Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Becoming a Dean a Promotion?

This is not a commentary  on the Florida dean search except to announce my availability as a search firm for the very low price of $20,000 with a money back guarantee.

My comments are, however, inspired by comments of one of my colleagues that increasingly women and minority men are becoming deans and this is seen as a good thing. This made me wonder if becoming a dean, regardless of who you are, is really a sign of success, respect, or progress.

I do not want to paint with too broad a brush but almost every dean I have known has had no management training and little or no aspiration to become an administrator. In fact, the very word "administrator" might be scoffed at. I know of no law teaching applicant who has said he or she was interested getting into law teaching as a stepping stone to law school administration.

A very typical path is that after a few years of teaching the person finds the "life of the mind" is not his or her cup of tea. In fact, in a substantial number of instances the soon to be administrator is under performing or, even if not, has realized they made a career choice mistake. I know I felt that way in about year 15 and wanted out to do virtually anything other than being a law school administrator. No matter how you cut it, a move over to administration for more than a year or so is a career change and it is a step taken as frequently (perhaps more frequently) by those failing in the other job that it is by those succeeding. I stop short of saying it is a place to put them since they are not doing much else but sometimes this is part of the evolution.

Plus, the simple appointment to an administrative post is not  what deserves congratulations. There is no success in that. The test is what happened. Sometimes a failed dean search is  far worse that a successful search followed by a failed deanship. There are successful deanships that last five years and failures that last much longer  (although for the dean who just wants to "last" it is a personal success).

In some cases the change to administration can be a huge success. The person was made for that job. But the actual appointment can mean many things including "We can't find anyone better," or "Don't  know what else do for you." In fact, when people I have known have been asked to be administrators my initial reaction is to offer condolences, not to view it as progress. After all, don't you think most faculty select deans based on their personal self interest.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How Many Fred Fishers Will There Be?

In the academic world being labeled racist or homophobic ends a career. It does not have to be true -- the label is enough. It is ususally expressed like this: "He is insensitive to racial issues." or "He did not reach out to the LGBT community." Most of the time no facts are presented. Correct thinking people do not question these allegation once made. It is an non falsifiable allegation. 

Many years ago at UF, during a dean search, a promising candidate was nailed with the "insensitive to African Americans" label. He was stopped dead in his tracks. Further research revealed that some semester in the past at the school where is was already dean he had denied a summer grant to an unproductive faculty member. It was not an uncommon event but this time the person denied was African American and the rumor started that ended his candidacy and perhaps his administrative career.

In the latest dean search, comparable allegations were made about one of the finalists. The accusers, who police these things with great dedication,  did not have or could not present any facts but evidently they just knew. Often their faith matches  that of the fundamentalists they ridicule. I do not know if the accusations played any role in UFs decision to scuttle the search but I doubt it. Nevertheless, the cruelty of people who accuse but  have nothing else to say always amazes and saddens me. They brand people and the brand, like that on a steer, stays. (A friend likens the law school to the missing airplane and these people are the ones who broke into the cockpit. They set the agenda by virtue of the fear they generate.)

It reminds me of Fred Fisher. Most readers will not know who he is. In the McCarthy era he was a young attorney working for the firm that represented the Army in the McCarthy hearings. It was discovered that he had been a member of the National Lawyers Guild and that was all Joe McCarthy needed to label him a Communist. In response, Fisher's boss, Joe Welch spoke up with this:

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me."

 The cruelty I see by those attaching labels to people today is just as reckless and irresponsible. But there are no Joe Welches on law faculties, not a single one.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

UF Pulls Plug on Dean Search

UF paid a search firm 90K to find a new dean. Add to that the cost of flying in and taking care of 8 candidates and then additional flying in and entertaining 4 more and I think you are pushing 150K easy. And, this does not count the time spent by all involved.

After  the 4 candidates candidates visited, the faculty voted that one was unacceptable and 3 candidates were passed on  the Central Administration. Today, three and a half weeks later, according to Florida Central Administration, "we did not find one ideally suited to lead the College through a decade that will be simultaneously challenging for the profession and replete with opportunities for growth and advancement."

