Deaning Today: A Worthwhile Endeavor— If You Have the Time
Timothy J. Heinsz
Professor Bill Richman and the editors of the
University Toledo Law Review are to be congratulated for the idea of a
symposium dedicated to leadership and legal education and to bringing together
so many fine law deans to exchange ideas on an issue of extreme importance to
every American law school and thus to the profession itself – “What is
state of deaning.” The
perspective is an interesting one because it is from those who are in the
position now, from a wide range of law schools, and have been deans for
varying lengths of time.
of the many, varied demands on the time of a law dean, one has too little time
to reflect upon the deeper issues of values, goals (accomplished, failed, or
in progress), and leadership. The
request to participate in this symposium has provided this author with a
chance for contemplation and evaluation about an endeavor in which I have been
engaged for the past twelve years.
have learned so much from my colleagues at the deans’ meetings sponsored by
the American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admission to the
Bar, or the Association of American Law Schools,.
The collective wisdom of the outstanding deans in this issue will serve
as a guide, solace, and perhaps security blanket for deans, both serving and
putative. It will also be a
reference to faculty, university administrators, and others interested in what
a law dean does. This and future
symposium issues by and about law deans will be an important resource and body
of work for all involved in the process of legal education.
Do you want be a dean for life? For
10 years? 5 Years? How about 3.2 years?
no issue causes as much fervent debate in regard to law deans as does the
length of deanships. Opinions
conflict not only on how long a person should serve as dean but also on
how long deans have in fact served.
According to former Dean Wallace Loh, in the 1960s the average decanal
tenure was almost 10 years; whereas, in 1996 it was down to 3.2 years. Professors Jeffrey O’Connell and Thomas E. O’Connell
and former Dean Michael Kelly
put the figure at about four years. The
study of Professors Bhandari, Cafardi, and Marlin concluded that the median
tenure for law deans was 5.3 years and that the mean was 4.0 years.
wisdom bemoans the relatively short tenure of law deans not only because of
the substantial use of institutional time and resources expended in the
dean-selection process but also because it takes a person almost five years to
learn the various roles of the deanship position, to establish relationships
with the necessary constituents, and to lead the institution in a positive
Former Dean Paul Carrington
opined that to properly perform the job as law dean, “One ought to be
prepared to remain on the job for about a decade”
and that “most deans * * * quit
after tenures too briefly to be of positive consequence.”
have written eloquently about law deans– the O’Connells on the roles of
law deans as leader, manager, energizer, envoy, intellectual,
Carrington on the many difficulties associated with the job of a law dean and
why deans quit,
Kelly on the more positive aspects of the job as dean and why deans stay in
the job. These and other authors have well stated the reason for
concern with turnover that is too high and tenure that is too short in the
position of law dean. I doubt
whether this author could improve much on these analyses and insights. However, I have a different perspective or at least
experience than these authors and perhaps most other deans.
An Almost Quitter
October of 1992, I announced to my faculty and University administration that
this fifth year would be my final one as dean.
I had been dean longer than the “average” time of conventional
wisdom and of the Bahandai study mean, if not their median. The requirements of acting as mid-level manager, energizer,
envoy, advocate, ambassador, arbitrator, counselor, diplomat, fund-raiser,
intercessor, mediator, planner and representative had taken a toll in terms of
enthusiasm, new ideas and effectiveness.
the first few months after the announcement as the dean search process was
underway, I experienced what I refer to as the “ex-dean thrill.”
There was that smile, bounce in the step, and happiness I had seen in
former deans which is undoubtedly associated with shedding a number of
responsibilities to return to “what we had all come into legal education to
do,” i.e., teach and research. However, this feeling began to be tempered as I met with each
dean candidate who came on campus to interview for the open position.
As I explained the pluses and minuses of the deanship of our law school
to these candidates, I came to realize even more what an outstanding group of
faculty colleagues I was associated with, the quality of our students, the
loyal support of alumni and the general positive state of relations with our
University administration. Likely this was the “second thought” stage that
any person goes through after making a major career-changing decision.
