Are Students a Dean’s Primary Constituency?
Dean N. William Hines
Most Vulnerable Constituency
As a general
proposition, everyone in the law school world understands that deans have
multiple constituencies whose interests often coalesce, but sometimes collide.
It is not until they interview for a deanship, however, that most faculty
members come to realize the full range and intensity of interest of the various
constituencies who look to the law dean, not only for leadership, but also as
the designated protector or champion of their special domains.
This awareness grows as a dean candidate runs the interview gauntlet with
one constituency after another -- faculty, central administration, big donors
and other alumni, leaders of the bench and bar, and other campus deans and
department heads—all pressing to gain an advantage on the issues reflecting
their special concerns.
A dean candidate will in all likelihood spend the least time with current
students, and, while politely listening to their views, will probably pay them
the least attention. For a
candidate to take the students lightly in the dean selection process makes
perfectly good sense. In the eyes
of other participants involved in the dean search student involvement is pro
forma. The students are after all
transitory; they are just passing through the school on their way to becoming
alumni. Moreover, students
routinely underestimate the importance of a law school’s reputation for
scholarly productivity and they lack a historical perspective on the progress of
the school. For these reasons and
others, students are thought to lack the maturity of judgment to have their
views taken seriously by those making the dean selection decision.
Thus the successful dean candidate takes care to utter the standard
cliches about students coming first in the institution’s mission, etc., but
reserves her/his best efforts to impress and charm the real decision makers.
Given this analysis, one that places students at the lowest rung of the
constituent hierarchy during the dean selection process, it is somewhat ironic
that, after 25 years of service as a law dean, I now regard law students as the
constituency that most requires the dean’s careful attention and continuing
support. Note that I am not saying that students are the dean’s most
important constituency, rather that students are the constituency most in need
of the assistance of the dean to assure that their law school experience is as
educationally productive and professionally beneficial as possible.
The reasons for students’ dependence on the dean
for safeguarding and improving their welfare are as simple as they are obvious.
Although a dean must constantly interact with and mediate between all the
school’s important constituencies, all of these, except the students, are
quite capable of looking after and effectively advocating their own special
interests. Unlike the other
constituencies, students usually are not well situated to protect and advance
their shared interests. The members
of the other major constituencies all have long term associations with the
school and enjoy regular professional interactions with the larger legal
community that give their spokespersons standing to be heard.
Law students, by contrast, are newcomers to law school politics. They not
only lack the necessary background in law; they are not a focused or cohesive
group. Students typically are
poorly organized and their attempts at self-government are often so feeble that
their leaders lack credibility, even on issues that vitally affect student
welfare. To be sure, there are
often faculty members who care deeply about student matters, but they may lack
the capacity to affect changes without the Dean’s help.
It is often up to the dean to protect student
interests in the academic competition for resources and to champion their just
causes. In some situations, this
may mean reverting to something approximating an enlightened version of the
discredited Parens Patriae model of administrative oversight.
I realize that it is easy for deans to talk the talk of putting
“students first”, and that most law schools embrace this philosophy, at
least in their recruitment materials. It
is much more difficult, however, to implement such an approach in a school’s
day to day operation. Deans are under considerable pressure from the phalanx of
more powerful and demanding constituencies to act on their pressing agendas.
Students, on the other hand, are usually too busy meeting their daily
obligations and too focused on their post-law school careers to mount sustained
pressure for change. Plus, inertia is an attractive and low cost strategy when
dealing with student demands. Every
experienced academic administrator understands that any group of student
activists is transitory and can be waited out, while other constituencies are
durable and the continuing relationships with them require constant nurturing.
So if one is to walk the walk of a “student first” commitment, the
dean must not only chant the mantra, but also be vigilant in thwarting external
threats to students’ welfare, while looking for opportunities to enhance the
quality of their education and professional experiences within the law school.
Lest this all sounds a bit
Pollyannaish, let me describe some of the initiatives I have taken over the
years that I believe have directly benefited Iowa students.
First, I must qualify this report by acknowledging that the environment
at Iowa has been most favorable for the types of strategies I have pursued.