In the meeting at which one candidate was eliminated, the committee Chair asked if the committee was willing to risk a failed search by virtue of eliminating that candidate. That should have been a signal. Why ask unless you had a hunch and that candidate was already the favorite of the Central Administration? If he was, does that mean a 150k sham search occurred because there was always only one acceptable candidate?

This is the harshest interpretation and I do not believe it although it is possible. I do not believe it in part because the Law School seems so unimportant to the Central Administration. (Except when it wants to bribe the law school to hire someone the law school would not otherwise hire.) But why wait for 3.5 weeks if the candidates were unacceptable and no offers were made at all. In fact, one candidate in the final three reports never hearing from anyone at UF.  Not a phone call to say "we are at the final stage and will let you know." Not a phone call to say, "you are in the final three, please let us know if anything changes in your situation." Nor even a phone call to say "You are not going to be part of or final considerations." In short,  there was evidently no concern during that time that the candidate could find something else. Arrogance squared. 

At best, a shameful process. At worst a sham. If you think a 49th ranking was unsatisfactory, fasten your seat belt and put on a helmet. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Salary Laundering and Tying Arrangements

I will return to the sociology of the interesting subculture I have been examining next time but, a few blogs ago, I mentioned UF had dropped 90K on a search firm for a law dean which is a bit like hiring a search firm to find yourself. Evidently there is no end to the money pot.

The Law School determined its hiring priorities several months ago. It interviewed and hired some terrific people. But then comes the provocative and vague email:

"The Appointments Committee is pleased to announce the call-back visit of a junior lateral candidate, * * * , on Thursday, March 20th.  This position will be made  available from joint funding from the Provost and the College of Medicine.  Bob will provide additional details about how we acquired the position during his tea-time meeting in the faculty lounge at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow.  If you’re unable to attend tomorrow’s session, please feel free to  speak with * * *  or me to learn more. "In the meantime, please mark your calendars and plan to attend the office interviews and job talk on the 20th.  As always, thank you very much for your participation in our appointments efforts."

I made an email inquiry to the author of the email and asked two questions:
1. Are we looking for someone in the areas in which the candidate teaches.
2. Is this hiring based in some way on to whom the candidate is married.

The author did not respond but the dean did indicating it would all be explained at the Tea Time meeting. 

So it seems,  out of  the blue,  we are going to have another interview. And, it's not a field we were interested in but the person will be here anyway. Plus, its a "freebie" in that the University and the Med School are picking up the tab.  Let's say the tab is 100K a year and assume it really does not evolve to come out of the law school's pocket as these things often do.

Why would the University -- supposedly strapped for funds -- decide essentially on its own to hire someone for a area in which there is no need for teachers. In fact, in this area, law school enrollment is already so low that the School may have over committed to hiring in that area.  This kind of like saying to the Law School "we are buying a new super duper movie Robotics machine for you even though you do not need one." Naturally, you understand this is all hypothetical.

It's either an example of having more money than you know what to do with or, YES-SIREE-BOB, the trailing spouse issue and yet another instance of salary laundering.  Let's say the lead spouse is Phil and the trailer is Angie. So where is the equal opportunity here? Is it that everyone had an equal opportunity to hitch their wagon to Phil? Of course not. I guess Phil just gets to designate as part of his deal who else will be hired.

There are two things I do not understand about these things. First, why not give the 100K to Phil.  If he would not come here without it, then it is part of his salary. (Antitrust experts who know about the single monopoly profit response tying arrangement will understand this.)  In fact, from this angle it is  really Phil hiring Angie since it is part of his compensation that will have her name written on the check. Phil and the University have agreed to launder some of his salary through Angie. The second question is where is Angie on this? Does Angie like being a conduit for some of Phil's salary? Or if she does not see it that way, how about just getting to cut in line to get something that others who did not marry Phil will never have the opportunity to get. Doe she cut off other drivers, cut in the movie line? What's the difference? It's all a version of feeling entitled.

