Beware of Navel Oranges
Thomas F. Guernsey
I teach, among other things, negotiation. I will on occasion conduct training
sessions on negotiation for lawyers and business executives. As part of that
training, I like to develop an analytic framework--break negotiation down into
its component parts, if you will--so that we can approach negotiation
systematically. I stress, however, that as much as we try to approach
negotiation systematically we canít ignore the social-psychological
implications of the process and the more we know about the person weíre
negotiating with, the better off we will be.
An important part of this training is that the participants actually
negotiate against each other. I once did such a program as part of a ten-day
management development training program for business executives. On the first
day of the program, they had taken the Meyers-Briggs test and were wearing their
psychological profiles on their name tags. These were those four letter summary
kind of things like I for intuitive, J for judgmental, P for pushover. To this
day, it strikes me as funny that they would actually negotiate against each
other wearing those name tags.
What follows may be the equivalent of wearing a name tag with too much
information for the context. And, since I am soon to become what is referred to
in the trade as a serial dean, it runs the risk of offending one school and
warning another. In any event, it is a brief (not too reverent) summary of what
I have learned over the past six years related to leadership in law schools.
1. Establish a set of principles. Hodge OíNeal once said a dean should
have principles, just not too many. This statement is delightfully ambiguous in
meaning. Establishing a set of principles early on and then mostly sticking to
them can provide guidance when you inevitably face problems the solution of
which is far from certain. The principles need not be many, but they should be
very broad. For example, where recruitment of students is of the highest
priority, it makes life easier to follow the principle that unrestricted gifts
go to scholarships to recruit students. When in doubt, follow the principle. Of
course, not having too many principles also means you better be pragmatic as
well. When the faculty, despite the agreed upon recruitment goal, expresses a
strong desire to devote more scholarship money to students who have demonstrated
academic excellence after enrolling in law school, swallow hard and try to
The principles should, of course relate to more than just the general
operation of the law school. These principles, however, should also be flexible.
Law school rankings are among those most serious threats to legal education
today Ė ranking just below student debt load and just above bar examiners who
want to lower the bar passage rate. This belief, however, does not interfere
with using the rankings as leverage with anyone or anything that has resources
that might affect the schoolís ranking.
Likewise I firmly believe that the reason we want to have greater diversity
in legal education is first and foremost a need to expand the number of lawyers
serving the under represented. If, however, what it takes to withstand
constitutional challenge in cases like Grutter is that we argue we need
diversity because it fosters the robust exchange of ideas within the classroom,
Iím all for it Ė though I have to admit, I canít remember the last time I
actually saw a robust exchange in a classroom.
2. Youíll almost never know whether people like you because you are the
dean or because of your scintillating personality. I say you almost never
know. Sometimes, however, it can be obvious. It recently became public that I
was a finalist for another dean position. The law schoolís largest donor (and
gourmet cook) ran into me at a high school function and I confessed that yes,
indeed, I had let my name go forward. She then proceeded to say all the right
things about how sorry she would be to see me leave. She then said, "oh, by
the way, let me know far enough in advance because I sure as hell am not going
to cook for you anymore if you decide to leave."
3. Actually, you can ignore the last observation. People like you because of
your spouse or partner. As one faculty member told my wife, Kathe, "we
figure if you [Kathe] stayed with him [me] for 28 years, he must be okay."
Now, this is not to take away anything if you donít have a spouse or partner,
but you can never underestimate the importance of the role your spouse or
partner can play in your success as a dean. For example, in 6 years as Dean, my
wife, herself a practicing lawyer, has missed one law school event at which I
had to be present and has on numerous occasions accompanied my associate dean to
events where for one reason or another I could not attend.
4. You better have a tough skin. The only real talent that is necessary
for a dean to have (although it is, of course, not sufficient) is the ability to
say (verbally or nonverbally), and act like you mean it, that you have a tough
skin. People can really be nasty. You should practice saying to yourself,
"Itís not me, itís the office."
