Thursday, August 04, 2005

Why change is difficult in law schools


Nancy B. Rapoport, Dean of the University of Houston Law Center, has posted a typically thoughtful article, Eating Our Cake and Having It, Too: Why Real Change Is So Difficult in Law Schools, at SSRN. UH Law has been going through an elaborate strategic planning process and, like all of the 130+ law schools that are not in the "top 50," would like to be. Part of the problem is, perhaps, obvious.

Even if all of the schools in the “next 50” (from 51-100 in the rankings) were to get perfect scores on all of the objective U.S. News & World Report criteria, the rankings of the top 50 schools likely wouldn’t budge. Median GPAs of 4.0, median LSATs of 180, placement and bar passage rates of 100% would just become meaningless data points because they could no longer be used to differentiate among schools. The reputational scores would continue to assume paramount importance. As we’ve learned in our own strategic planning project, the reputational rankings are very hard to change. Changing the reputational rankings means, in part, changing faculty behavior. The quirks of governance in academia make that sort of change very, very difficult.

There is probably more variation in the governance structures of law school libraries than among law schools themselves, but much of what Nancy says is just as true of libraries:
One of the differences between academia and business is that, in business, typically the executives determine the strategic direction and develop measures designed to move the business toward that direction. In academia, very few of the strategic decisions are administrative.30 The faculty has the primary responsibility for setting admissions policy, even though the administration has the responsibility for carrying out that policy. The faculty has the primary responsibility for selecting faculty hires, even though the administration has the responsibility for sealing the deal. The faculty has the primary responsibility for setting the curriculum, even though the administration has the responsibility for ensuring that the curriculum meets ABA and university standards. The administration has no responsibility for directing the research efforts of the faculty, although it does have responsibility for ensuring that, e.g., grants are properly administered and any research on humans follows appropriate IRB protocol. The work of a law school is done primarily by its faculty; the administration keeps the school running so that the faculty can do its work.

1 comment:

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