ROLE OF THE LAW SCHOOL DEAN AS INSTITUTIONAL VETERAN
Dean of Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
In 1980, the Emory Law Journal
published The Five Roles of the Law School Dean: Leader, Manager, Energizer,
Envoy, Intellectual by Jeffrey and Thomas O’Connell.
Widely cited, this article has become the “pointe de departure” for
all subsequent scholarship on the role of the dean in the modern day law school.
But neither of the O’Connells was ever a law school dean.
The article, therefore, understandably overlooks some of the subtler and
less obvious roles of a dean – roles that can best be appreciated by those who
have served in the post. Having
just completed almost a decade as Dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, I
thought that I would address one of these less obvious roles that a law school
dean must play. For want of a
better term, this role will be called the Dean as Institutional Veteran.
Oxford English Dictionary defines a “veteran” as “one who has seen long
service in any office or position.” Long service in an office brings with it experience.
It is unfortunate for the position of law school dean, however, that the
tenure in that office has shrunk steadily over the last two decades.
1999, the median term of a law school dean at one of the 184 American Bar
Association accredited law schools in the United States was three years.
From my experience, it takes a dean approximately two years to learn the
job. If the median term of a law
school dean is now only three years, that means that a law school will receive
only one year of experienced leadership from a dean. If it takes one year more to select a new dean, and then that
dean does not exceed the median and serves in the post for only three years; the
law school will benefit from only two years of experienced leadership during the
seven-year period. This lack of
consistent experienced leadership caused by a series of short deanships will
result in serious harm to the institution.
INSTITUTIONAL HARMS CAUSED BY SHORT-TERM DEANSHIPS
convenience, I have divided the harms caused a law school by short-term
deanships into three broad categories – the interruption of beneficial
relationships, the loss of programmatic momentum and the institutional and
financial cost to the law school.
The Interruption of Beneficial Relationships
the standard bearer and external envoy of the law school, a dean interacts with
a wide range of constituencies – many of which are critically important to the
school’s growth and reputation. Chief
among these constituencies, of course, is the law school’s own alumni.
For many law schools, alumni represent the main reservoir of financial
support, and thus many deans will spend almost 40% of their time on development
and alumni relations.
judiciary is another important external constituency.
Judges not only hire a law school’s students as clerks and externs;
they also make appointments to advisory panels and other bench and bar
committees. A law school can
benefit reputationally if the dean or faculty members are appointed to these
of other law schools represent yet another important outside constituency. Many ABA and AALS activities require the participation of
deans. Becoming involved in the
“Deans’ World” can result in appointments to important legal education
committees that can enhance the visibility of both the dean and the school.
public at large represents a fourth important external constituency with which a
dean interacts. A law school dean
is provided with a “bully pulpit” to address almost any topic of social
concern. Using the position of dean
to garner public speaking engagements can help build the reputation of the
dean’s law school.
the law school’s alumni to contribute to the institution, persuading judges to
hire law school graduates as clerks, being appointed to ABA Committees or
obtaining important public speaking engagements, all depend in large measure on
personal relationships. It takes
time, however, for a new dean to build these relationships to a point where they
will benefit the school. Alumni,
for example, will more readily make donations to their law school if they like
and are impressed by the dean. In
my experience, building close and cordial relationships with the alumni takes
several years – probably three or four at a minimum.
If the median term of a law school dean is only three years, the law
school’s potential for significant fund-raising will remain largely
The Loss of Programmatic Momentum
law school, like any institution, experiences ebbs and flows.
Generally, when a new dean is selected, the new dean will act cautiously
at first, not wishing to make careless blunders.
But slowly the dean will begin to increase momentum. A dean may, for example, begin to organize academic symposia
for publication in the school’s law journals, initiate new public service
programs in partnership with local bar associations, undertake a study of the
law school’s clinics or suggest innovations in the law school’s curriculum.
such innovations, of course, will take time to launch and more time to
implement. Given faculty
self-governance, matters begun in a new dean’s first year of service probably
will not be implemented until, at the earliest, the dean’s second-year.
Full implementation may take until the dean’s third year.
If a dean’s term lasts only three years, the dean’s programmatic
vision will hardly take shape before the dean must step down.
