Kenneth C. Randall*
The significance of the Staff was
highlighted for me as soon as I was named Dean. In a statement about my
appointment, I expressed my gratitude for the chance to lead a law school
supported by an energetic president and provost and boasting of accomplished
faculty, students, and alumni. My appreciation for the campusí central
administration, and for my colleagues and current and former students, was (and
is), indeed, sincere. I failed at the time, however, to express appreciation for
the Law Schoolís Staff. As a (non-faculty) assistant dean put it bluntly about
my omission: "I see you left the Staff out. Youíll soon see who really
makes things happen around here!"1
Most new law deans (and other new educational
leaders) are unprepared for their dealings with Staff. Most faculty membersí
primary exposure to the Staff often has been to the secretary who assists them.
They may have limited contact with a few other Staff members who help them on
select projects, committees, travel planning and reimbursement, or with teaching
and exam logistics. But only deans deal with the overall Staff infrastructure;
the processes of Staff communication, coordination, and motivation of Staff
toward common goals; and the panoply of personnel issues in the institutional
The importance of the Staff often is
understated. Non-instructional Staff far outnumber the Faculty. The deanís management,
and leadership of the Staff, is a significant factor in a schoolís success.
The longer the deanship, the more a dean will appreciate the fact that Staff are
just as much his or her colleagues as are faculty.3 I am grateful for
the immense contributions made by Staff at my own school. But it takes time to
develop a Staff and to learn how to make optimal use of its talents. And
one of the least pleasant parts of deaning is dealing with that small fraction
of Staff who under-perform in one way or another - - those rare Staff for whom
placement, supervision, or even improvement is a challenge. Like most Faculty,
students, and alumni, however, most Staff are enjoyable to know and work with.
Staff membersí job descriptions, titles,
employment classifications, and pay grades are extremely varied. It is easy, if
unfair, for Staff to perceive themselves playing second fiddle to the faculty.
But Staff members are equally valuable, in their way, and should be so treated.
They can become the deanís advisors and professional friends, though the dean
must retain the ability to supervise them. Hierarchy is important, but can
create institutional challenges. The lower a positionís classification Ė for
example, a secretary may be an "eight," while an advancement director
a "seventeen," in a campusí human resources scheme (or maze) Ė the
lower its perceived standing, and the greater the challenge for
supervisors to find ways to include its occupant in the common institutional
cause. Deans must consistently express appreciation to Staff, without being
either patronizing or false, and should include Staff in school events and
meetings if possible. Staff who have been made to feel welcome, worthwhile, and
a real part of the team are more likely to attend and participate freely in the
gatherings to which they are invited.
Faculty always have two or three ranks; law
students are always in three classes. They know where they stand. Staff have to
deal with several, sometimes shifting hierarchical relationships at the Law
School, not only vis-a-vis law students and faculty, but also vis-a-vis each
other, as well as Staff throughout campus. But whatever role a staff member
plays, it should be valued for its contribution in advancing the schoolís
academic mission. That value should be directly expressed to the person
producing it. Whether it is a secretary locating and revising a "lost"
faculty manuscript that ultimately is published and relied on by scholars and
judges, the advancement officer whose tact and persistence secures resources for
need-based student scholarships, or the director of technology who facilitates
and builds curricular chat rooms or the web site crucial to an emerging center
of educational excellence, the staff person is contributing to the schoolís
progress in unique and fundamentally important ways.
The dean has the ultimate responsibility of
ensuring that Staff members understand the value of their contribution. He or
she must demonstrate the institutionís appreciation of those accomplishments
and set a tone of mutual support so that other supervisors know to do the same.
As I once heard another administrator aptly put it, every employee has the same
innate worth; it is the marketplace that assigns different values to (and thus
remuneration for) the jobs we each perform. It is the duty not just of the dean,
but of all Staff supervisors, as well as faculty, to reinforce the sense that
the academic community values Staff contributions. Supervisors must take the
time to explain how assignments fit into the institutional mission. Staff, in
turn, should be encouraged, by message and by tone, to view their work not just
mechanically or non-contextually, but with appropriate responsibility and pride.
When there are openings, deans must recruit Staff who share the philosophy of
productive team work.
The deanís institutional relationship with
Staff members depends largely on their duties. The dean of an average size law
school may have about ten "direct reports" - - that is, ten reporting
relationships without any administrative intermediary . For example, the
dean may directly supervise the "heads" (assistant or associate deans
or directors) of academic affairs; administration (building, personnel,
purchasing); library; clinic; career services; continuing legal education;
advancement; and student recruitment. The number of direct reports and reporting
arrangements vary depending on the size of the school, its budget, and history.
