AMERICAN DEAN GOES ABROAD
Washington & Lee University
be a Dean of a law school in the United States is to share a peculiarly American
fate. Political office-holders and
leaders of public institutions are expected to play many simultaneous roles.
In particular, they are given both executive power and ceremonial roles.
Thus, the President of the United States combines the role of the King or
Queen of England and the Prime Minister. Presidents
of our universities are expected to perform all manner of ceremonial roles and,
in addition, administer institutions more complex than large corporations. Again, in overseas universities, the ceremonial function is
often given over to a Chancellor, esteemed in some other avenue of public life,
who brings gravity to ceremonial occasions, relieving the Vice-Chancellor of
those energy-draining and time-consuming ceremonial functions.
Vice-Chancellors can then devote themselves to the arduous task of
administering the university.
our universities, deans formerly were those who had attained great academic
stature and captured the respect of the faculty.
The role was academic and mainly confined to the world of the university.
The American penchant for combing the ceremonial with the executive has,
however, filtered down to the decanal level.
Those deans who have felt the extra public obligations are those most
like university presidents, the deans of professional schools.
Professional schools are of the university but, at the same time,
somewhat aloof from it. They are a
"Johnny-come-lately" to the university and are consequently
Janus-faced. They look to the
university but also to their sustaining profession.
Thus, deans of professional schools assume that Janus-faced posture
vastly complicating their jobs. The
dean of Arts and Sciences can remain the academic, although practiced in the
ways of internecine university politics. The
law school dean, however, must attend to the profession in addition to her
school and university. The law
school is given the powerful and daunting authority to educate the new
generation of the profession. Alumni
will want to insure that the school is engaged in that task.
Accrediting agencies may perform this role partially, but it is the law
school graduates who have a personal stake in the schoolís meeting its
professional obligations. At the
same time, the modern law school dean is expected to foster the academic mission
of the school. Faculty attending to
the academic mission of advancing social knowledge demand sustenance at the
highest level to engage in research and writing.
law school dean, then, has an almost impossible job.
The dean must operate in different worlds.
He or she is the executive and ceremonial head and must have both
academic credibility and professional dedication.
point of this short essay is to show that this is an American phenomenon, but as
with many American institutions, its influence is now broader.
A deanís job is much tougher in the United States than in the law
schools of our common law cousins. While
the job is just about impossible, producing a high burn-out rate, it signals a
real strength of American legal education.
Law schools elsewhere, during the course of the twentieth century, became
increasingly absorbed into the university.
In the British Commonwealth, some evolved to become the equivalent of
sociology departments with a revealed hostility to the profession.
Our law schools, on the other hand, are, on the whole, much respected by
the profession. The faculty
generally remains faithful to the ideal of educating students for a professional
life. A healthy respect sees some
legal academics being elevated to the highest level of the judiciary, a rare
event indeed in other common law jurisdictions.
The synergy between the
academy and the profession in the United States is healthy.
Strong and thorough, American legal education inculcates professional
norms and embodies the quintessence of the republican ideal. Well-educated lawyers are agents of democracy and its
republican concomitant, a cooperative, mercantile society. The division of responsibility between law schools and the
profession has shifted, however: Law
schools are expected to pick up where the profession has fallen short.
Economic exigencies allow precious little time for the profession to
continue legal education beyond the doors of the law school.
At the same time, academic demands are increasing on faculty.
The university, for example, usually reviews tenure and promotion through
a central committee applying criteria settled for the entire university faculty.
this is well-trodden ground. It is
worth noting, however, that the fulcrum point for these two forces is the law
dean. The dean must be attentive to both. She must reconcile the forces and resolve conflicts where
they occur. She must be a
spokesperson for both, educating the profession, and particularly the alumni, in
the values of the academy and, at the same time, bringing home to her faculty
the professional dimension of the school.
Law deans who can perform this complex feat strengthen our legal system
and form of government.
a new dean, to realize this ideal is daunting.
The daily grind of administrative work can hide the pivotal role of the
law school dean. After our term is
done, we will have accomplished much if we have been faithful to our Janus-faced
obligations. We will also be rather
exhausted from the effort. The
battle on two fronts is foolhardy in war but necessary in education, and it
makes the Deanís job in this country much more exacting and exciting than in
the schools of our common law cousins.
cousins have begun to look us over more carefully in recent years.
Law schools in the common law world outside the United States have long
considered that they are under-resourced in comparison with the elite American
law schools. (It is the elite law
schools that are known to them; they tend not to look much below the top twenty
law schools, whichever they may be.) Further,
when government funding was adequate, if not handsome, little change was
engendered. In particular, most
faculty associated themselves with the egalitarian norms of the academy.
Drawn from the faculty to serve a term with the expectation of returning to the
faculty, the dean was a head of department who was expected to obtain for her
school a fair deal at the university resource trough.
Those resources came to the trough by way of government appropriation.
government funding has dried up and governments embraced free market economics,
universities faced a more alien world. They
were expected to seek liaisons with private industry and obtain resources
outside the usual government sources. Where
government funds were available, they would be allocated in a more competitive
fashion. University law schools
were as babes in the woods. They
did not have the structure in place to succeed in the world outside the
university. The model to which
these schools have looked is ours. In
particular, they have taken steps to reconnect with the legal profession.
They have, again looking at our structure, asked their deans to assume
extra tasks. The task is an
enormous one. The gulf between the
profession and the alumni, on the one hand, and the law school on the other has
become huge. As law schools had
engaged with the university so intensely, links to the outside, the sustaining
profession, had withered. Levels of
remuneration for faculty had declined and the top legal academic talent had
increasingly chosen to enter the profession.
(This is not to say that our cousin faculties are not peopled with
outstanding legal academics. It is
a marginal matter, and with the professionís voracious appetite for talent in
prosperous economic times, attrition of fine legal talent was inevitable.)
our law schools being viewed as models, those who would be deans of overseas
schools know little about American law deaning.
Many have visited our law schools and are familiar with their work.
They have often enriched the life of our schools by teaching on a
visiting basis, and have thus become involved in a continuing academic
conversation with our faculties. This
has broadened the perspective of our faculties and has multiplied opportunities
for constructive overseas visits.
similar avenues are open for overseas deans to become acquainted with the nature
and challenges of American law deaning. This
is unfortunate in an era when our schools are regarded as models.
My one constructive suggestion in this essay is that we American law
deans offer our perspectives more freely. The
American Bar Association Section on Legal Education, in very helpful ways,
brings American law deans together. It
holds a yearly conference for new deans and gatherings of deans at the Annual
and Mid-Winter ABA Conferences. In
the same way, we may urge the American Bar Association or the Association of
American Law Schools to hold occasional meetings between our deans and overseas
deans. My argument is that this
would primarily benefit overseas deans, but I expect that we would foster close,
long-lasting relationships with those leaders.
We should never be smug about our superiority. We also may learn much from them about how to strengthen our
schools and better carry out our