Dean, Syracuse University College of Law)
a dean who recently decided to resign after eight years and return to full-time
teaching, I have many thoughts and reflections about "deaning." My
principal observation is that I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to serve as
dean and welcomed the range of challenges presented by the position. To be sure,
there were days when I should have remained in bed, but fortunately those were
very few in number. Overall, the deanship was a wonderful learning experience in
which I gained insights about people, institutions, and myself.
For purposes of this essay, however, I have not expanded on this general
observation. Rather, I elected to
write about a topic that did not receive attention in the Toledo Law Review’s
previous collections of articles by deans. The two
previous issues included more than 70 articles. Interestingly, while a few
mentioned the staff, none examined the important role of staff in the life of a
law school or discussed techniques for staff development. In some respects, this
is not surprising but rather may be indicative of a problem. We take staff for
I confess that as a faculty member I did not spend much time thinking about
the role of the 60 staff members at the College of Law. Students appeared in my
classes, usually with books and reproduced material. The classrooms were clean
and had state-of-the art equipment, including operating teaching stations (with
a computer, audio-visual equipment and document camera). The Library had the
requisite research material or obtained copies as needed. The Academic Support
Program provided assistance to my students who were at risk or had disabilities.
My office had appropriate furniture and technology, and was cleaned
periodically. Guest speakers regularly visited the College and made
presentations that were followed by elaborate receptions or luncheons. Reports
were made at faculty meetings about the amount of money that alumni provided for
financial aid. Students spoke excitedly about their summer and permanent job
opportunities. All these things—and much more--just seemed to happen, while I
devoted my time to teaching, writing, and occasional committee work.
As dean, I quickly discovered that we would not open for business without the
dedicated efforts of the staff. Indeed, on a daily basis I was reminded of the
critical role played by the hard working, but often underpaid staff members.
Early in my tenure, I determined that it was essential to the success of the
College that staff members feel valued and that they understand their
contributions to the overall operations. I, therefore, devoted considerable
energy and time to implementation of formal and informal activities designed to
recognize and empower the staff.
At the outset, I created a Law School Quality Improvement Team (LSQIT)
comprised of five members elected by the staff. LSQIT was an outgrowth of a more
general, University-wide initiative. Based on the then somewhat popular Total
Quality Management (TQM) model used in business, the University program had many
components designed to improve quality in the delivery of services. While the
University program was a bit too bureaucratic for my taste, it did require the
University community to undertake activities to include the staff in our
thinking of University functions. Syracuse University Chancellor Kenneth Shaw
deserves credit for delivering a clear message: staff members were no longer to
be taken for granted but were to be recognized along with faculty and students
as an integral part of the University.
I met on a monthly basis with members of LSQIT to discuss ways in which we
could improve processes within the College as well as between the College and
University. The LSQIT members discussed their own ideas and surveyed other staff
members, soliciting information about work-related concerns and suggestions
about ways to improve communication across departments. The topics included
issues relating to such matters as the delivery of mail to the College’s
various administrative offices, training on new computing programs, facility
maintenance, and parking. During our building construction project, the LSQIT
served as an important vehicle for obtaining staff input. While most of the
issues considered by LSQIT concerned processes within the College, some focused
on matters relating to interaction with other units on campus.
Independent of these process issues, LSQIT determined that the staff could be
involved in community service, and it organized a number of public service
projects for staff participation. At Thanksgiving, the staff collected food and
delivered food baskets to needy families in a nearby neighborhood. During the
December holiday season, they collected gifts that were distributed to children
in local schools. In the spring semester, they donated school supplies for a
public elementary school.
As a second component of the staff development program, I instituted monthly
breakfast meetings with the entire staff of the College. These meetings served
three purposes. First, they created an opportunity for personal interaction
among staff members from the different offices. For most of the workweek, staff
members are limited to their respective offices and find little time to
intermingle with those in other administrative areas. The monthly meetings
provided opportunities for formal and informal interaction among the staff
members in the various offices, thereby enabling them to become better
acquainted with each other. A second and related purpose was to allow
representatives from each office to report on current activities within their
areas. In this way, staff not only learned about the work of the other
administrative offices but also developed a sense of how their own work fit
within the larger efforts of the College. Finally, the monthly staff meetings
gave me an opportunity to report directly on current developments at the school.
I also initiated a monthly staff lunch as another opportunity for staff
members to meet with staff from other parts of the building. The lunches were
for staff only (I did not attend) and were informal without any business agenda.
On some occasions, the LSQIT invited guest speakers who spoke on topics ranging
from coping with stress to buying wine (hopefully, not meant as related topics).
For the most part, however, the lunches were used solely for social purposes.