Now it could be that a school is out there who is really looking for someone in both fields and both are highly qualified. I've seen those cases and it can be fine. In fact, being a large school means being able to make offers to people who otherwise might not find jobs  in the same area.  But suppose the school had completely different hiring needs.

But remember this is all 100% hypothetical.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Mole or Beauty Mark? Sociology of Law Professors: Part 3

Law professors have a odd relationship with the law. For them it does not just exist but it is something to be reckoned with. Sometimes it's something to work around and sometimes it is an ally.  Take the recent dean search at my school. The search was subject to  all kinds of openness requirements -- meetings, documents, notice and so on.

When the faculty first met with the Chair of the search committee, who indicated that the initial part of the search would be conducted by an outside search firm, there were all kinds of serious and important comments about whether the law with respect to openness was being observed.

Later, though, when the candidates were revealed, virtually all faculty discussion took place privately with one member of the committee actually reassuring the faculty that their emails about the search were being deleted.  So, the law was initially a way for faculty to get their way and then something to carefully work around also the get their way.

This tendency to use the law when it helps and skirt it when it does not extends to virtually every rule. When the law school has an open position, sometimes there is a full and open search with all the required bells and whistles and sometimes someone's spouse is hired without much of anything happening.

In my state, for better or worse, we have something called "One Florida" which eliminates racial and gender preferences. For faculty, though, it's just a pesky thing --something to be worked around in order to  implement whatever preferences they have regardless of the law. If it were a matter of civil disobedience it would be one thing but it is very far from that.

I am tempted to say law professors have a love/hate relationship with the law but it is not that. With apologies to the blog of this name, it is as though the are above the law. They will decide when to adhere to it or not adhere to it and this depends on whether it is consistent with a personal agenda. In the title to this post I suggest the law to a law professor may be a mole or a beauty mark but maybe it is closer to having a big wad of gum on your shoe.  Most of the time it is a nuisance and once in awhile the extra traction helps.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Sociology of Law Professors 2: Mobbing

You may remember old movies, primarily westerns, in which the outlaw is held in a jail and the townspeople want to "string him up."  They just want to get at that sucker and hang him from the nearest knotty pine. And, in those movies, very often the outlaw innocent.

I think there probably were mobs like that back then and in more recent times clearly actions by gangs of people in the South mobbed together for "low tech" lynchings.

Law professors are way too sophisticated (at least I hope) to string anyone up and if they do I am sure the victim is strung up by his khakis from the nearest latte machine. Nevertheless, according to Ken Westhues,   academic mobbing does take place. The noose in this case, takes the form of shunning, gossip, ridicule, and bureaucratic hassles. Among the  factors likely to lead to being mobbed are: whistle blowing, not adhering to politically correct positions,  belonging to a discipline in which standards are imprecise and subjective, opposing a candidate who ends up being chair of the department [I would add to this opposing anyone for tenure who then does get tenure.] Being different in terms of  class also makes one more vulnerable according to Westhues. He also includes being different in terms of race, gender, sexual preferences but I think he veers way off course on these factors. No doubt those factors have played a role in the past and may still in a variety of ways, but in the law school context they are more likely to make you mob-proof because of the fear of being labeled racist, sexist or homophobic. In fact, those labels are often used by the mobbers.  On the other hand, being a classist is actually a very popular.

I am pretty sure I have seen mobbing efforts although not any that made much of a difference. When I have seen it, it's like a bandwagon effect. A critical mass of people begin to act like a mob but they do not constitute a mob until they are joined by follower-types who would never lead anything but are always looking for a group that will include them. After all, if you do not join the mob, you set yourself up to be mobbed. 

The one problem with the mobbing theory is that the subject of the mobbing has to care. If not, unless the mob can convince someone in authority that steps must be taken and they are taken, it is not of consequence. Of course, the failure of the mobbee to respond just riles mobbers even more. 

I think, rather than have all this stress, Law School faculty should up the level of  sophistication and engage in more dueling.