Dean Johnson to Step Down at End of Academic Year

Man in dark suit in front of mural
Kevin R. Johnson, dean of UC Davis School of Law, has announced he is stepping down in July. (Jose Alfonso Perez/UC Davis)

Kevin R. Johnson will step down as dean of University of California, Davis, School of Law in July after an extraordinary three terms and 16 total years of service. He will return to faculty in the school.

The longest-serving dean in the law school’s history and the nation’s third most senior current law dean, Johnson has led UC Davis Law since 2008. During that time, the law school has drawn accolades for its scholarly excellence, rare majority-minority faculty, groundbreaking Racial Justice Speaker Series and overall focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Dean Johnson has been a leader in the California legal community for decades and we have benefited tremendously from his extraordinary leadership,” said Mary Croughan, provost and executive vice chancellor. “I am sincerely grateful for his service to this campus and his steadfast commitment to making legal education more accessible to students from all backgrounds. Dean Johnson has left an indelible imprint on UC Davis Law, and we are so fortunate he will continue to share his expertise as a member of our faculty.”

UC Davis will launch a nationwide search in November for Johnson’s replacement, with a goal having a new dean in place by July 1.

The Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law and an internationally recognized immigration law and Chicana/o studies scholar, Johnson has been a faculty member at UC Davis since 1989. He received the law school’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1993.

“It has been my absolute honor to lead UC Davis Law for three terms as dean,” Johnson said. “I am grateful to Chancellor Gary May and Provost Mary Croughan and their predecessors for their confidence in my leadership abilities.

“I have drawn inspiration from our brilliant law faculty, remarkable students, and larger King Hall community. I also tried to follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by pursuing equal access to justice and offering equal access to a great legal education to students from all backgrounds.”

Under Johnson’s leadership, UC Davis Law became the only leading American law school with a majority-minority faculty. A longtime champion of greater fairness in legal education and the justice system, Johnson:

  • Belongs to the prestigious American Law Institute law reform organization;
  • Sits on a new Hispanic National Bar Association task force addressing the dearth of Latinx law professors and deans;
  • Chaired the Association of American Law Schools’ Minority Groups Section and a committee on recruiting and retaining law teachers and students of color;
  • Led the board of Legal Services of Northern California for two decades.

Earlier this year, Johnson received the AALS’ inaugural Michael A. Olivas Award for Outstanding Leadership in Diversity and Mentoring in the Legal Academy. The nation’s most-cited immigration law scholar, Johnson led the King Hall faculty to  several top-25 finishes in national “scholarly impact” rankings.

Committed to pipeline programs for students from underrepresented communities, Johnson initiated the now 22-year-old King Hall Outreach Program to assist undergraduates throughout California with the law school admissions process. King Hall’s fall 2023 first-year class reflects Johnson’s diversity efforts: Students of color compose 61% of the class, women make up 63%, and 22% of students identify as LGBTQ+. Earlier this year, Princeton Review deemed UC Davis Law first in the nation in greatest resources for women.”

Seeking to ease students’ transition to law school, Johnson’s administration created the First Generation Advocates program, a DEI committee of students, faculty, staff and alumni, and a full-time director of diversity and student life staff position.

Now in its fourth year, Johnson’s Racial Justice Speaker Series draws top scholars to discuss systemic racism’s impact on all areas of law. In 2022, PreLaw Magazine ranked UC Davis No. 3 among Top Schools for Racial Justice.” Johnson co-chaired UC Davis’ Next Generation Reforms to Advance Campus Safety policing task force and played key roles in initiatives with systemwide impact, including the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center and UCOP Public Service Law Fellowships. Johnson is editing a UC Press book series on critical race theory with Professor Raquel Aldana, with whom he directs UC Davis Law’s Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies.

Johnson served as associate dean for academic affairs from 1998 to 2008 and inherited then-Dean Rex Perschbacher’s fundraising campaign for King Hall’s $30 million expansion, a project completed a decade ago. Over Johnson’s tenure as dean, annual fundraising totals spiked from around $200,000 to $3 million.

Johnson’s 1999 book How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A White/Brown Man’s Search for Identity drew a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award nomination. Johnson blogs at ImmigrationProf Blog and on his law school Dean’s Blog.

A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law, Johnson earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics from UC Berkeley.

Media Resources

Photo of Johnson available here. (Photo by Jose Alfonso Perez.)

Media Contact:

  • Karen Nikos-Rose, News and Media Relations, 530-219-5472,

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