A law schoolís infrastructure resembles that of a small university, with
various administrative units reporting to the dean.
Good communication between the dean and
his/her direct reports is essential to a well-led law school. Deans must
establish ways to keep a handle on institutional matters and priorities without
micromanaging.4 The right balance is the key. Delegating day-to-day
management issues frees the dean to handle external, campus, and big-picture
issues. With new Staff, the Dean should review not only institutional goals but
the means by which tasks will be completed; with experienced Staff, the Dean
should focus mostly on objectives, giving the Staff increased leeway on
executing the plan.
While deans must see the big picture, and not
micromanage daily operations, they must keep up sufficiently with the
intermediate category of issues that occupy the "middle burner" of
importance (such as a pending $20,000 scholarship proposal to a donor, or a new
course proposal pending in a committee). For such matters, regularly scheduled
meetings (weekly or bi-weekly) between the dean and his/her direct reports
usually will permit the dean to provide appropriate direction. Such meetings are
particularly beneficial when the staff person is empowered with the
responsibility to outline the agenda beforehand of items requiring reports and
The dean should solicit the ideas of his/her
direct-reports and be open to input, especially to constructive criticism.
However, when the conference-room door opens at the end of a meeting, the Staff
should pull together, hopefully with a consensus, but following the deanís
lead. As I once heard another dean express it, after the huddle, it is
impossible for the quarterback to lead the team down field if his or her
offensive line isnít blocking. The dean should be open-minded about hearing
from Staff about which plays to call, but, once the huddle breaks, he or she
should not be tackled by his or her own team. In difficult instances where the
deanís decision wonít please everyone, the dean should try to explain the
rationale, but should be clear that the Staffís support is needed to
implement the final decision.5
In addition to dealing frequently with
directors and assistant deans, deans have continuous contact with their
executive assistant and secretaries. The deanís office secretarial staff
should be dedicated to the dean and assist with daily operations. The
dean-secretarial relationship has to be one of mutual respect. Over time, a dean
should determine how best a secretary can be of daily help Ė from
providing copies of the next dayís schedule the night before; to scheduling
the deanís days in blocks of time for various tasks to be accomplished
productively; to regulating courteously and efficiently the constant flow of
people and requests that reach the deanís office, taking into account the
priorities at hand. But knowing how to delegate, how to let others support us,
is a skill that most deans must develop. The dean wonít be effective with
significant fundraising, academic, recruitment, and planning matters without
freedom from mundane tasks. In addition, the dean must trust the Staffís
judgment about which matters need decanal attention. Such prioritization may
take time to articulate and implement, with the dean communicating goals and
objectives to the Staff.
Deans must communicate directly and clearly
with their Staff; set deadlines; define expectations and goals; and determine
how much oversight is needed over the means of achieving the objective at hand.
When a job doesnít get done well or on time, a dean first should ask:
"Did I clearly explain the task at hand and the framework for completing
the task?" "Did I ensure that the tools needed were at hand for the
Staff to succeed in the job?" or "Were the reasons for the lack of
success due to the staff personís own lack of commitment to the task and/or
factors beyond the deanís control?" A lack of success should be just as
instructive as a success in most instances; deans must learn lessons from
administrative matters that have been problematical. During the evolution of a
deanship, the deanís delegating skills improve. It takes a while to get used
to leading an office.
Staff members have a responsibility for their
performance, work product, presence, and timeliness. Although it is against the
nature of most kind souls who initially chose the wonderful, intellectual career
of being a professor rather than an administrator, a dean must be ready to take
action to discipline the few Staff who, despite notice, donít meet their job
expectations. It simply isnít fair to have different sets of rules for
different Staff, or to have similarly classified Staff handle different amounts
of work. A dean should not do the work of the Staff, but instead should be able
to rely on the their work product. Just as deans should not be
"micromanagers," they should not have to be proofreaders and editors,
fixing obvious errors on routine projects. They should not have to be
timekeepers for Staff attendance and punctuality. Thankfully, few Staff need
such oversight. Most are mature, responsible, and productive; they fully
understand the importance of staff morale in observing cooperatively simple
When Staff need the dean to make a decision,
they should, whenever possible, carefully and comprehensively define the
question so that it can be answered with a concrete answer - (e.g., with a
"yes" or "no" answer). Just as we train law students to
"frame" issues as part of their analytical education, deans similarly
should help Staff to learn how to crystallize the matter or question at hand.
