“I’ve been dean for just over two months. So far, my favorite moment was welcoming our new class of students. This was my first orientation address and their enthusiasm for starting their legal studies was infectious,” Jamelle Sharpe says.
Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette
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A few years removed from Yale Law and making a living as a New York attorney, JAMELLE SHARPE was sitting in his office, not having a particularly good day, when he took a career-changing phone call from his closest friend.
“I shared with him some of my frustrations with a case I was working on. He patiently listened, paused after I had finished and asked why I hadn’t figured out that I should be an academic,” Sharpe says. “Knowing me for as long as he had, he said that I love learning, teaching and arguing. This moment crystalized things for me, and much of my subsequent career is a direct result of it.”
That conversation led to a job lecturing at the University of Chicago, which led to roles as an assistant professor, associate professor, full professor and, as of August, law dean at the University of Illinois. The UI’s Guy Raymond Jones Faculty Scholar was appointed to succeed the retiring Vik Amar as head of the College of Law just before the start of the fall semester.
An NYU grad and native New Yorker, Sharpe now calls Champaign home with wife and fellow law professor Nicola and their four children. (“Five if you count Ember, our Cavapoo,” he says).
Sharpe took time out to answer questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in the 205th installment of our weekly speed read spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.
“My team is bright and entrepreneurial. It can be a challenge to select among their great ideas and maintain focus on them over time.”
Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette
I can’t live without my … NBA League Pass subscription. At this point in life, I wouldn’t know what to do if I couldn’t watch the Knicks disappoint season after season.
My single favorite moment of all-time in this job was … a very recent occurrence. I’ve been dean for just over two months. So far, my favorite moment was welcoming our new class of students.
This was my first orientation address and their enthusiasm for starting their legal studies was infectious.
The three adjectives I hope my staff would use to describe me are … honest, supportive and selfless.
My philosophy on meetings is … have a clear idea of what they’re supposed to accomplish. Think carefully in advance about what you want to discuss, who needs to be there and how it fits in with the bigger picture. Follow up with an email summarizing or assigning tasks as needed.
The hardest thing about being a leader is … channeling enthusiasm and energy into concrete action. My team is bright and entrepreneurial. It can be a challenge to select among their great ideas and maintain focus on them over time.
On my office walls, you’ll find … a New York Yankees clock my son gave me for Christmas.
Come lunchtime, Jamelle Sharpe likes to “take a walk along the Quad and down to Green Street. I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, but I make the trip as often as I can.”
Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette
My professional role model is … more than a single person. I’ve worked with many terrific people over my career. Each have taught me valuable lessons on leadership, integrity, perseverance and service that I carry with me.
I’m frugal in that … I squeeze every last molecule of toothpaste out of every tube. That stuff is expensive.
My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is … show grace to everyone in the College of Law community. Everyone matters, so take the opportunity to be a bright spot in someone’s day if you can.
The single-most important question I ask job candidates during interviews is …. what kind of career do you want to have? It leads interviewees to take a step back and think about where they are, where they want to go, how the college fits in and what they value most.
The first thing I do when I get to work most days is … check my calendar and to-do list. I like to know what the day is likely to bring — though the plan doesn’t always work out.
For lunch, I like to … take a walk along the Quad and down to Green Street. I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, but I make the trip as often as I can.
I wind down after work by … chatting with my wife and children about their days. They are never far from my thoughts during the work day, and talking with them is often the best part of my day.
The last luxury in which I indulged was … a shopping trip to Nordstrom in Chicago. I connected with Mario C., the very experienced and affable head of their men’s clothing department.
Although I was shopping for suits, this was quite a step up from my usual practice of recycling clothes I bought in the late 1990s.
The most beneficial college class I took was … Introduction to Literary Interpretation at NYU, taught by Professor Hal Momma. She insisted that we approach literature with sustained analytical rigor, touching on history, philosophy, culture and linguistics.
I never thought I could get so much out of a few paragraphs of text, and I’ve carried the skills I learned into my academic career.
The last good book I read was … “Straight Man” by Richard Russo. Hilarious, a bit risqué and, in places, surprisingly accurate in its portrayal of life as a faculty member.
I’m up and at ‘em every day by … about 4:30 a.m. Some days I sleep in until 6 a.m.
My exercise routine consists of … fretting about my lack of an exercise routine. Worrying about it is surprisingly exhausting.
The first (and worst) job I ever had was as a … paperboy on Long Island, New York, when I was 12 or 13. I had to go door-to-door to collect subscription payments once a week.
Folks would turn off the television and pretend they weren’t home.