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January 15, 2014


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Jeff Harrison

Probably less interesting than you think. One candidate dropped before the list was public and all candidates were informed it would be public. There are no surprises. The impact, if any, would be whether to include your name in the first place.

Eric Muller

Sunshine, Disinfectant: I have adopted a personal policy of not conversing with anonymous commenters on blogs. My life is much happier that way.

Eric Muller

Professor Harrison, may I ask you a question? I mean it purely informationally, not argumentatively. Am I understanding correctly that the dean candidates all knew that their application materials would be posted on the internet at a stage of the process when 24 candidates remained in contention?

Jeffrey Harrison

Eric: I cannot be sure because you ask if they knew. I cannot poll them to determine that. All I can say is the policy is well know and, if any of them did not know, it was due to a lack of diligence. Another possibility is that the search firm dropped the ball but I do not know that either. I note that some included more material than others and that may reflect some squemishness about the process. I think it is more likely they all put on their "big boy" pants and went for it.


I know one candidate, and am posting anonymously to protect their identity, not mine. This candidate understood that the process would be confidential at this initial stage. The person was shocked to see the public posting of both identity and application letters.


Larry Ponoroff (Arizona) was originally on the list but his name has since disappeared.


"Sunshine, Disinfectant: I have adopted a personal policy of not conversing with anonymous commenters on blogs. My life is much happier that way."
Eric Muller: you are conversing with an anon! (in your usual manner, of course).
Happy, happy, happy. Life is but a dream!
Moreover, on the one hand, you are arguing for anonymity in a process, but then decrying it another.
Yes, the circumstances are a bit different, but, not much, really. Anonymity is sometimes necessary, isn't it, Eric?
Oh wait. Don't answer.
Happy happy happy. Life is but a dream.

Oracle at Delphi

I'm very confident that Florida's dean search has fewer candidates than it would otherwise have enjoyed because of the ludicrous transparency of the search. I also wonder if Florida recruits football and basketball coaches in the same way; if it does, I'm shocked that they are ever able to make successful hires. Ditto presidents and provosts. A sitting dean, in many ways the strongest possible prospect, at least in terms of available information and risk assessment, will be quite wary of being "outed" as a candidate at another law school (even if it's significantly upmarket). Such knowledge could badly complicate development efforts -- would you right a big check to a dean on her way out the door? As well as faculty governance dynamics -- "perhaps if I push just a little bit more, the dean will quit/leave!"

I agree 100% that faculty involvement in hiring a dean is an essential element for a successful deanship. However, unless Florida's procedures and policies are even more bizarre (idiotic?) than I suppose them to be, no one can be appointed as a professor of law, with tenure, absent some sort of majority or super majority vote of the whole faculty. It's technically possible to have a dean who holds only an administrative appointment, and this has happened at a handful of law schools over the last 20 years, but it's a freakish exception and most persons holding tenure will not give it up to serve as dean (and dean only).

If I have this right, Professor Harrison's concerns about faculty involvement ring totally false. If the pool sucks, and the faculty feels degraded and marginalized, then you have a very simply solution: deny all the dean candidates the votes necessary to be appointed professor of law with tenure. Simply put, the faculty holds an effective veto. If you think the process sucks, then crash it. The president and provost can, of course, appoint an acting or interim dean, but unless your university has crazy rules (that I suspect violate the governing AALS/ABA rules and principles on law faculty appointments), you cannot have a dean who also holds tenure and professor of law status imposed on the faculty from above.

Frankly, if the process is objectionable (for example based on the composition of the committee), the faculty could easily communicate this fact to the president and provost by enacting a resolution that the requisite number of faculty members will not vote to grant tenure or professor of law rank to any of the candidates brought forward by the search committee. The president and provost could respond as they think best. At the end of the day, however, disclosure of the names and candidate data were not necessary to protect the important principle of faculty governance with respect to faculty hires.

Oracle at Delphi

An addendum: just how far does the disclosure rule go? If the search committee or consultant does basic personal background investigation work, such as pulling a credit report or a criminal background check, will these documents also appear on the provost's website for God and country to see? Will all references go up as well -- including off-list references from people with axes to grind?

If, in fact, all of this information goes up on the provost's website, the law creates a rather perverse incentive for the committee not to do adequate due diligence work. In point of fact, you should know if someone is financially irresponsible or has been arrested for public exposure; at the same time, most people would take a pass on a candidacy for a position at Florida before agreeing to have their credit history posted on the web. Would the University of Florida even redact sensitive information, like a person's Social Security number? Or would that go up too because "the public must know!"? I'm just wondering how far the sun shines in Florida. . .

Any sane person would refuse to participate in such a process (regardless of whether their credit score is 440 or 810). And to the extent that transparency has the effect of discouraging due diligence by search committees, it will lead to bad decisions -- decisions made in ignorance because the duty to disclose the information will strongly incent the search committee not to seek the information in the first place.

Jeff Harrison

Anyone can look at the pool an decide if the open search resulted in a weak pool. If fact, although this post has become dated it would be interesting to know what people think. It has now been pared to ten and within that ten there are, at least to me, some good prospects although there may be competition to get them. Whether better prospects would have applied but for the openness, I cannot say. I kind of doubt it in part because I am not sure what better means in the context of a mid level law school looking for a dean. I do think any candidate who is offered the job would do well to require that there be strong faculty support so rather than a faculty revolt(the UF faculty does not revolt, it always asks permission)the initiative should come from any sensible candidate.


