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December 28, 2013


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Ian Holloway

A couple of (half-formed) thoughts:

First, I think that we need to consider the whole leadership team in a dean search. It may be OK if the dean doesn't have certain skills or attributes as long as the associate deans do. Put another way, we should think about the complementarity of skills within the deans' suite;

Secondly, and in specific response to your query, I think that one thing we could learn from the private sector is the importance of institutional self-resolve when it comes to a leadership change. We often talk about "honeymoon periods" in the academy. Perhaps instead we should say that when we as a collegium have had a leadership decision, we should be resolved to want the new dean to succeed. I know that to some, that will sound naive - or even worse, corporatist. But it's what I think;

Thirdly, I think that we have to acknowledge that decanal candidates can find themselves in a no-win situation if there are folks on the selection committee who have an agenda that is opposed to them. I've been on several selection committees over the years. Candidate X comes in, and speaks with confidence about what he or she would want to do. Committee member Y says, "The person doesn't even know the place, and they think they know everything. What conceit!" Then the next candidate speaks in generalities because, as he or she says, they don't know the real situation on the ground. Candidate Y says, "For Heaven's sake, they don't even have a vision'". As I say, a no-win situation.

For what it's worth (which probably ain't much).


Your disclaimer is really quite amusing! Was it intended to be so?
Is the word "personality" as you use it a proxy for factors that might be considered improper? Is your search based even in part on such factors? You refer to the private sector, so, this is a fair question.
With all due respect, taken at face value, your post reads like a person searching for love, not like the words of a careful and professional law professor, using good judgment while participating in the important search for a law school Dean. Sorry to say so, but your focus appears to be more like the "musings" of a teenager about a potential date, e.g. your references to "chemistry" (x2), "personality" (x2), "good match" (x2), "the right man/woman" ... etc. There is but one vague, passing reference to skills. The whole post starts with an explicit reference to finding a love mate.
This post is, to me at least, just sort of, well, shocking. It represents in my view such a misguided approach. But, I'm glad you've posted it, because it provokes (or could provoke) thought.
Just wondering ... does this post epitomize EXACTLY what is wrong with the approach law faculty have been taking of late with respect to hiring decisions? What lessons can be/should be learned here?

Jacqueline Lipton

Thanks for the comments so far and I should clarify that in my original post I intended to include the assumption that I was referring to candidates who otherwise have the appropriate skill-set and experience. I didn't articulate that clearly (or at all) in the original post, and for that I apologize. I'm not talking about the stage where the committee is considering 50-100 candidates to narrow it down to a shortlist. I'm really talking about the "final 3", "final 5" etc i.e. the folks who should objectively "succeed on paper". When the powers-that-be are choosing between folks who are objectively qualified, how do you deal with the more "subjective fit" issue. I hope that more clearly articulates what I was getting at.


The argument that "after we've identified a few qualified candidates we choose among them based on invalid criteria" doesn't really dispel the conclusion I reached about your post.
The notion that "chemistry" and "personality" are important factors - as or more important than skills, experience, vision, connections, etc. - is plainly, in my view, not only specious but disturbing.
To the extent there is extant "science" on this issue, I would urge you to consult that science, and then post again about whether you discover that "chemistry" is an even arguably valid criterion in this context (i.e., reliable, objective, heck: meaningful IN ANY SENSE of the word). A little life experience would probably also go a long way toward thinking about this issue.
What I think you'll find is what you are thinking about as "chemistry" is simply an emotion based on scant interaction with a person you find yourself "attracted to." At this level of seemingly juvenile first impressions, which amounts to portraying the process of faculty hiring as a "match making" endeavor that resembles speed dating, I think your criteria will yield only "feelings" either so personal and subjective as to be meaningless or "impressions" based mainly on your own bigotries and prejudices.
As a candidate meeting you after researching your blog posts, I would begin baffled by your expression of these sentiments, and end entirely sure that your judgment about me, for or against, would be based on unprofessional, unsteady and unreliable bases.
Just how do you expect candidates to produce “chemistry” with you? or, do you "know it when you see it?"

Jacqueline Lipton

Anon: I'm sure you're misconstruing what I'm attempting to say, but be that as it may, I assure you that even if I did intend to apply invalid or inappropriate criteria to dean search interviews, my attempt wouldn't carry much, if any, weight. The search process involves a large and diverse committee of which I am only one member, and ultimately even the committee merely makes recommendations for a group of candidates to interview with faculty and other stakeholders and, with feedback from those stakeholders, recommends a group of candidates for consideration by the Provost as possible appointees. The final appointment decision is made by the President in consultation with the Provost. A single committee member, particularly one with a questionable agenda, would be unlikely to have much impact on the final outcome.



FWIW, I think your point makes perfect sense. Faculties have personalities, traditions, cultures, and in my view some people who would be outstanding deans in some places would not work so well in others. I've served under such deans.

Fit may be less important for faculty, but it is still important. It is not a question of personal chemistry, but shared values and personal style. I've worked at schools, for example, which histories of contention and people who are too forceful, no matter how good otherwise, might get looked at closely for fear of bringing back the bad old days.



Jacqui, I agree w/you (and with Ian and Jack). Schools have personalities. Those personalities can evolve over time, but each school has one. And deans have to work w/a variety of constituencies: faculty, staff, students, university administration, alumni, community, etc. The chemistry to which you refer is the ability to connect, genuinely, with those constituencies. Each of our three deans at UNLV has had a distinct personality, and each dean has been (or, in Dan's case, is) wonderful for the school. As Ian says, the community has to work together to help the dean succeed. And it is the dean's team (associate deans and other senior staff) that has to combine a set of skills to make sure that the school is well-served. A deanship is a service job, as is any other senior leadership job. With the right team--and by "right," I mean not just the right mix of skill sets, but also the ability to tell the dean when she's about to do something ill-advised--then a school is in good hands.


Law schools are well-managed and doing great!
Happy, happy, happy.
We all get along so well and like each other so much (except for you know who), competence need no longer be our primary concern. We certainly don't need any one who might not share our point of view! Things are improving in legal education, why mess with a great result?
What is most important is the soft emotional comfort provided by the patina of "chemistry" that is by born in our belief in our own inherent goodness and nurtured by associating with and listening only to those who reflect that view, i.e., those who make us feel "chemistry." All this is best expressed by a line uttered by Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.
Happy New Year, folks.

Albert Ross

Can't stand law school deans.

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