentored foster children who were aging out of the system. Camille’s passion for education truly ignited through teaching high school students as part of a law school course called Street Law, which allowed her to teach a class at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. These experiences laid the foundation for her remarkable transition from law to academia. Camille’s first college-level teaching experience came as an adjunct professor at Davidson College, where she shared her expertise in Introduction to Political Science with undergraduate students. While concurrently practicing law, Camille continued to make an impact by teaching legal writing to first-year law students. In 2007, she left the full-time practice of law to teach full-time.
Camille was appointed as associate dean at a prior institution in 2012. In this role, she spearheaded ABA-accredited programs in Lithuania and Italy that broadened students’ educational horizons. Moreover, Camille introduced compliance and paralegal programs to complement the JD program, leaving a lasting impact on the legal profession. Her responsibilities encompassed organizational management, student development, program and talent development, and community engagement.
Driven by her dedication and fueled by the desire to take her impact to new heights, Camille set her sights on a deanship. As a wife and mother, she patiently awaited the opportunity to assume such a demanding role. In 2019, when her youngest child entered her senior year of high school, Camille began searching for a deanship. Her journey led her to her current position, which she assumed in July 2020.
Camille was determined to make a lasting impact when she joined SIU Law. She prioritized admissions and recruiting, bar preparation, diversity, equity, and inclusion, expanding the school’s footprint, brand awareness, and alumni re-engagement. Guided by data and fueled by a passionate team of faculty, staff, and student input, Camille has made significant strides towards achieving these goals, aligning the School of Law with the broader vision of the University and SIU System. She further states, “Had you asked me 30 years ago if I would be a higher education leader, I would have said NO. But, I have found my niche. I LOVE preparing the next generation of students.”
In her quest for excellence, Camille finds inspiration in her parents and grandparents, who have been remarkable role models. Despite experiencing segregation and limited opportunities, her parents succeeded in their careers. Their resilience and achievements inspire Camille, reminding her that with determination and perseverance, she, too, can overcome barriers.
Concurrent Degree Programs: Expanding Horizons and Possibilities
The establishment of the Southern Illinois University School of Law dates back to 1973, driven by a steadfast commitment to the public good. With a proud 50-year legacy, SIU Law offers aspiring legal professionals a comprehensive range of academic programs.
The institute grants a Juris Doctor degree while presenting students with the opportunity to pursue concurrent degrees. At the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus, individuals can combine their JD with degrees such as MD, Doctor of Political Science, Master of Accountancy, MBA, Master of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Master of Public Administration, Master of Science in Education, and Master of Social Work. Furthermore, the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus offers a JD/MPA program.
SIU Law has collaborated with esteemed institutions like Governor’s State University, Tougaloo College, Stillman College, and SIU Carbondale. SIU Law facilitates an accelerated path for high-achieving students. These exceptional scholars can earn bachelor’s and law degrees within six years, propelling their careers forward. SIU Law provides ample opportunities for experiential education, encompassing clinics, externships, and pro bono activities, enabling students to acquire practical skills and invaluable real-world exposure. Last year, SIU Law opened a satellite location in Belleville, Illinois, at the Southwestern Illinois Justice and Workforce Campus. SIU Law houses the Metro East Criminal Justice Clinic at this site.
What sets SIU Law apart extends beyond its academic offerings—it is the collaborative and close-knit community it fosters. The institute equips students with essential resources and guidance to thrive by creating an environment of support and camaraderie. As a testament to this commitment, SIU Law hosts a pre-law summer program, introducing students to the region, providing comprehensive insights into the application process, imparting success strategies, and offering invaluable information on financing law school.
Fostering Diversity and Academic Excellence
As dean of the SIU School of Law, Camille assumes a pivotal role in driving the institution’s success. Representing the Law School and University to external constituents, she sets priorities and allocates resources while forging partnerships with other campus units and institutions. Under her leadership, the faculty has undertaken significant initiatives such as curriculum mapping, adopting anti-racism and inclusivity statements, and developing a strategic plan. Technological and facility upgrades have provided students with an enhanced learning environment.
Camille’s commitment to diversity is evident in recruiting a diverse faculty and the increased diversity of the student body. She supports faculty research and scholarship through grants and stipends, contributing to the academic landscape through teaching and publications. Beyond the School of Law, Camille holds a joint appointment in the School of Medicine, fostering collaborations and innovative programs such as the JD/MD professionalism day, the Ryan Bioethicist in Residence, and the annual Health Policy Institute.
Camille is a member of the American Association of State Colleges and University Millennium Leadership Initiative’s 2023-24 cohort. This program aims to diversify and enrich the American college presidency, reflecting Camille’s dedication to professional development and advancing higher education leadership. As Camille enters her fourth year as dean, the School of Law has witnessed a surge in applications, reaching the highest numbers since 2013. Additionally, the post-graduation employment rates are approximately 95 percent.
Empowering Education for All: Camille’s Transformative Initiatives
Camille was born and raised in Mississippi and understands the importance of education and equal opportunities. With a wealth of experience as a professor, academic dean, and dean, she recognizes students’ challenges, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds and first-generation learners. Driven by a commitment to their success, Camille provides the necessary support to ensure their triumphs.
Camille has expanded her reach beyond her institution by taking on leadership roles in well-respected professional organizations. Some of her notable positions include:
- American Bar Association Accreditation Site Evaluator
- Illinois Supreme Court e-Business Policy Advisory Board
- Board Member, Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI)
- Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) Assessments Committee
- American Law Institute
- Uniform Bar Examination Estate Planning and Administration Subcommittee, North Carolina State Bar (2017)
- Vice-chair, Bioethics Committee, ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law (2013-16)
Camille is acutely aware of the significance of mental health in the learning environment. She understands students can’t focus on academics when they lack basic needs like food and shelter, so she started programs to help ease those burdens. In her first year at SIU Law, Camille partnered with a bar vendor to ensure that law students had access to essential resources for post-graduation bar preparation before commencing their legal education. She also repurposed space for a meditation room and urged parents to use the library’s kid-friendly study room.
To foster a cohesive support network, Camille invited disability services and other university resources to address faculty meetings. This endeavor ensures that faculty members remain informed about the available resources to assist their students better.
Prioritizing Balance and Nurturing Wellness
Camille values God, family, and work as her top priorities. She invites others to join her on energizing wellness walks at Southern Illinois University, which promotes physical activity and a healthy diet for overall well-being. Camille upcycles t-shirts to create meaningful objects in her free time and enjoys quilting. She serves on various community boards and is an associate and life member of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and a life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
As a leader in leader in higher education, Camille follows Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Advice that she shares with others is as follows:
- It’s essential to find a community of people who support you.
- Authenticity is important. Show up as you are and be fabulous!
Also Read: The 10 Inspiring Education Leaders, 2024