For whatever it has meant for this search, I think going forward this episode is likely to give outsiders pause about applying to public institutions in Florida. As mentioned above, the broad interpretation of "open" to mean total access to everything--even at the earliest stage-- will likely affect the way future searches are conducted.

Jeff Harrison

I do not want to come off a seeming to support the law but the truth is that there is no "going forward." The law has been the same for decades, so whatever "when forward" already happened. In the meantime, in that period we have had a number of very effective deans. The process seems extreme to me too (though not as extreme as the slippery slope some have described) but I'd be hard pressed to say it has made a difference.


Yes, I know the law has existed. "Going forward" means going forward from the publication on this and other sites of the names and letters of application of candidates for the job of dean. People may have known of the law's existence. They probably did not think it meant that their material would be published at such an early stage of the process. A poster above suggests that this was the case with one person on the list. As for due diligence, has this happened before-- that names and applications were released to the public at the beginning of the process? I do not follow Florida, maybe this happens all the time.

Jeffrey Harrison

CHS: I am not sure but I think it was more of a splash this time because the search firm turned over all of the applicants at once. In the past the process was more gradual.-- a name here and there and people dropping out here and there. And, if the list had been circulated when it should have been no one would have cared but the faculty. This got blown up because the administration claimed there was no list when there was. The extensive publicity about the contents of the list was a side effect of the administration denying the existence of the list when some people had it. Fortunately there are some good ones still interested.


1. One can't just look at the pool and determine whether this release has resulted in a weakened pool. No one knows from any extant papers how the field of potential candidates would serve UF's needs. As to this search, some may be sticking it out because the cat is out of the bag, but may feel less warm toward the school because of how this developed and less likely to accept. Others may have withdrawn because of the disclosure -- reasoning that they were briefly identified, but perhaps not for everyone to see, or worrying about other disclosures to come. That is putting aside future searches.

2. One can't just say the candidates knew or should have known what they were getting into. The linked article says that the search firm was surprised, so presumably it didn't advise the candidates of this possibility, at least not as to the release of materials in addition to their identities this early in the going. Nor does the fact that some stuck around mean that they weren't surprised. Maybe there is a prior notorious episode in which identities and letters of application and reference were all disclosed at this stage of the proceedings, but no one has mentioned it.

3. One can't just blame the law. From all appearances, the law would have been underenforced at this point but for curiosity and, perhaps, outrage at the airs and secretiveness of committee members; how this has enabled constructive scrutiny hasn't been explained. The law didn't require that the names be linked at this blog; I don't see why that was necessary. The law didn't require that some anonymous commentator upthread name a person who has withdrawn, perhaps because the candidate felt disclosure was inappropriate (perhaps for other reasons); I can't see why that wasn't left to him to volunteer. The law didn't require that we now be informed of how many are now in the pool -- whether "pared" by choice or by committee -- which might have been left to the committee to disclose.

I remain puzzled as to why this "extreme" law is being served in this manner, unless out of an ethic that requires ferreting out violations of the law wherever they occur, which I suppose I could respect. Or in order to secure a backlash against the law, but that seems to be understood as a remote prospect.

Jeffrey Harrison

Being involved in this discussion has been interesting in part because of the degree of outrage that some commentators have expressed that a small group of privileged people, who may or may not care, had it revealed that they were sufficiently interested in the dean ship (none are begging, the all have good jobs) to discuss it further,. In conjunction with that their CVs (already on the internet) and their statements about what they have done and would do as dean (perhaps a little puffing but standard in today's law teaching world) were made available to people. My goodness!


The relative privilege of these people has nothing to do with an assessment of the interpretation of the law. It's more a matter of the implications of seeing the law as requiring such an extreme measure. Does "open" really mean putting every single thing out there immediately? The law does not just apply to searches for law school deans. So, as someone mentioned earlier, this might cover lots of terrain that is not far down a slippery slope. It's not on a slope at all, if "everything out there now" is actually the rule.

I think people are interested in how far this goes.

Jeff Harrison

CHS: I am not an expert on the law but I think it means making public the printed things that the decision makers base their decisions on. Is that the same as "putting every single thing out there immediately?" I do not know. But so far things like penis or bra size, bowel movements, credit ratings, frequency of sexual activity, size of bank account, if you really are an American, how many pets you have, did you ever tell a lie, what kind of car you have, your favorite movie or book, the names and ages of your children have not been asked. But, if they were and a candidate does not want that to be public it need not be submitted. However slippery the slope may be, no one has to go down it.

As for the craziness of the law, remember people down here elected Rick Scott as governor. He are luck not to have reeducation camps. In fact, although Arizona and North Carolina are giving us a run for our money, Florida has got to be the most wacked out state in Union.

The only thing I have seen that may be embarrassing for any candidate is the statement that they may be interested in the job because it cuts against the close to the vest style of law professors of never ever admitting openly that you want something.

With this I am signing off faculty lounge. I only came over for a few days because someone told me I was mentioned. I love Al Brophy's posts and many of the others but about half of the comments read like really really bad exam answers. If they want to keep the level of discourse high they really need to eliminate the anonymous posts.

curious about the ten semifinalists

Who are the ten semifinalists?


I would venture that most people who are thinking of changing jobs play things "close to the vest" until they get far enough into the process to see whether they may have a chance. This is neither a failing nor a law professor thing. In any event, I agree with you about Brophy.

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