Advance to the Retreat
The beautiful ocean-side location of the Pepperdine University School of
Law is always a mixed blessing. Although
it looks great on recruiting posters and web pages, the splendor of the setting
lends itself too easily to Doonesbury-style cracks about the “surfer dude law
While not discounting the advantages of our location, I often claim that
we could move the faculty to a warehouse in Pacoima
and still have one of America’s great law schools. At Pepperdine, as at every law school, the strength of the
institution is the faculty, not the stunning facility, the highly regarded
university parent, or the geographic location.
The care and feeding of the faculty--meaning the maintenance of faculty
morale--should be every dean’s priority.
The annual faculty retreat is one of the keys to good faculty morale.
Format of the Retreat
Throughout our brief history,
the annual faculty retreat has been held just before the beginning of first-year
orientation. The location varies,
but is usually a resort hotel within a two to three hour drive of the campus.
Depending on the cost of rooms
and the extant law school budget environment,
the stay is one or two nights, with business meetings during one day.
The Associate Dean for Academics is responsible for planning the retreat,
including the hotel and meal logistics, although the Dean directs the overall
substance of the business sessions and may conduct lengthy briefings
faculty members, deans, and directors, as well as their families are invited.
In fact, the main point of the exercise is that almost all the families
do attend. We see each other’s children grow up over the course of the
annual retreats and, as young faculty are added, there are new waves of young
children. Faculty spouses renew
their friendships with other faculty spouses whom they see rarely, if at all,
between retreats. Families are
invited to most meals, with at least one evening dinner that also features
law school pays for all costs of the retreat,
including rooms and meals, although
families may come to the hotel a day or two early at their own expense.
The schedule during the retreat allows for plenty of free time for family
activities or the recreation furnished at the retreat.
Advantages of the
Good faculty morale requires that the faculty actually like and respect
each other. Mingling in social settings away from alumni or donors and
outside of work hours is the best way for faculty members to get to know each
other. Assuming that they are
basically likeable people, mutual affection
and respect should grow. While
there are ongoing opportunities to build sound faculty relationships throughout
the annual faculty retreat begins the academic year with a comfortable,
reassuring start and gives everyone a chance to forgive their colleagues for all
the misguided opinions expressed during the previous year.
The fact that the retreat involves families also softens any rough edges.
Even the professor who thinks the Restatements are communist plots
is more bearable after you watch him play with his kids.
The professor with the breathtakingly comprehensive view of law and
public policy wears plaid shorts with a boldly striped shirt.
The dean spills hot fudge sundae in his lap.
All the human insights and interactions that help us see each other as
people, rather than as pedantic legal experts, take place more often in the
faculty retreat. And, they take
place in view of the whole faculty, rather than the smaller groups who might
entertain each other the rest of the year.
may be on a faculty that is divided, corrosive, or, worst of all, doesn’t care
what colleagues think of each other. Starting
an annual faculty retreat with primarily social goals may sound as inappropriate
as starting a “Kumbi Ya” sing-along in a crowded elevator.
And, the first one or two might be awkward or poorly attended. Maybe, it
will take the goodwill associated with a new deanship to break the ice and begin
the tradition. Then, the tradition can take care of itself.
Family support for what we do is important.
Every perk that faculty families receive rewards them for the time their
spouse or parent spends away from home writing, teaching, or attending
conferences. Making families the
focus of the faculty retreat is not the least we can do for them, but it is
minimal. While there are budgetary
constraints, the families should be made to feel that no expense was spared.
The least important part of the faculty retreat is the business session.
At most law schools, a faculty retreat signifies a monumental problem
that must be attacked—a drop in the bar passage rate, a drop in the U.S.
News ranking, a drop in funding, etc. Those
are merely extended, pressured faculty meetings, even if conducted off-site.
The more useful faculty retreat retreats from immediate problems and
focuses on long-term challenges and opportunities, rather than immediate
threats. The less-pressured, more congenial faculty retreat allows
faculty to dream out loud about the future of the school or of the law.
Part of the time might be taken up with a routine, first faculty meeting
of the year, when committee or university assignments are handed out and AALS
representatives are selected or when reports are made on summer projects around
the school. But, the rest of the
business session should be aspirational, forward thinking about where the law
school and its students should be years from now.
Immediate problem solving may be necessary in some years because it is
the first time the faculty has been together for three or four months.
Even then, the meeting was not scheduled ad hoc to deal
with a problem, but is one in an unbroken string of annual faculty retreats when
the faculty and their families gather to remember why theirs is the best job in
America and to celebrate the high honor conferred by the title “law
Go thou and do likewise.