Rodney A. Smolla

Visiting Professor of Law


Rod Smolla is visiting Duke Law in the fall 2013 semester after serving as president of Furman University in Greenville, S.C., since 2010.  He has previously served as dean and Roy L. Steinheimer Professor of Law at Washington and Lee School of Law, as dean and Allen Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, and as director of the Institute of Bill of Rights Law at the College of William & Mary.

Smolla is nationally recognized as a scholar, teacher, advocate and writer, and is one of country's foremost experts on issues relating to freedom of speech, academic freedom and freedom of the press. A native of the Chicago area, he is a 1975 graduate of Yale University, where he was a member of the football team. He graduated first in his class from Duke University Law School in 1978.

During his legal career, Smolla has presented arguments in state and federal courts throughout the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He has also testified before committees of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

His book, Free Speech in an Open Society (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992) won the William O. Douglas Award as the year's best monograph on freedom of expression. He is also the author of Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt: The First Amendment on Trial (St. Martin's Press, 1988) and Deliberate Intent (Crown Publishers, 1999).Deliberate Intent was made into a television movie by the FX cable network, in which actor Timothy Hutton played the role of Rod Smolla, depicting his involvement in a notorious case in which he successfully represented the families of three murder victims in a suit against the publisher of a murder instruction manual.

Smolla's latest book, The Constitution Goes to College, (New York University Press, 2011) describes the constitutional principles and ideas that have shaped American higher education.

Smolla has remained an active teacher throughout his career. He taught a freshman writing seminar at Furman. His numerous teaching awards include the State of Virginia's Outstanding Faculty Award and William & Mary's John Marshall Faculty Award.

As a law school dean he was a champion of curricular reform in American law schools, encouraging them to place greater emphasis on preparing students for practice, helping them to develop applied judgment and habits of professionalism.

As president of Furman, Smolla emphasized a more holistic approach to admissions, attention to the education of the "whole student", engagement with the community, and encouraging habits of open-minded and civilized public discourse.

In addition to teaching at William & Mary, Richmond and Washington and Lee, Smolla has been a professor at the University of Illinois, University of Arkansas and DePaul University law schools, and a Senior Fellow of the Washington Annenberg Program of Northwestern University. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Melbourne, University of Denver, and Duke law schools.

Smolla is active in civic and community affairs, and frequently speaks to community groups, church groups, youth groups, schools and college organizations. He serves on numerous civic, community, professional and corporate boards, including the Board of Directors of Media General, Inc., the Board and Executive Committee of the American Arbitration Association, the First Amendment Advisory Committee of the Media Institute, the Board of the Greenville (S.C.) Chamber of Commerce, and the Board of the Commerce Club of Greenville. In 2011 he was nominated by Gov. Nikki Haley and confirmed by the South Carolina Senate to serve on the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.