Since the late 1960’s, our faculty and the University Administration
have agreed that the law school should move steadily toward a more “graduate
college” style of legal education, with stronger attention paid to individual
students, lower student-faculty ratio, more small-class opportunities for
in-depth study and greater professional interaction between student and teacher
inside and outside the classroom. Since
1968, we have offered small sections of substantive first-year courses in both
semesters. In these small sections
students receive additional credit for research and writing exercises that are
created and supervised by their full-time teachers. I was one of the advocates of this major reform and have
regularly used my influence as dean to preserve and enhance the program in the
face of occasional faculty disgruntlement over the significant faculty resources
it requires. [Iowa’s Small Section Program is described and advocated in an
essay I wrote that is published in 32 J. Legal Educ. 415 (1982).]
One distinct benefit of Iowa’s first-year program is that it creates a
culture of close faculty/student professional relationships that carries over to
the upper-level curriculum, which also features many small classes and other
faculty-supervised research and writing experiences. Our school’s curricular emphasis and student-centered
ambience have no doubt made it easier for me as dean to champion reforms that
reinforce the commitment to students’ welfare.
One decision I made
immediately on taking office was crucial to establishing credibility with
students. Throughout my tenure as
dean I have taught a large section of the first-year property course every
semester. This has not only put me
in daily touch with students, it has communicated the message that the dean
takes their education seriously enough to make regular teaching a high priority.
Consistent with my longstanding policy as a teacher, my dean’s office
has always had an “open door” policy toward students.
Another important move I
made at the outset of my deanship was to let the Student Bar Executive Council
know I was available to attend their weekly meetings. They were flattered to be thought worthy of the dean’s time
and I have been invited regularly to attend meetings with student leaders ever
since. In recent years these formal
opportunities to receive student input have been extended to the entire student
body through periodic “fireside chats” with the dean.
We like to credit legal education as being an effective training ground
for future lawyers, but often search in vain for direct connections between our
education programs (what and how we teach) and the leadership success regularly
demonstrated by our graduates. One
area in which I believe a direct connection exists is in co-curricular
programs--programs like law journals, moot court, trial advocacy, client
counseling, etc. in which advanced students supervise rising students in the
development of important professional skills. If well-organized and rigorous, successful co-curricular
programs not only are excellent training grounds for students to develop their
leadership skills, they are also a highly tangible way for a school to manifest
its seriousness about making students junior partners in their own professional
I have always been a firm believer in the educational value of
challenging co-curricular programs, so over the years I have encouraged them,
committing the necessary financial support for three new student-edited law
journals, a much expanded moot court program with more frequent competitions,
and ambitious trial advocacy training and client counseling programs and
competitions. Besides subsidizing
most of the operating costs of these programs, early on I adopted a policy of
50-50 cost sharing for the ticket price of an awards banquet for each group. It is a standing joke within our school that we avoid the
dreaded third year malaise by co-opting the entire class as fellow teachers and
research assistants. This may be a
slight exaggeration, (we employ over 100 students as research assistants and
nearly 100 as co-curricular program supervisors), but there is a lot to be said
for creating a professional environment in which students feel personally
invested in producing a successful educational outcome for their classmates and
contributing to the school’s scholarly reputation.
Perhaps the most direct way
in which a dean can enhance the quality of a law student’s experience is
through creating or strengthening the student services the school provides.
For example, when I became dean our school employed only one part-time
placement person to assist students in their searches for employment.
We now have two full-time professionals and two full- time support
staffers who provide a full range of in-house career services, including weekly
educational sessions on career planning issues and coordinate a student
mentoring program in cooperation with the Professionalism Committee of the Iowa
Bar. We are currently exploring
ways to add a third professional who would work mainly outside the school,
traveling to recruit recruiters and spread brand recognition for our
“products” from coast to coast. The
same story of expansion to meet student needs can be told about support services
provided by reference librarians, information technology specialists,
audio-visual technicians, and advisory and counseling personnel, including two
full-time administrators who coordinate student events and oversee 22 student
A recent enhancement that
bridges the gap between education and service is a week-long orientation program
that brings all members of the fall entering class to town a week before regular
classes start. In the orientation
sessions the new students receive instruction from three of our best teachers on
a variety of topics deemed most relevant and helpful to beginning law students.
