On Deaning, Writing, and Roses
Symeon C. Symeonides*
Like so many other deans, I did not plan to be a dean. My
reasons could be synopsized into three questions: (a) why would any one ask me?
(b) why would I be any good at it? and (c) why would I like it?
The first question has been answered, the second can be
answered only by others, and the third question is one that I should be able to
answer after two years of deaning.
Rather than answering that question, however, I will discuss
one of the main reasons for which I had assumed that I would not like
deaning--my belief that it would mean the end of my scholarship aspirations. I
choose this reason because it is the one that is least personal to me and one
that goes through the minds of so many academics who assume that deaning is the
exact antithesis of scholarship. These brief comments are written for these
colleagues. They need to know that: (a) things are not as bad as they appear
from the outside; and (b) legal education needs them because it needs in
leadership positions people who believe in and show by example the importance of
Like many of these colleagues, I was too immersed and vested
in my scholarship and, needless to say, I thought that what I had to say was important!
Add to that my immigrant syndrome and the old-world mind set of scripta
manent while humans perish, and you can see why I was convinced that a
deanship would be the undesirable but unavoidable end to what really matters in
a scholar's world. Of course I knew of many deans who continued to be extremely
productive during their deanships, people like Peter Hay, Herma Hill Kay, and
Mary Kay Kane, to mention only those in my own field of conflicts law. I also
knew, however, that these are enormously talented, exceptional people, and I
could not envision myself in their league.
Two years later, I am even more convinced that I do not
belong in that league. Ironically though, this is precisely why I believe that
what I have to say can be helpful to others, because the experience of an
ordinary guy is more pertinent to others than that of the extraordinary person.
First, let me acknowledge that the tension between deaning
and scholarship is more difficult than the tension between deaning and teaching.
This is so for many reasons, but also because, in my view, teaching must be
placed before scholarship in a dean's workweek, or at least the day hours.
Indeed, a dean can and should continue teaching for both unselfish and
selfish reasons. Among the former reasons are the opportunity and need to get to
know your students in a classroom setting (as opposed to a reception setting),
to identify with your faculty, especially during grading time, and to protect
yourself from the bug of bureaucratization. Among the selfish reasons are the
fact that teaching is sheer fun--and if you didn't think so you wouldn't be
in legal education in the first place--and that the time you spend in the
classroom may well be the best time in an otherwise hectic and frustrating day.
Sure teaching makes your schedule doubly difficult and you cannot but have some
second thoughts about it when you find yourself grading papers through New
Year's Day. But, again, if you thought that this is such a big deal, you
wouldn't be in this business.
If teaching, even a little of it, comes before scholarship in
a dean's workweek, can a dean do both teaching and scholarship? My experience so
far suggests that this is possible even if--like me--you do not put yourself in
the extraordinary category. During the two years of my deanship, I have been
able to keep the quantity of my publications at a decent level. You might say
that two years is not a long enough period from which to tell. On the other
hand, honeymoons aside, the first years tend to be the most difficult or at
least time-demanding (so I hope), plus I had a comparable experience in another
school. Now notice that I said nothing about the quality of my recent
publications. Indeed, not only do they tend to have fewer footnotes but, as you
can tell from this piece, they are even less coherent than my pre-deaning
publications. Nevertheless, even keeping up with quantity is more than I
expected, and I just have to hope that the quality is not embarrassing.
Since I am not in any way exceptional, then you might ask,
how do I manage to do this? Well, I could be stealing from my deaning time or
from my family time. If it is the former, my faculty and/or my president will
let me know soon. If it is the latter, my family would have let me know by now.
So what is left? Personal time, that "smell-the-roses" kind-of-time.
In every meeting of new deans I attended, beginning with the "New Deans
Boot Camp" in 1999, our elder brothers and sisters told us that we should
make sure to "take some time off to smell the roses." Again, my
immigrant syndrome prevented me from understanding how important it is to take
some time off. Now I know better. So I do take time off--not to smell the roses,
but to do my writing. I hope this does not sound masochistic or, worse, self
aggrandizing, but to me this is recreation time. It keeps the brain cells
healthy, which for me is more important than keeping the muscles strong.
But what if you like writing but you also like to smell the
roses? Is a deanship a good idea for you? The answer is still yes, but subject
to a caveat that may turn it into a no. If you haven't published enough before
becoming a candidate for dean, then your chances of beginning your publishing
during your deanship are small and may disappear completely depending on how
long the deanship lasts. Assuming again that you are serious about publishing,
this alone may be a good reason not to seek a deanship.
On the other hand, if you had acquired the habit of
publishing in your pre-dean years, then, like a bicycle, you can easily pick it
up again after your deanship is over. Yes, there is life after deaning, perhaps
the best of it. If you keep that in mind, if you make sure that there is an
exciting project waiting for you after your deanship, then your transition to
former-dean status will be not only easy but also something to look forward to.
In turn, this will prevent you from becoming a captive of the deanship and will
make adherence to your principles easier than otherwise.
This then is my two cents. Deaning and writing are not
incompatible. But to do both plus teaching, one may have to forego some of
life's other pleasures, such as taking time off to smell the roses. Put another
way, one may not be able to do deaning, teaching, writing, and roses, all at the
same time. But one can do any three at the same time, and do the fourth one
before and after.
I could of course be wrong--as deans occasionally are--in any
or all of the above. For example, it is possible that, even one who does not
take time off to smell the roses may be unable to do any writing during his or
her deanship. If you find yourself in that situation, you can console yourself
with this thought--despite their many differences, deaning and publishing are
two different types of public service. Deaning serves the public by
participating and guiding the process of replenishing the legal profession with
new, hopefully better, competent, ethical lawyers. Publishing serves the public
by making available to the other members of the profession the fruits of our
labor, the great or small, right or wrong, ideas that we academics have the
privilege of exploring and articulating because we have the luxury of time that
practitioners and judges do not have. Serving through only one rather than both
of these public service posts is still nothing to apologize for.