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Former USC Law School dean Foster dies

Robert Foster
Robert Foster Image courtesy of the Foster family

Robert “Bob” Foster, former dean at the University of South Carolina School of Law and longtime supporter of environmental causes, died Sunday. He was 88.

Foster, a Charleston native, was dean of the School of Law from 1970-76, a time when it was growing from a small law school and undergoing numerous changes, including an expanded faculty and library and moving into a new building.

“He oversaw a period of transformative growth that brought the law school into the modern era of legal education,” said current dean Robert Wilcox.

“Many of the faculty he hired shaped the school’s academic program for decades. Many of the students he taught developed into national leaders in the legal profession,” Wilcox said.

Patrick Hubbard, who retired from full-time teaching at the law school this month after 42 years on the faculty, was one of the professors hired under Foster.

Before Foster, recalled Hubbard, who specializes in tort law, the USC School of Law was largely focused on South Carolina. But Foster made sure that courses included national areas of the law, including specialties such as products liability and clinical legal education, Hubbard said.

“He had a strong sense of academic freedom,” said Hubbard, explaining that sense prompted him to bring in faculty from outside South Carolina to be part of the professorial cultural mix.

As dean, Foster led the effort to build the current law school and relocate it in 1973 from its former home at Petigru College. During his tenure as dean, the library’s collection was more than doubled, according to USC School of Law officials.

As a young person, Foster had spent summers at the Episcopal retreat at Camp Kanuga in Hendersonville, N.C., developing a love for nature. As an adult, he not only created an educational garden at Kanuga, but he supported the S.C. Coastal Conservation League and the Nature Conservancy of South Carolina, two groups that protect land and species habitats in the state.

“He was such an upbeat fellow,” recalled Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, who had lunch a year ago with Foster. “His personality was such that he looked for ways to make the world better so as to avoid an environmental decline, and to use the law to do that. He wasn’t one to sit around and think that nothing could be done.”

A recent issue of the Coastal Conservation League’s magazine contained an interview with Foster, in which he said, “My greatest concern is climate change. We have been on the wrong path and a dangerous path. We cannot continue polluting without devastating the earth....I also worry over the destruction of wetlands, and the loss of their cleansing and regenerative effects.”

Born in 1926, Foster graduated from high school in 1944 and was appointed to the Merchant Marine Academy in 1945. He graduated from there in 1948.

In 1950, he graduated from the USC and later received a master of law degree from Duke University.

During the Korean War, he served in the Navy. From 1951-62, he was a professor of law at the University of Louisville. He then joined the USC School of Law faculty, served as dean, and retired in 1991.

After his retirement, Foster – who had been an early champion for the use of arbitration as a form of alternative dispute resolution – was a highly sought arbitrator, according to USC School of Law officials.

His memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where he was a longtime member. 

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