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May 26, 2016


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Law Prof

The faculty at SUNY Buffalo has not been allowed to nominate its own dean since 1998, when R. Nils Olsen, Jr. was appointed. He stepped down in midyear 2007-08. What followed is probably unprecedented. In January 2008, Makau W. Mutua was installed as Interim Dean with no faculty consultation. A full dean search followed that semester with three faculty-approved finalists (from Illinois, North Carolina, Melborne, Australia). Then-Provost Satish Tripathi announced that he could not come to terms with any of them and declared the dean search a failure. He appointed Mutua to a limited three year term with the title of dean. This decision was based on what he said was the consultant's recommendation that a renewed dean search could not immediately follow a failed one. In October 2010, the faculty convened for a no-confidence vote on Makau Mutua. The President and Provost appeared at the faculty meeting with the warning that Dean Mutua served at their pleasure, not the faculty's. He finally resigned four days before a scandal was reported on the front page of Buffalo News, September 27, 2014, which included perjury allegations by senior professors against the Dean in federal court and details of the faculty's dissension and demoralization. His resignation as Dean was effective at the end of that semester. See Beginning on December 20, 2014, Mutua was granted a three-semester sabbatical at full pay, $300,000 base salary, with a two semester full pay sabbatical for his wife. (The SUNY Trustees Policies, which are state law, allow a maximum sabbatical of one semester at full pay or two semesters at half pay.) Meanwhile he has been collecting a full-time salary from an administrative agency in Washington, D.C. See James A. Gardner, Mutua's former-Vice Dean, was installed by now-President Tripathi as Interim Dean for the spring 2015 semester, with no faculty consultation. As the fall 2016 semester approaches, Jim Gardner is still Interim Dean, with no Dean Search in sight. This will be the Law School's fourth semester without a legitimate dean.


Worth noting that the PSU search was for a dean to oversee both the law school *and* the international affairs school, That made it seem like the fix was in for the current Interim Dean (a former Navy JAG admiral). Without any insight into the rumors mentioned here, searching for a dean to simultaneously lead two schools is a goofy idea, raises obvious governance concerns, and likely contributed to the failure.


Maybe universities are learning that law faculties are not well equipped to select deans. Their mistakes cost universities a lot of money in buying out contracts, new searches involving expensive search firms, etc.

Having sat through many dean searches and listened to faculty define the ideal dean, one can only come away amazed by their emphasis on the wrong factors such as scholarly production, rather than administrative and managerial skills. They also cannot hide their personal agendas and concerns over how the dean will treat them and their sacred cow courses, institutes, etc.

After numerous dean searches, failed searches and disastrous dean selections, the university at my last school basically read the law faculty the riot act, controlled the process and there was not a whimper from the faculty which realized that is had repeatedly screwed up n their selections.


Leo, that's interesting, given the previous example where following faculty advice would have been much better.

I can see how the legal faculty leave much to be desired, but these days the people running the universities can frequently be far worse.

Mr T

Well why should law faculties be different than anyone else. When you hire from outside...and don't offer promotions from within, you create a lack of morale and employee problems. My wife worked at a large insurer/pension company and when senior people retired, management decided to recruit heads of depts from other companies rather than promoting from within. Huge mistake.


Consider the special problem that Penn State has - it is in a state with no less than 8 law schools, which effectively has divided itself into two, which make 9. Rutger's Camden might as well be in PA since it is just across the border and the major national schools compete in job placement with it in Philly. Dean of Penn strikes one as a poison chalice.

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