Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inside Dean Candidates: Pandering, Apples, Experience, Hard Decisions

When a law school looks for a dean there is always the possibility that inside candidates emerge. For some there is no chance. Are there any at my school right now? I know some people able to do the job who have emphatically said no way. Otherwise, I do not know.

Having gone through many many dean searches led me to think about the ups and downs of inside candidates. If they are viable at all they have a head start because faculties are afraid of change. In fact, people who are contacted as potential outside candidates are often less interested when it is revealed that there is an inside candidate.  It's not that anything is rigged, It's just that the insider will have friends and will be better able to discuss things people can relate to.

I am putting aside my misgivings about hiring anyone to be dean who wants to be dean. [Similar to my view on gun control: If you want one, you are disqualified from owning one.] I've never understood why someone who, in the interview, promised that his or her life ambition was to teach and do research all of a sudden decided they preferred management since, for the most part, none of they have managed anything beyond household finances in the past.

But that applies to all aspiring deans. Basically, they realize they are not who they thought they are and they  want more  money or have the perverse view that becoming  a dean is a promotion.

So back to inside candidates. Here are some guidelines.

1. Experience. Has the inside candidate occupied a position in which hard decisions were make and there was widespread faculty interaction. In that position if everyone came away happy, do not let this person become dean. Many law school decisions are, in fact, zero sum.

2. How long has the inside candidate been at your school and how many deans has he or she worked with. This falls in the apples not falling from the tree priblem. If the candidate has seen a limited version of deanships then expect prior styles to be repeated. What else would the candidate learn from? So, if last dean was terrific there could be more of the same. If the last dean was subpar, expect more of the same.

3. While a faculty member did the candidate always check the way the wind was blowing before making a statement or were most statements things like "Great idea," In other words if the candidate was unwilling to stand up for anything controversial then get ready for a dud of a dean. A faculty member who has been campaigning for years is not who you want. The campaign to please the right people at the right time will never end. So think back, can you call any position he or she took in a faculty meeting with conviction?

4. Has the candidate shown any sign of "not technically a lie," or arrogance, If so, steer clear. This includes odd memory lapses.

5. Is the candidate fair minded or  a turf protector. For example, if he or she has been in charge of a Center, Institute, or Program and, in that position, closed it to questions and people in the interests of maintaining control, this is not a person who understands that his or her needs are secondary to successful operation of a law school.

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