Monday, March 27, 2006

How 'Bout Them Deans?

John A. Sebert, Consultant on Legal Education for the A.B.A., writing in Syllabus, Winter, 2006, his "From the Consultant" column, notes that the tenure of law school deans continues to lengthen, on average. From a shockingly short 4-5 year average in the late 1990's, law school deans have improved their administrative life span.

The tasks expected of law school deans changed dramatically from the 1970's and earlier until the current day. The earlier deans were much like the formula describing the Pope's status among Bishops: first among equals. They were the chair of the faculty, essentially, and did a bit of fund-raising on the side. They liaised with the University but not much happened, I think.

Suddenly, higher education, and legal education became much more challenging. The expansion days of the post-war and baby-boom were over. The classes and faculty had blossomed into many more niches than formerly and somebody had to find ways to support this enlarged list of personnel. Students expected the enlarged curriculum, and schools that did not offer lots of specialty courses felt they would be at a disadvantage in the competition for 1) students; 2) better faculty recruitment; 3) academic reputation. So they felt they could not back away from what had begun, but had to continue to build it, whether the student market was readily available. So tuition goes up, and the need for scholarship dollars, development money, donors and alumni grooming.

Poor deans! Suddenly they have all these demands. And from conflicting constituencies. The University President and other central admnistration wants fiscal prudence, but also glitz building and development work. The alumni want to hear from their dean about their school, BEFORE they are asked for money, thank you very much. The faculty think they ought to be consulted and have a say in lots of governance issues, and need some dean face time. They need to be motivated and thanked and cheered on, and associate deans just won't do. Students need to see their dean cares about them, too, and listens to their issues. They need scholarship money or they will have too much debt; they need money to help them take non-profit summer jobs and after graduation, take pro bono jobs and still pay their loans. (Nobody much cares about the dean, in all this, poor schmoes). And librarians need a LOT of money, all the time, even if we don't need the dean's ear.

Well, John Sebert is happy to tell us that deans are getting the kind of help they need to deal with this sea change in their jobs. I can't imagine, myself, why anybody would WANT a job like what I just described. Yech! But some people evidently really do. And they are getting early on-the-job training through the ABA Section on Legal Education's "New Dean's Seminar." This has been offered annually since 1993, according to Sebert's column, and by now, the majority of sitting deans have attended. The seminar gets a lot of credit from Sebert for training a new generation of more sophisticated law school deans for a much more demanding role. They are lasting longer in their positions, according to Sebert, the average law school conducts a dean search every 7.5 years.

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