Running parallel to the 14 hours of classroom instruction are comparable
sessions acquainting the students with college, University, and community
resources and a variety of professionalism topics.
Innovative Student Services
There are two important
student services I helped to inaugurate in which I take the greatest pride, our
Writing Resource Center and our Academic Achievement Program.
Both supplement the college’s mainstream legal education, but also
directly further our commitment to treat each student as an individual learner.
The Writing Resource Center. So far as I know, the Writing Resource Center we created
in 1989 is still unique among U.S. law schools.
A number of schools have contacted me for details about the operation,
and a handful have established very modest versions of our Center over the last
few years. The basic premise of the
Center is that many members of the law school community would avail themselves
of the opportunity to receive personal tutoring, constructive feedback and
friendly edits of their writing if the assistance was a freely provided service
offered on a voluntary basis by a highly regarded professional staff.
Over the past eleven years this idea has proved successful beyond my
wildest dreams. We now operate a
full service Writing Center staffed by two full-time professionals and several
part-time tutors, all of whom have strong professional credentials as writing
teachers (Ph.D.s and M.F.A.s in English and Creative Writing).
The emphasis of the Center is on helping writers master the essentials of
good writing generally, not stylized legal writing, so the Center can help
virtually any member of the law school community improve her or his skills in
written communication. The Center
serves students with a wide range of needs, from the beginning student
struggling with the first memorandum assignment, to a second year student
attempting to enliven a boring brief, to the law journal editor learning to edit
professors’ articles. Last year,
over 70% of the student body and numerous faculty and staff availed themselves
of one or more of the Center’s services.
I routinely run drafts of my written work by the Center staff for
critical review. [A complete write-up about our Writing Resource Center can be
found in the Iowa Advocate, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 6-11 (Spring/Summer 1998).]
The Academic Achievement Program.
The final initiative I wish to report is a prime example of a dean’s
opportunity, in tandem with dedicated faculty, to play a key role in creating a
student-friendly enhancement to an academic program. In 1999-2000 after a number
of years of faculty discussion and debate, the College inaugurated a new student
service, designated the Academic Achievement Program. This non-credit program is
not only newer than the Writing Resource Center; it is more controversial.
It is designed to help law students become more effective learners in
their law studies and more well-rounded lawyers in the long run.
It is premised on the belief that all law students, regardless of their
potential or proven academic success, can benefit from the creative insights and
practical advice of an experienced professional who specializes in learning
theory, study techniques and strategies for improving skills for working
effectively as team members.
Given the self-evident
educational worth and professional relevance of offering such professional
assistance to law students, it may be difficult to understand the entrenched
faculty resistance to starting up such a program, but it took over three years
to win faculty endorsement for it. The
description of our new academic achievement program that follows is excerpted
from a report I made to the Iowa State Bar Association Board of Governors in
The idea of providing extra efforts to help students become more
effective learners is not a new one in the law school world.
A large number of schools have had some form of academic support program
for years, but virtually all of these programs limit access to students already
in serious academic trouble or those projected to experience academic difficulty
in the near future. Our idea was
that by offering students both general instruction and individual learning
assistance outside the classroom, regardless of their actual or predicted
academic performance, we could attract students who would otherwise shun
participation in “remedial” programs because of the stigma traditionally
attached to them. Therefore, the
Academic Achievement Program offers its full range of services to all interested
students, regardless of their current or projected level of academic
The model for the new program was our school’s highly successful
Writing Resource Center mentioned above, which offers year round writing
tutorials and workshops to improve writing skills to all interested students
throughout their three years of law school.
From the outset it was crucial to the success of the Writing Center to
make clear that it was not just a remedial enterprise for poor writers.
