Hooked on Higher Ed

Vol. 42 No. 5

By

LESLIE A. GORDON is a secret lawyer who has been working as a freelance legal affairs journalist for more than ten years.

As a University of Iowa College of Law 3L, Maria Flores-Mills worked at the Office of the Provost, assisting the university’s first Latina PhD. During that time, she served alongside other Latina law, medical, and dental students on a panel for local middle school students. The crowd turned out to be “unruly,” Flores-Mills recalled. But having been an undergraduate education major with student teaching under her belt, she took charge and swiftly got the kids under control.

Impressed, the Provost invited Flores-Mills to come work for her after graduation to recruit local teenagers of color to the university. Flores-Mills had entered law school hoping to practice family law and immigration. But by the time she graduated in 1996, she was expecting a baby and wanted a job that allowed for a distinct work-life balance. That serendipitous opportunity “started my path in higher education,” she recalled.

Later, Flores-Mills used her legal training at DePauw University in Indiana as the Director of Judicial Affairs. Her position had her revamping DePauw’s internal judicial review process, a project that, she said, was “informed by my legal background.” Her understanding of procedure guided this reworking process.

A few years later, Flores-Mills joined Princeton University as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students. Initially, she managed accommodations for students with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act has a complicated regulatory framework that is supplemented with fact-intensive court decisions. Flores-Mills’s legal training provided her with the tools to analyze the statutory and judicial elements impacting Princeton’s procedures.

Today, she also coordinates new student orientation and manages the Outdoor Action program (through which students mentor incoming freshmen). Being a lawyer has served Flores-Mills well in her career in academic administration. As assistant secretary for Princeton’s Committee on Discipline, she has a keen understanding of “what’s clear and persuasive evidence” in disciplinary proceedings. And thanks to her legal training, she said, “I’ve got a good [lie] detector.”

Legal writing skills have also been “tremendously helpful” to her decidedly non-legal career, according to Flores-Mills. “It sets me apart.” When drafting emails, presentations, and annual reports, her writing is uncommonly “logical, concise, [and] clear,” she explained. The same goes for thinking. Law school taught Flores-Mills how to “identify true issues and frame my response.” And in negotiating student accommodations and internal policies, she knows how to “clearly articulate” her position. n

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