Saturday, January 25, 2014
I CAN"T HEAR YOU: Tone Deaf Administrators
Can a new law school dean save the UF administration from itself? UF seems to be involved in an experiment to find out. Deans do report to the Central Administration but they live with faculty and typically succeed or fail based on faculty reaction. The key factor is "buying in." When faculty are part of the process, they "buy in" and missteps by a new dean are forgiven. If the dean is selected without much faculty involvement, "buy in" may be low.
On this simply point UF administrators seem to have developed instant onset tone deafness. This is unfortunately because no one in the central administration has significant exposure to legal education or appears to be interested in A.B.A accreditation guidelines. Plus, it governs a University that is ranked slightly lower than the Law School it has the hubris to tell how it can be great. Here are the symptoms of instant onset tone deafness.
1. The Search Committee. The Law Dean Search Committee is composed of 11 people - five from the law school. The law school faculty voted to select a pool of faculty members from which the Provost picked. The Provost did not select those receiving the highest votes, skipping over some of the more assertive people. Of the five, three have tenure and are generally familiar with legal education at a national level. This makes them the most likely to speak out. On the other hand, if the Provost selected people whose careers have generally been advanced by playing ball with administrators, the effective number is less than 3 of 11.
2. A search firm was employed to locate candidates. The cost remains a mystery. Search firms are terrific if they have some expertise that would lead to uncovering otherwise unknown prospects. The law teaching world, though, is a small one and hiring a search firm to find a law dean candidate is like hiring one to find a football stadium in Gainesville. This means for what was likely tens of thousands of dollars the search firm appears to have made phone calls and forwarded CVs. At most it did what a firm year professor could have done. Or perhaps the idea was to keep the process under wraps. A search firm windfall financed by taxpayers with UF writing the check.
3. The search firm bungled even this task. It is increasingly clear that the firm did not fully advise the candidates about Florida's openness policy: All materials and names associated with the search are public. Exacerbating this was the firm's decision to announce all 24 candidates at once. This lead to a massive data dump that treated each candidate like a potato at a produce stand. In the past, although public as the law requires, the process allowed publicity shy dean candidates to have their names trickled out over several months and allowed them ample time to drop out if the competition looked stiff.
4. Three days after the data dump of 24 candidates the list was trimmed to 10. No faculty representatives on the committee called for a discussion or solicited the views of the faculty. Thus, the major paring down of the list was based on CV's and the hunches of three members of the committee with some knowledge of the law school world. Yes, thousands of dollars worth of names were either DOA or deep-sixed on slightly more than a whim.
5. The committee (not the faculty) will interview the candidates for 75 minutes each and, on the basis of that interview (and one hopes extensive research), narrow the list to the people who will visit the law school for what may loosely be called interviews. At this stage, whether the faculty will be consulted is unclear but it is a bit like having the waiter hand you a menu with the message "you may only select items I like."
6. From this point, who knows what will happen. No one seems to know how many of the 10 will be invited to meet the faculty in interviews or what the outcome of those interviews will be. The consistent message is that the input of the faculty will be considered.
Fortunately the next dean can save the administration from itself. Any candidate determined to be successful will surely only accept the position if there is a strong positive vote from the faculty. Unfortunately, making that demand may also mean the candidate is viewed as unsuitable by the Administration.