Friday, March 16, 2007

Needy Deans

Over on MoneyLaw the role deans play in the allowing faculty to fleece law school stakeholders -- students, taxpayers, contributors has been covered although in more gentle terms. I think it is fair to say that the the oft stated idea of "dean as an agent of the faculty" or "to serve the faculty" is the type of thinking that means disaster unless the faculty happens to have internalized the goal of giving stakeholders a fair shake.

The problem is that deans choose to act as though their faculties fit that description when they do not. And they know that about their faculty but do not want to deal with the reality. What goes into the thinking of people who choose to be deans and then adopt the head in the sand approach to deaning. Please note that not all take approach. For example, sometimes a faculty that is underproducing would like do to better and is looking for a leader. Other deans may not take that approach and be looking for a job in 2-3 years.

Still why does someone ask to be a dean knowing -- at least at some level -- that their job will be do accommodate an underachieving faculty. In fact it is worse, the job is do deflect scrutiny of the faculty. My hunch is that three ingredients are necessary to make for the "needy dean."

1. A lackluster career as a scholar. This means little job satisfaction as a regular faculty member and a mid life crisis type reaction. This person should not have opted for an academic job in the first place.

2. Money. I do not know what Law School deans make but there are few instances in which it is not significantly above what they could earn as faculty. In there academic careers they are going no where (at least in their own terms) and accepting a deanship means an instance substantial life-style affecting salary increase.

3. A infinite capacity to rationalize. I do not think most failing deans are dishonest. What they do have in common is an ability to see virtually everything a faculty does as a good idea. Of course, it is only a good idea because this approach reduces decanal dissonance.

Obviously if the stakeholders had a say "needy deans" would not be hired. The frightening thing is that a complacent underachieving faculty is looking for exactly this type of person.

Let's compare it to a corporation. The faculty are like the sales staff padding their expense accounts only the form it takes is minimal teaching loads, low enrollments, condition-free summer grants, low scholarship levels. The needy dean is like a CEO who knows the story but is frozen because he or she is, well, needy.

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