Actually, having a tough skin requires the creation of a corollary to the
value of the spouse/partner observation. Keep your significant other away from
some of the nastier types. Your tough skin isnít going to keep your spouse or
partner from ripping out the heart of someone who criticizes you.
5. Ninety-percent of your decisions are irrelevant. When you sit in your
deanís office, you are perceived by the staff as one giant, okay, medium size,
decision machine. If you are the dean, this is cool.
Most of the decisions you make fall into four categories. First, there are
decisions that are either mere affirmations of what your staff, who can actually
pay attention to the details, has already decided. I learned this first when I
was an associate dean. I knew what needed to be done, I just needed Joe Harbaugh
to sign the paper. This fact of reliance on others, of course, means that your
success depends in large part on surrounding yourself with good people. With
luck you inherit them with the job. If you arenít so lucky, then you have some
really hard, unpleasant decisions to make.
The second category of decisions are those for which there is no right answer
and, since you make the most money, you have to assume responsibility. Does it
really matter whether white and red wine is enough. Should we have that
detestable pink stuff too?
Where you really earn your money is on the third and fourth categories. The
third type of decision are, the relatively few you make that are both
important and truly your own. You are paid to determine which oneís are
important enough to spend time on. The fourth category deserves its own
discussion and follows.
6. If you stick around long enough, everything devolves into whether you
should have let the faculty make a decision. Shared governance with the
faculty runs on a continuum. At one end of the continuum are decisions that are
clearly faculty decisions, though, of course, the dean, as a faculty member,
should be consulted. Although the cultures of institutions vary, what courses
are required for graduation seems to be at this end of the continuum. At the
other end of the continuum are decisions that are clearly the deanís, but
which in certain circumstances should be made in consultation with faculty.
Again, though there will be cultural differences among institutions, the look
and feel of the schoolís view book would be at this end of the continuum. A
decision that seems dead center on the continuum is who should be the Associate
Dean for Academic Affairs. The person in this position at every law school
Iíve been at needs the trust and confidence of both the faculty and the dean.
The most likely cause of problems with the faculty seems to be misjudging
where on the continuum a particular decision lies. One cannot possibly consult
with the faculty on every decision. There are simply too many. You would go
crazy and the faculty would not tolerate it. Making the decision obviously does
not mean that either party is not obligated to share information and explain
While you should survey faculty perceptions , I found it helpful to try to
articulate clearly before a decision needed to be made which decisions are for
the faculty and which belong to the dean.
7. The most important thing I needed to know about being a dean I learned in
Political Science 101. In my first semester of college, my American
Government professor said that there were no problems that couldnít be solved
with enough money. (This was when I first appreciated that the double negative
is not unusefu) Ok, so it may not be completely true in the real world, but it
is in law school.
8. It is one of lifeís ironies that it is a failure if you actually have to
first mention to a prospective donor the idea of a major gift. Of course, if
neither you nor they mention the gift, itís an even bigger failure. Most
alums know why you visit them. They were, after, all smart enough to get into
law school. If you meet them often enough and talk about the strengths and
challenges of the school at each point, many of the alums will actually say
something like, "so how do you think I can help."
My most perfect example of this concept was with a recent graduate of the law
school. I knew the alum when he was a student. As I did with all first and
third-year students, I had taken him to lunch in a small group. He was invited
to alum functions. He was asked to come back and judge moot court. Then one day
he received a multi-million dollar judgment. I sent a nice note. We tried to set
up dinner, but our schedules couldnít get together. Then a short time later
the judgment was upheld on appeal. I sent another nice note. We then arranged
lunch. A personal problem arose and at the last minute I needed to postpone the
lunch. My development officer called the alum, explained the situation and asked
if we couldnít meet the following day. The alum explained that, well, he was
out of town the next day, but that the development officer should assure the
dean that he did not have to be taken out to eat, the school was going to get
the money anyway. Itís a nice feeling when itís only a question of how much.
