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January 27, 2014


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I think the solution is the opposite of what Professor Harrison suggests -- not more faculty involvement in the Dean search, but less. When wholesale changes are perhaps needed, and perhaps a faculty is looking for assurance that nothing will change, it might be better to leave the faculty out of it.

Perhaps have them interview with students and alums instead. In most industries, one does not get the opportunity to pick their boss.

Jeff Harrison

As someone who rants almost daily about too much faculty involvement, Kipper has hit me in a weak spot. I can hardly disagree. I do think, though, that there are some realities that Dan's summary of the piece leaves out. First, the thesis of the article is that if the process is not viewed as legitimate to the faculty, a new dean may find it rough going. I am not sure how much involvement that requires but anyone in law teaching knows, regardless of the formal structure, the dean serves at the pleasure of the faculty.

Second, and perhaps more important, is that while there can be too much faculty involvement (it could turn into a hellish faculty meeting) it would be nice to have people on the committee who know something about legal education. In the Florida case, as I noted in the original piece, the committee is composed of 11 people a majority of whom have no significant knowledge (or perhaps any at all) of legal education. Nor are there any ex law school deans or faculty in the central administration. [My personal preference is that committee members also not be former or current law school administrators but that is only because I believe to hold those positions you have to be agreeable to authority.]

Third, as the original piece notes, 24 candidates were trimmed to 10 three days after they were announced in a 2 hour meeting which consisted of looking at CVs and relying on hunches. As one committee member said, "I'd be willing to take a flier on that guy." It might have been nice to ask faculty if the had any insights into the 24.

Like it or not, a dean's success may depend on faculty buying into the process. A choice of finalists requires people who know what to look for. Our process may fail on both points. I say may fail because we have, in my view some candidates whose quality exceeds that of the process itself. [As always please excuse all typos, etc.]

Ben Barros

Kipper, you misunderstand the role of the dean. Law schools have are faculty-governed institutions. As a practical matter, governance is shared between the faculty and the dean. But the dean is not the boss of the law school in the same way that a person in a similar position would be a boss in another industry.


Ben -- Usually there is a Board of Trustees that governs the institution.

Jeff Harrison

Actually, Kipper, as unfortunate as it seems since many faculty just govern the institution to serve their own needs, Ben is right. Yes, there is a formal structure and a dean can be fired by higher ups but once the faculty sours on a dean, he or she is out. Deans are more akin to elected politicians who are subject to instant recall. Since they are generally tired of teaching and research the are very focused on keeping an administrative post. Thus, they have to keep a majority of the faculty happy no matter how misguided.At the same time the cannot make too many alums unhappy or donations dry up and they have to play ball with those with formal authority to fire them. In addition, faculty make many of the day to day decisions about classes offered, grading standards, who is hired and fired.

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