However, two other occurrences impacted my resignation thinking. First, I began to see the exciting possibilities that lay
ahead for our law school and the opportunity that the new dean would have, in
conjunction with the faculty, to shape these new initiatives.
For our law school the opportunities at that time were primarily an
infusion of resources to enable us to significantly expand the size of our
faculty and both to develop new programs and to improve the standing of a
number of present programs that were underway.
I realized that the dean did not have to “do it all.” You did not have to attend every function of the
University, other colleges, bar associations and perhaps even some of those at
the law school. It was startling
to this type “A” personality to learn that no one was taking role at these
events and no one really missed you. With
so many demands upon a dean’s schedule, selectively choosing important
events to attend and discarding others saved a great amount of time for more
productive work. It also dawned
on me what an extraordinary administrative team I was fortunate to have and
this made it unnecessary to write personally every report, study, strategic
plan, mission statement, requested by the chancellor, vice-chancellors,
provost, vice-provosts, government agencies, American Bar Association,
Association of American Law Schools.
In other words, learn to delegate that which is delegable. Knowing
the latter and being able to actually do the former and having the
administrative support that you can rely on to perform well the delegable
duties is perhaps the most important key to a successful and much happier
May of 1993 our Chancellor, who was in his first year, made an offer to the
chosen candidate; everyone thought that the law dean search had concluded; and
I was ready to leave for a
sabbatical semester. Then in the
first week of June the Chancellor informed me that the deal had fallen through
and asked if I would continue as dean. I
realized that I wanted to continue if the faculty and my family agreed, and
this generous support was quickly forthcoming.
Being a bit more experienced than when I first became dean, I also
understood that this was a golden opportunity to “renegotiate” on behalf
of the law school and the once out-going/now again incoming dean.
decision seems to have been a good one for all involved.
Now I better understand and agree with Paul Carrington’s conclusion
that a dean can accomplish much more in ten years than in five or less if the
match is a good one between the dean and the faculty, University
administration, and other constituents. One not only comes to know the players, the system, and the
roles better but the mature dean can better prioritize and assist in
accomplishing the goals of the law school.
For example, almost all agree that the heart of a law school is its
faculty. In twelve years we have
doubled the size of our faculty from 19 to 38.
The faculty whom we have hired both as a result of normal attrition and
due to additional positions have brought a wealth of talent, diversity, and
dynamic ideas to our law school and university community.
Such an influx of accomplished, independent-thinking people brings so
many benefits to an institution but also causes its own set of tensions due to
the resulting change. Despite
this growth and evolution, our faculty has maintained a collegiality and
comradery which have been a hallmark of our law school.
The dynamic interaction between our older and newer faculty,
particularly in the area of increased commitment to scholarship, has been an
important area of growth for our law school.
As a “less than five-year dean” I am not sure that I understood the
role of the dean in this process of community building. To play a significant role in securing these positions and,
with the faculty, filling them has been a most rewarding endeavor.
As Wallace Loh noted “the satisfactions [of a dean] are mainly
A dean benefits the overall institution most by enabling faculty to
accomplish the mission of a law school of teaching, research and service.
law school in the past seven years has also undergone significant programmatic
changes. We have added our first
master of laws degree which is in alternative dispute resolution; our Center
for the Study of Dispute Resolution under the leadership of Professor Len
Riskin has become nationally prominent; we are embarking on interdisciplinary
initiatives in electronic commerce, biotechnology, institutional contracting
and public policy with the Schools of Business, Journalism, Arts &
Science, Agriculture and Medicine on our campus.
These are exciting adventures for our faculty and ones on which a dean
with credibility in the law school and throughout the campus can have a
positive impact. Rising from the
middle to the top of a seniority ladder of deans across campus brings a
certain stature in and of itself. But
even more importantly knowing how to move such ideas forward, where to garner
resources and with whom you need to deal in no small measure comes from
experience as much as from insight and ability.
are just a few examples of why for this author the last seven years of deaning
have been more pleasurable and professionally rewarding than the first five.