The next dean, of course, may not share the first dean’s goals, leading
to a change in direction. These
cycles of change can continue through a series of short-term deanships.
that law schools are competing for many of the same students and faculty, the
appearance of institutional drift and indecision caused by a string of
short-term deanships can translate rapidly into a loss of top quality students
and faculty. Law school
gossip takes no vacation – it is in operation 365 days a year and 366 days
during leap years. The lack of
forward momentum at institution Z will be duly noted by faculty at A, B and C
institutions who will quickly pass on a negative appraisal of institution Z to
others. While some long-term
deanships may cause their own problems, usually the consistent programmatic
vision of a veteran dean is the best method of generating forward momentum.
Institutional and Financial Costs
searches are costly to a law school – both financially and institutionally. A law school can easily spend over $25,000 in choosing a new
dean. Candidates must be brought to
the law school and lodged; receptions must be scheduled; local transportation
must be provided. In real terms,
however, the out-of-pocket expenses of a dean’s search may represent the
smallest cost. Lost opportunity
costs will most likely constitute the largest.
Whenever there is a dean’s search, the whole faculty must interview
each and every candidate. The Dean
Search Committee must check references, read scholarship and review student
course evaluations for each serious candidate.
Endless meetings of the Dean Search Committee and, in some cases, the
entire faculty are an inevitable part of the process.
The President of the University and other Central Administration
officials must also be brought into the search process.
Think of how many law review articles could be produced by the faculty
during the hours spent on the search. Add
to these costs the time spent by staff, students and alumni and you will begin
to understand what an expensive exercise a dean search is.
there is more! Apart from the
financial and lost opportunity costs, there are also many intangible costs borne
by a law school during a dean search. Frequently
a search exacerbates existing faculty tensions.
Meetings behind closed doors become daily occurrences; suspicions mount,
and rumors spread. The process may
also bring the Law School and the Central University Administration into
conflict over governance or budgetary matters.
in the end, a dean search may be counterproductive - the process itself may
contribute to the new dean having a short tenure.
Given all this, you can imagine how problematic it is for a law school to
repeat a dean search every three or four years.
But that is what the statistics seem to indicate.
All in all, having a veteran dean who lasts well beyond the median term
makes for a stronger and a more stable law school.
SOLUTIONS FOR PREVENTING
there is no “silver bullet” that will assure that a new dean will beat the
odds, I list below several suggestions that will at least work towards that
Deferred Compensation for the Dean
of paying a new dean the highest salary in the first year, the University
Administration may consider a deferred compensation package.
For every year of a dean’s tenure, compensation will be increased a
certain percent above the normal increase.
Such a package will create a financial incentive for a dean to stay for a
Deferred Compensation for the Faculty
encourage the faculty to work harmoniously with a new dean, the University may
also try to tie a component of the faculty’s salary increase to the length of
a dean’s tenure. If there is a
financial incentive for the faculty to work out differences with the dean, there
will likely be fewer deans leaving after short tenures.
Visit the Primary Dean Candidates in Their Own Law Schools
the great baseball player and philosopher Yogi Berra once remarked, you can see
a lot by just looking. Most Dean
Search Committees bring finalists to the law school for two days of interviews.
Before doing this, however, I would suggest that a member or members of
the Dean Search Committee visit the candidate at the candidate’s own law
school. By this time in the
process, confidentiality constraints should have been lifted.
Committee members can learn a lot about a candidate by seeing the
candidate in the classroom and seeing how the candidate interacts with
colleagues. In short, the visit
gives the committee members a better chance of accurately assessing whether the
candidate will really be a “fit” at their school.
Also, colleagues may feel more at ease in talking about a candidate if a
member of the Dean Search Committee has taken the time to visit with them on
their own turf.
are, of course, additional benefits to going to the candidate’s institution
for a brief visit. The most important, of course, is the impact the visit will
have on the candidate. A visit to
the candidate’s law school can only impress the candidate that the courting
institution is seriously interested.
short-term deanship – i.e., a deanship of 3 or 4 years or less – will harm a
law school. A series of short-term
deanships will harm a law school seriously.
By contrast, deans with long tenures create continuity and institutional
stability. Therefore, the role of Institutional Veteran becomes an important one
for a law school dean to fulfill.
While the median
term of a law school dean in 1999 was three years, the average was 4.8 years. In
1980, when the O’Connells wrote their Emory Law Journal article, the average
term of a law school dean was four years. Although other factors may contribute
to the explanation, the increase in the average term of a law school dean may
suggest that more deans are leaving office after only a few years of service but
that deans who last through the first years are staying longer in the position.
This, of course, is a topic for another day. Still the data suggests that many
dean candidates may covet the position of dean but dislike the actual job of
dean. As anyone can tell you who has been a law school dean, the position and
the job are two very different things.