I want to talk a little bit about the news that my friend and mentor Ken Randall is retiring from the University of Alabama at the end of the month. I have a lot of things I want to say about Ken and all the great things he's done for the University of Alabama over his nearly two decades long tenure as dean. Time is short this evening, so I will confine my thoughts to a couple of vignettes. When Ken took over as dean Alabama was ranked in what US News then called the "second tier" -- schools 51 to 99 or thereabouts. Back then U.S. News didn't rank provide a specific rank to schools beyond the top 50, so it's not possible to tell exactly where the law school ranked beyond somewhere outside of the top fifty and better than 100. Through dint of extraordinary work on his part of fund raising and recruiting of students -- and of course hard work by the earnest and talented faculty and staff -- Alabama rose into the top 50 around 1999. That's about where it was when I arrived in 2001. And the climb's continued, to the astonishing and impressive level it is at now. Perhaps most impressive is that he's been able to move the notoriously static peer assessment score up, from about 2.6 to whatever it is now, I guess 3.0 or thereabouts.
Ken presided over years of excellent hiring and improvement in student quality; and the University has seen a correlation in growth as well. When I arrived the University's enrollment was about 19,000; and I guess it's now over 30,000. How this happened was a combination of talent and energy. Among Ken's many talents is his work ethic -- there were lots of weekends and evenings that I'd be leaving the parking lot for home and his car was still there. He personally called all admitted students and ran a terrific recruitment team. (I know this because the last few years I've been recruiting against Alabama.) But lots of people have terrific work ethic -- Ken's able to identify talent -- in students and faculty -- and recruit both to Tuscaloosa. He has a set of skills across a broad range, from planning to execution.
Back in 2006 another terrific law school tried to recruit him as dean -- and the University was able fend off that raid, with among other things promises for increased support for faculty hiring. Ken negotiated on behalf of the entire law school and helped us all improve. I remember commenting to my colleague Susan Lyons at that point how lucky we were that Ken was staying. That caused us to talk about another school that had offered him the deanship back around the time Alabama made him dean. I commented sort of matter-of-factly that if he'd gone there that school would be in the top fifty. And she thought for a moment and then said with a smile and a bit of a laugh, "I think that's right."
I guess I'm not shocked that Ken's leaving for other mountains to climb. And I hope I have the chance to spend time with him down the road, to learn more lessons about teaching and administration, and life in general from him. The quotation from Emerson that comes to mind now is from "Self-Reliance": "an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man." And without sounding too melodramatic, that is certainly the case of the University of Alabama School of Law and Ken Randall.
Ken has left the school in terrific shape and I'm 100% certain that there will be enormous competition for the permanent deanship. There are a huge number of positives in place and I'd imagine this will be the most sought-after deanship in the country next year.