The recent developments at University of Wyoming’s law school (see here & here), as well as the recent allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Case Western University’s law school dean (see here & here), bring back difficult memories of Saint Louis University’s many travails last year. All of these situations also raise the question of how a university and law school should proceed after the resignation of the university’s president, or the leaving of the law school’s dean or, as in the case of SLU, both and more. Clearly, even with their resignations, ex-institutional leaders still harbor at least some support within the faculties, staffs, and student bodies that they used to lead. Moreover, the struggle to remove an institutional leader often consists of a smaller series of civil wars, where jockeying for position—whether an advantageous one, or merely a safe one—in the midst of chaos generates much intra-institutional resentment. As a result, the forced departure of an academic institution’s leader often is not the end of a mess, but merely the beginning of a protracted period of intra-institutional division, distrust, and discord.
This post is not intended to take sides in any of the law school disputes mentioned, but merely seeks to ask readers: How does a law school recover from a moment of deep institutional strife (short of shutting down and rebooting)? What fair and just means have institutions historically used in the aftermath of institutional meltdowns in order to robustly recover and return to their academic missions? Or is such a recovery an impossible proposition? Is recovery an especially impossible proposition in the current environment of plummeting law school admissions and, as a result, generalized institutional distress?
An entire literature (mostly in law and political science) has developed on law and politics in ‘deeply divided societies.’ Academic institutions, however, are different than societies writ large, and so I’m not sure if legal academics really have an appropriate language or lens on how to deal with leadership crises—and their often deeply divisive aftermaths—in their own institutional backyards. In this respect, while a generic ‘truth and reconciliation’ continues to have widespread purchase in these kinds of debates, there are many technical questions as to how to go about T&R in an academic institution (as opposed to a society more broadly).
For example, one might wonder, in the aftermath of a law school leadership crisis, whether the law school itself should create a committee to diagnose what went wrong where. How could one compose that committee in a fair and just manner? Elections? Should it include law students? Law school staff? Alternatively, should such a committee be filled with members of the university community more broadly? Might it be helpful to have persons from another university/law school altogether conduct an investigation? What might the results of any investigation be? Confidential apologies tendered by those who made serious misjudgments? Censure of those who facilitated wrongdoing? Censure of those who knew about wrongdoing but did nothing to stop it? Private censure or public censure? How does this all work in conjunction with litigation possibilities in the civil (or criminal) court system?
While this is a totally unscientific observation, it seems as if the pace of law school leadership crises might be accelerating, perhaps because of the economic stresses that people working at distressed schools are operating under. This itself is distressing, but also suggests the need for a more concerted thought and action being dedicated to how to manage the aftermaths of these crises.