This article is not a brief for the position of “dean for life.”
Likely the days of the multi-decade deanship by persons such as Erwin
Griswold at Harvard, Page Keeton at Texas, Mason Ladd at Iowa, Christopher
Columbus Langdell at Harvard, and Blythe Stason at Michigan have passed.
The job of dean today has too many demands and pressures, especially
when compared to the situation of most faculty colleagues.
Moreover, just as in law practice, business, sports, entertainment and
other pursuits, a law dean must know “when to fold ‘em.”
However, to engage in institution building requires commitment and a
length of time of continuous leadership.
While in a given situation this may be five years, ten years, or
something in between or more, it is unlikely that it is 3.2 years.
An individual pursuing a deanship should seriously consider not only
the nature of the undertaking but also the time necessary to meet the
challenges of a particular law school at a particular time.
Post Script—Take a Break.
is important for a law dean to take a break, a real break.
Any position, like law dean, where one is dealing with so many
competing constituencies and pressures is a draining experience.
Many dean friends say that after three to five years they simply run
out of the necessary energy to keep pace with the conflicting demands.
That was very much my situation when I thought I had resigned at the
end of my fifth year of deaning. A
careful reader may have noticed that instead of a sabbatical in June of 1993,
I ended up signing on for another term, which at our university is five years. However, the energy gauge, while not on empty, was certainly
on low at that time, especially with the sabbatical having been forgone.
Part of the “re-upping” negotiations included a sabbatical year
after having served two additional years as dean and then returning for
another two. Not many deans whom
I know have taken a sabbatical during a deanship.
The University administration, my law faculty colleagues and I all had
concerns about a hiatus for a dean because of the nature of the position which
typically involves ongoing projects of strategic planning, capital campaigns,
alumni relationships, etc. However,
the very same reasons that universities have sabbatical policies for the
faculty apply to administrators such as law deans.
A person needs time for a sustained period of reflection in order to
engage in serious scholarship or develop new areas of teaching and research.
The din to step away from is probably even louder and more frenetic for
a dean. The likelihood of
continuing in an administrative position is greater if such a respite can be
sabbatical at Cambridge University in 1995 was more important than I had
imagined. With a wonderful
Associate Dean, Ken Dean, serving as Acting Dean, the law school ran smoothly
and continued to flourish. The
opportunity for evaluation and professional development proved invaluable.
I returned to the job fresh and full of enthusiasm with many ideas for
the deanship and the law school. It
was like starting the job anew, only with the perspective of seven years of
experience. I am convinced that the
sabbatical in a large measure enabled me to sail past the decanal decade.
more of my dean colleagues on our campus subsequently have been allowed
sabbatical time off. The University
administration has become very supportive of the idea that rather than
interfering with administration a policy of sabbaticals for deans encourages
continuity of leadership in a challenging and important position.
Indeed this coming year the author will embark on a second sabbatical
during a law deanship. So much for irreplaceability!
and Earl F. Nelson Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Columbia School
D. Loh, The Longevity of Deans: Leadership, Community, and Governance, The
AALS Newsletter, No. 96-3, p. 1 (August, 1996).
O’Connell and Thomas E. O’Connell, The Five Roles of the Law Dean:
Leader, Manager, Energizer, Enovy, Intellectual, 29 Emory L.J. 605 (1980).
J. Kelly, Afterword: Why Deans Stay, 51 Md. L.Rev.. 483, 494 (1992).
S. Bhandari, Nicholas P. Cafardi, Matthew Marlin, Who Are These People? An
Empirical Profile of the Nation’s Law School Deans, 48 J. Legal Ed.
329, 336 (Table 1), 345 (1998).
D. Carrington, Why Deans Stay: A Quitter’s Response, 51 Md. L. Rev. 505
one of the most significant changes in the past twelve years to this dean
has been the seeming exponential increase in administrative reports.