One of the challenges was to find ways to integrate the staff not only with
each other but also with the faculty. To accomplish this goal, I invited staff
members and guests to attend significant College of Law events (such as the
annual alumni dinner, the dedication of our new building, the centennial
anniversary dinner, the holiday party, and guest speaker presentations). In the
past, only faculty members and a few very senior staff were invited to such
occasions. I expanded the invitation to include all staff members and, to
encourage their attendance, invited them as guests of the school. These special
events provided opportunities for staff and faculty to interact and for staff
members to feel like welcome members of the community.
Another component of my program involved monthly meetings with the
Administrative Cabinet comprised of the senior staff who reported directly to
me. I used these meetings for a variety of purposes, including the building of a
team approach to the many issues confronting the school. These monthly meetings
also provided a valuable opportunity to create a supportive environment in which
the senior staff could openly and honestly disagree with me or seek
reconsideration of issues without fear of damaging our working relationship.
In addition to the Administrative Cabinet meeting, I held separate monthly
meetings with the directors and assistant directors of the administrative
offices. Like most law schools, we have Offices of Career Services, Student
Affairs, Admissions and Financial Aid, Computing Services, and Alumni Relations.
Each of these offices reported to an Associate Dean who, in the hierarchical
structure, reported to me. The monthly meetings with the directors of the
individual offices allowed us to move beyond the hierarchy. At these meetings,
we discussed current as well as future projects. The Associate Deans, of course,
could have provided much of this information directly to me. The meetings with
the directors, however, allowed me to develop relationships with these other
staff members, acquire a better understanding of the issues, and convey—both
directly and indirectly-- my appreciation for their efforts.
Early in my tenure as dean, I recognized that staff might benefit from the
opportunity to create flexible work schedules. I encouraged directors to
authorize flextime where appropriate to accommodate staff members who desired to
take courses at the University or who had child care or other family care
demands. In a few offices, flextime was not possible because of the limited
number of employees. In most offices, however, we were able to develop a plan
that accommodated the employees and insured timely completion of the work.
Relatively few staff members took advantage of the flextime option, but all
appreciated the fact that it was available.
As another component of the program to include the staff, I wanted to
initiate a formal way of recognizing individual staff members for extraordinary
contributions. I discussed this proposal with the LSQIT members but they opposed
the idea. They maintained that such "employee of the month" awards
have the potential for creating unnecessary jealousies and competition. They
suggested instead that we develop a recognition program that would be inclusive
of all staff members. As a result, we joined the University-wide program of
recognizing individual staff for years of service. Once a year we publicly
recognized those staff members who were celebrating a five-year anniversary of
employment, and presented individual employees with a gift provided by the
I also tired to exhibit my respect and concern for the staff through the
simple but effective practice of what I will call "walking around."
Like all deans, I received a large volume of mail that needed to be distributed
to other offices. Rather than asking my assistant to distribute the material, I
personally delivered it. This provided opportunities to talk informally with
staff, sharing stories about families and upcoming events outside the work
I also invited staff to take advantage of my "open door" policy
that was available to students and faculty. Often, staff members would stop by
to provide an update on a child’s success in a sport, involvement in a school
play, or college plans. On other occasions, we traded information about books or
recent films. In a few instances, a staff member met with me to complain about a
supervisor. Such meetings were sometimes problematic because the staff member
did not want me to mention the complaint to the supervisor. Without hearing both
sides, I was not in a position to make any judgments about the complaint. In
these instances, however, the staff member was not seeking action on my part but
rather seemed to be looking for encouragement to address the issue directly with
Finally, in my years as dean, I tried to address the low pay and salary
inequities that existed among the staff members. For this purpose, I was able to
use funds in addition to the annual budget increments provided by the University
and thus was able to provide average increases that were greater than the annual
incremental amounts. The supervisors and I worked together to develop and
implement an annual evaluation system that included merit-based salary
The staff development measures described in this essay are not complex, but
they do require considered planning and considerable time. I maintain that the
measures are worth the effort. Staff members feel valued and, as a result, are
more committed to their individual jobs as well as the overall law school
enterprise. In addition, I found that the staff development program was
personally rewarding. As many have suggested, one of the dean’s roles is that
of an enabler, creating an environment in which others can maximize their
potential. Through these measures, I was able to perform that role for the
In closing, I should note that when I closed my office door for the last
time, I had a range of emotions. Interestingly, a sense of sadness was
predominant, caused in part by the recognition that I would no longer be working
on a daily basis with this dedicated group of wonderful individuals. As I headed
toward my new office, a staff member stopped me in the hall and shook my hand.
He thanked me for my efforts on behalf of the staff and observed that these
efforts would have lasting impact. I continued down the hall, hoping that he was
correct and aware that my sadness was making room for a sense of satisfaction.