Now of course, it doesnít always work that way. Or should I say, it almost
never works that way. But it gives you the idea. Fund raising, as they say, is
friend raising. In the area of major gifts this is even more true. The
relationship has to be cultivated to the point that discomfort with talking
about money is gone. If the friend is willing to raise the issue all the better.
If you feel uncomfortable about asking for a gift, it means one of two things:
1) itís too early in the relationship or 2) you should look for other
9. Never buy boxed wine. Better to do nothing than give the wrong
impression. If you are trying to impress someone with the success of the law
school, you need a cork. If youíre trying to establish a dire need, why have
This principle, of course, applies to things other than wine. For example,
symposia and lecture series. If you are going to have a lecture, commit the
resources to make it a success. That means not simply working to get a good
speaker, a good audience and hopefully, press coverage. A good lecture before an
audience drummed up in the hallways minutes before the speech is as harmful as a
lousy speaker in front of a large audience. And, while it may not be the case in
religion, in legal education, great things that are noticed are better than
great things that are not noticed.
10. The amount of money you raise is in direct correlation to the amount of
weight you gain. People who feel sorry for you because a dean has to raise
money donít get it. As has been said, you have to raise friends to raise
money. What could be more fun? There is food and drink. You get to talk about
something you love. The potential donors (hopefully) give you, or at least the
school, praise. Compare this to dealing with a problem faculty member. There is,
however, a downside. I once asked a colleague how long he had been dean and he
said, "About 40 pounds."
11. Show humility. One can, of course, only choose to show humility. One
can not choose to be humble. As someone once said, the problem with humility is
that once you think youíve got it, youíve lost it. Every faculty member
thinks he or she knows how to do your job. Learn to live with it.
12. You learn to hate everything that you once did as a faculty member.
Your perspective changes once you become a dean. You find yourself bemused by
things that faculty do or positions that faculty take that look uncomfortably
like what you did or said before becoming dean. For example, life would be great
as a dean if you could convince the faculty that all classes should be 50
minutes long and that the classes should begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m.
The problem, of course, is that when did you want to teach at any time other
than 10 and 2 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday? This came home when a faculty
member said to me that she was being a pest because that was how you motivated
deans. I once actually told a Provost that it was my job to complain, otherwise
things would never change.
13. Beware of navel oranges. Institutional donors are fond of providing
"seed money." You get a grant for a short period of time, with the
expectation that the school will absorb the cost at some point in the future.
Sometimes this works. Be careful, however. Seed money does not always grow, and,
if it does, you still may find you that one day you have either Navel oranges or
a dead plant.
Certainly clinical legal education benefitted from such money as law schools
or their parent universities struggled to develop funding for such a fundamental
shift in educational philosophy. More often, Iíve wondered what makes granting
organizations think that the school will have money in a year that you donít
14. Everything you need to know about clinical wars. All faculty
discussions about faculty status have one major subtext. Depending on the side
of the speaker, they are saying either A) those higher status people donít
understand that it is we lower status people work harder; or B) those lower
status people just donít get it, if the position carried the status they
probably wouldnít have been hired. Nobody actually says these things in a
meeting, everyone is too polite (or afraid they will get their head handed to
them on a platter).
Understanding historical context is important. The fact is, among the more
consistent themes of legal education is the debate about whether legal education
should be professional education or graduate education. Despite the fact that
the war has been won and that almost everyone agrees that is has to be a
reasonable mix of both, there remain skirmishes.
15. Understand what cynicism is. Particularly when leading a group of
lawyers, a dean needs to understand the difference between being cynical and
sarcastic and being caustic and corrosive. Cynical and sarcastic people should
be tolerated. They will often say things that need to be said and which no one
else has the nerve to say. Caustic and corrosive people need to be counseled to
look for a different line of work.
16. Be brief. As dean you control much of the pace of the school and its
events. Keep things short and to the point. For example, graduation is a
highlight of the year, but recognize that while everyone there wants formality
and to be recognized, they want to go out a celebrate even more. Likewise, when
speaking to the entering class, get to the point and get out of the way. They
have more important things to do than listen to you.
, formerly dean Southern Illinois University
School of Law.