Deans must be able to rely 100% on the information the Staff provides on issues
requiring his or her attention.
The Staff works optimally when it knows what
matters need prompt decanal attention. Those matters should be summarized, with
Staff assuming responsibility to focus and sharpen issues and make initial
recommendations for their resolution. A dean juggles ever-increasing amounts of
work, so if Staff can handle not only routine matters, but can also highlight
and help define significant and pressing issues, they buttress the deanís
Deans must not tolerate lack of
professionalism. The workplace environment must be respectful of all the
institutionís employees. Campus policies must be followed swiftly, fairly, and
fully whenever there are complaints of any kind of harassment or discrimination.
Monthly staff meetings involving the entire
group of direct-reports, plus select second-level reporting staff, are helpful.
The dean should set a minimal agenda at such meetings, with each attendee,
instead, being given the responsibility to report on his/her area. The meeting
should not be wasted on reconciling calendars or on minutiae (which email can
handle), but on the five or six most significant items each person is working
on. The dean should inform the Staff of important faculty and academic matters
they may not have heard about. In turn, all substantial news should be
communicated throughout the administrative hierarchy by those attending the
meeting. Staff leaders subsequently should communicate with their own direct
reports about significant items that were discussed at the meeting.
Communication is indispensable to effective Staff leadership. Though regular
meetings facilitate and streamline the discussion of institutional matters,
deans should be available for Staff to drop by to chat if necessary on an ad hoc
basis. Deans, too, occasionally should make "house calls" to staff
Regarding Staff (particularly clerical) who do
not report directly to the dean, a balance is needed; the dean should be
available to the Staff, but should not ordinarily override their usual
supervisors. It is a difficult tightrope to walk between wanting to help a staff
person, and wanting to support those chosen to lead the particular department or
area. A dean should not be insensitive to the Staffís concerns or oblivious to
the daily patterns of supervisory communication. The dean should be sure that
Staff supervisors are appropriately part of the communications loop. When the
rare conflict arises among Staff, or between faculty and Staff, the dean may
help facilitate the problemís resolution. Essential to such problem solving is
the dean trying to get the parties talking productively with each other. The
dean should not try to solve everyoneís problems, but should encourage and
support individuals, in at least the first instance, to come up with their own
ways to address the conflict.
Deans should not underestimate the importance
of language and expression in communicating with Staff, especially in
challenging situations. Particularly given the role deans play at a law school,
they must choose their words carefully and express themselves calmly.
Of course, as dean, it is much more gratifying
to help enable Staff to implement a novel and good idea than to deal with the
rare instances of misfeasance, mistreatment, and mischief. Even if only one
percent of any employee pool (including deans) commit truly misguided or
inappropriate acts, that one percent of staff problems can take perhaps twenty
percent of a deanís time a few days each year. Though it can be frustrating,
deans must recognize that a disproportionate amount of a few days will be spent
on isolated personnel problems.
Morale among Staff is exceedingly important.
Deans should cheerlead, highlighting the schoolís achievements and the
Staffís role in that success. The employment atmosphere must be comfortable
and collegial, but professional. Though deans are leaders, they are not
monarchs; all Staff bear responsibility for the schoolís environment. Deans
should be polite and positive, but also direct, clear, and forthright; it is
their job to help ensure that staff members are doing their jobs with integrity,
timeliness, and efficiency. The institution requires nothing less.
Deans should encourage Staff to attend
conferences and training seminars aimed at professional improvement,
advancement, and networking.6 The dean must identify the funds for
such education, just as he/she locates funding for Faculty professional travel.
I cannot recall turning down Staff funding requests for professional travel and
relevant educational opportunities. Whether it is a secretary taking a one-day
campus workshop on writing skills or a development officerís three-day trip to
learn about brick-and-mortar projects, the time away from the staff personís
daily duties should be a wise investment, benefiting both the employee and the
institution. Such training also may help advance the Staff careers, which is a
If Staff help manage the schoolís day-to-day
work, then the Faculty can educate students and produce scholarship. A good dean
will enable the Staff to perform its essential role
in a schoolís pursuit of academic excellence. If the significance of the
Staff, and of Staff management and motivation, is not apparent to new
educational leaders, it will be within a short time of their appointment.