Saturday, June 13, 2015


If all goes as planned, on July 1, the ninth dean of my law school teaching career will start her tenure. I don't think it is right to talk about people behind their backs so here are the names of those former deans:

1. Champagne Man
2. Smooth Operator
3. Pippy
4. Graham Cracker Lindsay
5. Little Ricky
6. Publicity Hound
7. The Can Kicker
8. Grumpus
(Number 9's name at this point is Hope.)

Only two of them were God awful. One handed out semesters off on the basis of standards that were never clear. Another was the king of side deals so much so that if you had only one side deal you were being screwed. Those two had in common a dislike for transparency and straight talk.  I suspect that there were issues of transparency with respect to all  of them but the lack of transparency was so complete that you could not even see the smoke screens. I would love to see all but the last one in the ring for an all out Texas Grudge Match.

Starting with Pippy they were mostly a jumpy lot and good examples of the Peter principle. By jumpy, I mean a really big consideration was "but what will the faculty think." That is an important consideration but at least 4 of them would have asked that before rescuing a drowning puppy.

The odd thing is that I cannot think of one of them, even the awful ones, who did not seem like a decent person. Outside of the law school environment I shared some laughs with almost all of them. Thus, I wonder if there is something inherently corrupting about being a law school dean. A good friend of mine believes that is the case. At some point even the best intentions with respect to fairness and transparency seem to fade. Put differently and more harshly, they sell out. If they had the best intentions with respect to fairness and transparency they cave in. They usually cave in to faculty demands some of the most outrageous of which will be the subject of my next blog.

Since I have only taught at two schools I do not want to generalize but maybe, rather than being flawed, deans mirror their faculties. Take the same deans, make him or her dean at a law school, if there is one, in which the crowd (to use a term another colleague used to describe the one at Uf) is not as "rough" and most of those former deans might have "different" deans.

This is a fairly tenuous theory but could it be that deans, whoever they are, are ultimately faculty mirrors. In the case of my law school, the nature of the deans changed at a point when the faculty took a turn to the nasty side. It's pretty clear that no law school can become better if the dean is simply a mirror of the faculty.

The kicker is this. If deans begin to mirror their faculties and the deans fall out of favor, isn't it really an exercise in faculty self-hatred.

Here's hoping our new dean does not become the faculty, that side deals are over, transparency restored, and that those who object move out.


Athena said...

Hi Jeff,

I agree mostly with the last words of the article. If you did not find any of the eight former deans good, transparent and fair and the deans reflect the crowd, in other words the UF team,then it 's maybe that crowd of the Profs, who hate themselves and are feeble in fairness and transparency. The deans are nothing more or less than the mirror of the teaching community.

Best regards

Athena Stafyla

Anonymous said...

I used to work at a law school. This is all so true. One of the professors I used to work with asked for Thursdays off because that was her laundry day. One of our associate deans would complain constantly about how much money she wasn't making and would openly lament not staying in private practice (I'd be making $1 million a year by now!). Another time, some architects came in to a faculty meeting to reveal plans for the new law building. A 20-minute argument about who was going to get an office with a window and who wasn't ensued.

There are things I miss about my old job, but I do not count the faculty among them.

Anonymous said...

I'm on my seventh dean here (not law). Interestingly, the best dean here was one who made no pretense about being anything but an overpaid administrative assistant. That dean arrived promptly at 8:30 and left promptly at 5:00 and took an hour lunch from 12:00 to 1:00 on the dot. Although they were without thought and were perfunctory, every tenure and promotion and annual evaluation document and hiring document etc. etc. was filed promptly and on time. Every faculty recommendation was rubber stamped on the way up, and every decision by the president and provost was rubber stamped on the way down.

I know it sounds bad, but things actually ran more smoothly.

At another institution (again not law), I did have a once-in-a-life-time dean, a true academic who also worked from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. everyday to try to help the faculty and students. I think that person is in their late 70s now, and we'll never see anyone like that again.

Anonymous said...

Precisely when and why did the faculty take a turn for the nasty side?

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Hmm, that is hard to say "precisely." If you are familiar with law schools you know that hiring and changing the culture of the faculty is a evolving process. Given that, I would say the tipping point was in the 2000-2001 period. Of course, I saw some nasty things before then but probably just like any other law school.

Anonymous said...

What broke the camel's back in 2000-2001?

Jeffrey Harrison said...

In an evolutionary process nothing breaks the camel's back. Sure the last thing added may seem to break its back but that's only because of was already there. So, it would be inaccurate to view it in those terms.