In Memoriam: Hugh Macgill, Former UConn School of Law Dean

Hugh Macgill, who passed away this month, was a transformative leader of the UConn School of Law during his time as dean.

Hugh Macgill, former law school dean who died recently, in an archival photo sitting in his office.

Hugh Macgill continued to teach at the UConn School of Law for 14 years after stepping down as dean. (File photo/UConn School of Law)

Hugh C. Macgill, dean of the University of Connecticut School of Law from 1990 to 2000, died Feb. 13, 2020. He was 79.

During his tenure as dean, Macgill negotiated the construction of a new law library, elevated faculty scholarship, and raised the law school’s national and international standing. As an influential faculty member before and after his service as dean, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote and advance the law school.

“Hugh Macgill was a transformational leader,” UConn Law Dean Timothy Fisher said. “We are the school that we are today thanks to him.”

Macgill was born in 1940 on a farm in Maryland, halfway between Baltimore and Washington, son of a banker who moved the family north, first to Westchester, New York, and then to Princeton, New Jersey. He graduated from the Hotchkiss School in Salisbury, Connecticut, studied Russian at Yale, and left part-way through to join the Army and learn Mandarin at the Army Language School. He served in the Army Security Agency in Taiwan for three years, intercepting and translating mainland Chinese military communications.

He returned to Yale, graduated in 1965 with a BA in Russian and enrolled in the University of Virginia School of Law. In law school, Macgill developed his strong interest in civil rights. He and other students established a Legal Aid office in Charlottesville, and he spent the summer after his first year of law school enforcing federal desegregation guidelines in southwest Georgia. “I don’t think I had much impact on Georgia, but it was a powerful experience for me,” he later said.

After graduating from law school in 1968, Macgill joined the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship Program. He worked on tenants’ rights issues in Baltimore and transferred to Minnesota, where he worked with the Saint Paul Urban Coalition. Afterward, with a grant from the Bush Foundation, he went to Yale Law School and worked as a graduate fellow.

He arrived at UConn Law as a visiting assistant professor in 1970 and joined the faculty in 1971.  

In 1976, Macgill married Nancy Rankin, who survives him along with their children, Charles and Alexandra.

After joining the UConn Law faculty, Macgill taught legal history and constitutional law, and worked with Dean Phillip I. Blumberg to mastermind the law school’s move to the campus of the former Hartford Seminary in 1984. He then served as associate dean for academic affairs under Dean George Schatzki. When Schatzki stepped down in 1990, Macgill became the first faculty member chosen from within the law school for the dean’s post. He accepted the job with one condition that he imposed on himself.

“Most of our graduates take the Connecticut bar examination. I decided I should take it, too. I would not accept the job unless I passed.” He did.

Construction of the Thomas J. Meskill Law Library was Macgill’s signature achievement as dean. It was completed in 1996, fulfilling his vision of an intellectual campus center that would raise the law school’s national profile. Macgill presided at the library’s dedication with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer as a guest and featured speaker.

Macgill also moved the law school ahead in practical learning, establishing a Tax Clinic, partnerships for transactional and child advocacy clinics, and a clinical fellowship. His tenure produced the Insurance Law Center, the Connecticut Insurance Law Journal, and the university’s first two LLM degree programs.

Believing that community service was part of a dean’s calling, Macgill served in myriad professional and civic organizations, including as chairman of the Connecticut Humanities Council,  the State Ethics Commission, and the Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative, and president of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, the Connecticut Historical Society, and Neighborhood Legal Services in Hartford.

Macgill stepped down from the dean’s office in 2000, but continued to teach until 2014. He and his wife divided their time between West Hartford and Addison, Maine.

A memorial service will be held in the spring. Memorial contributions may be made to The Hugh C. Macgill Endowed Scholarship at the UConn School of Law, payable to The UConn Foundation, 2390 Alumni Dr., Unit 3206, Storrs, CT 06269-3206, or to the Downeast Coastal Conservancy, P.O. Box 760, Machias, Maine, 04654.