Similarly, the emphasis in the Academic Achievement Program is not just
on improving low grades, but on assisting every student to develop skills that
will enhance his or her academic success and professional growth. Top students use the Program’s resources to strengthen
their work habits and people skills, law journal officers and moot court judges
get help in performing their editing and supervisory responsibilities, beginning
students work on improving their class preparation, and students experiencing or
anticipating academic difficulty practice their outlining and exam writing
The college was extremely fortunate to have attracted a nationally
recognized leader in the field as the first Director of its Academic Achievement
Program. While not law trained (she
holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology) the new Director’s 14-year tenure
working with law students’ learning skills made her an outstanding choice to
help create an innovative program at Iowa.
As it was developed last year in cooperation with supportive faculty
members, Iowa’s Academic Achievement Program is designed through large class
sessions, small group workshops and individual tutorials, to help students in
four principal areas:
Adapt personal learning styles to the demands of law study;
Enhance organizational abilities;
Improve time management;
Understand personal strengths and weaknesses in performing tasks as a
If the program succeeds in its
objectives, it should make Iowa Law students more effective learners, inculcate
in them strong work habits, and heighten self-awareness about their personal
strengths and weaknesses in dealing with others, all of which will serve to make
them better lawyers.
For what it is worth, many
Iowa Bar members who heard this report made a point of praising the initiative
as moving in the right direction. They
particularly applauded the emphasis on organizational skills, time management
and teamwork as qualities they found lacking in recent graduates.
Beyond these co-curricular
and service initiatives, I have also made some worthwhile contributions on the
law school social/professional front. In
my first year as dean I strongly encouraged faculty members to invite groups of
students to their homes for informal social gatherings.
My continuing offer to reimburse faculty for the cost of entertaining
students has created a tradition of faculty hosting such get togethers for their
small classes and seminars. At the
same time, I restored to our annual Iowa Supreme Court Day the custom of the
justices hearing moot arguments by our best student advocates.
I also added to the event informal dinners in faculty homes, bringing
together judges, faculty and groups of students.
Again, at only modest cost--reimbursing faculty for their entertaining
expenses—the dinners with judges in faculty homes have become a highly
successful part of Iowa Supreme Court Day and have enhanced our school’s
In the same vein of “community building”, early in my deanship I
introduced two new student-oriented events and helped reinstitute a third.
In 1977 I created a “Parents and Partners Day” to bring the families
of the law students to the law school to tour the facility, meet the teachers
and generally enjoy a light-hearted introduction to the alien world of law
study. This has been a continued
success regularly attracting several hundred guests from around the country.
Two years later I introduced the annual Law School Musical, which I
continue to produce and direct. Under
the dean’s watchful eye for mean-spiritedness, the musicals cleverly spoof and
satirize student life at our school. This
production involves a substantial commitment of my time and creative effort, but
it is great fun working with the talented students and the occasional faculty
who make up the cast each year. The
Law School Musical is a much-anticipated event on the fall calendar, and it is
now presented in conjunction with Parents and Partners day, assuring us an
appreciative audience of the cast’s family members, as well as students and
faculty. As for the reinstituted
tradition, early on I helped resurrect the Barrister’s Ball, an annual formal
dance at which hundreds of students and a few faculty now strut their stuff.
I have greatly enjoyed and
learned much from my long interaction with all of the law school constituencies.
I embrace wholeheartedly the conventional wisdom that a dean’s most
lasting legacy lies in the quality of the faculty recruited and retained at the
school. All but twelve of our fifty excellent faculty members have been
appointed during my tenure, and I take great pride in the strength and diversity
of the current Iowa faculty.
When I retire from the deanship in the next few years,
however, I would certainly be pleased if it were determined that my greatest
impact as dean was in providing leadership for improving the quality of the law
school experience for Iowa students. In
my lengthy tenure, I have found that there is a great deal a dean can do,
working with like-minded faculty and staff, to assure not only that students at
the law school are receiving the best legal education it can provide, but that
students’ personal experiences within the school are positive in all the ways
that produce both enthusiastic students and loyal and supportive alumni.