Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Being a dean has its challenges, especially in these days of rethinking and redefining legal education, but the person with the hardest job in the law school is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
I will never forget the day that Stetson's then dean, Bruce Jacob, came to my office. I was happily enjoying the life of a soon-to-be-tenured tax professor, when Bruce asked me to serve as Associate Dean. I had no idea what the Associate Dean did, or even why Bruce and the Stetson faculty would put their faith in me, but I reluctantly accepted the position.
Over four years as Associate Dean, I learned more about the the students, my colleagues, the law school staff, and the operation of the law school than I possibly could have as a full-time faculty member. I came to especially appreciate the work of the staff members. Before I was Associate Dean, I had no idea that the law school staff works from 8-5 (or often later and on weekends), and that no event or process at the law school happens without them.
Of course, not all interactions an Associate Dean has are positive, and that is what makes the role difficult. Associate Deans typically have a direct role in hiring or firing adjunct faculty. Telling a sitting judge or prominent attorney that they will no longer be teaching at the law school is not an easy assignment. Another big part of the job is scheduling classes. It is impossible to make a class schedule that everyone is happy with, and most faculty members and students understand that. Unfortunately, the Associate Dean will hear from every student and faculty member who is not satisfied with the course offerings, time slots, or classrooms scheduled for the semester.
In fact, one of the most disappointing interactions I had in my time as Associate Dean was when a new faculty member in his first semester of teaching expressed anger at being given a 9 a.m. class. I always asked faculty what their preferences were, and this faculty member had indicated that he preferred to teach at 10 and 2. He was teaching a 1L class, and I explained that we wanted to give the students an hour between their 1L classes, so we scheduled their morning classes at 9 and 11. His response was that he was too good a teacher to teach at 9 a.m., and that I should stick an inferior teacher in that slot. It just so happened that I was teaching the same group of 1L’s a different class at 11, and I offered to switch with him so he wouldn’t have to teach at 9. One of the things I tried to do when I was Associate Dean was to put myself in the worst classroom. When the faculty member saw that my 11 a.m. class was in the least desirable classroom, he responded that he would take the 11 a.m. class, but I would have to move him out of that “sh**thy classroom.”
Maybe every faculty member should serve as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at some point in their careers. The job certainly gave me more empathy for the people I worked with and for.
Monday, August 18, 2014
As you will see the candidate involved was David Frakt, who had experience in legal education, and administration. David's email to me in April was confidential, so I could not put too many details in the April post. I am happy that he is now going completely public with what happened during his visit to Jacksonville.
UPDATE: David Frakt has posted a detailed account of his presentation at Florida Coastal on the Faculty Lounge Blog: Frakt Presentation at Florida Coastal
Sunday, August 3, 2014
The Southeastern Association (SEALS) of Law Schools Annual Meeting is underway. It started on Friday, August 1, and will run until Thursday, August 7. The program can be found at: SEALS 2014 Program
Since declining enrollments at most law schools will mean reduced faculty travel budgets, it will be even more important for faculty members to maximize the benefits, while minimizing the costs of travel. Two of the biggest conferences for law professors are SEALS and the AALS Annual Meeting, in January. If a faculty member has to choose one of these conferences, which one should they choose?
I realize that there are individual considerations that have to come into play. There are some great, specialized meetings that may be better than both SEALS and AALS for teachers and scholars in particular areas, but I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of SEALS and AALS, since they both attract a broad range of law school faculty members from around the country. While SEALS started as a meeting targeted to law schools in the southeast, it has grown every year, and now has member schools from all over the United States SEALS Member Schools. It is truly a national organization.
Registration Fee $160 $450
Annual Membership* $500 $10,000+ (based on FTE)
*This amount is paid by the law school on an annual basis to maintain membership in the organization.
SEALS Pro's and Con's:
Pro: The SEALS annual meeting is very inclusive. Every faculty member attending from my school this year is speaking on a panel, or participating in a workshop. SEALS makes a point of including at least one new scholar from each member school on a panel, every year. These newer faculty members work directly with mentors from other law schools, and receive feedback on their scholarship. AALS only recently added a program for developing scholars. Law schools derive much greater benefit when their faculty members actively participate in conferences, rather than passively attending them.
SEALS programs tend to encourage participation from the audience, and the workshop programs even depend on that participation. Attendees at SEALS typically report that the programs were interesting, and worthwhile.
SEALS is held in a relaxed, and casual environment. The networking opportunities are numerous and varied.
The conference is held at resort locations, and benefits from reduced off-season hotel rates.
Con: SEALS always lasts a full week. It is impractical for many attendees to stay for the duration of the conference. In that regard, there are almost two different sets of attendees, and some networking opportunities are lost because of the length of the program.
AALS Pro's and Con's:
Pro: AALS is the most respected of the law school annual conferences. It brings together speakers of national import, and attracts attendees from around the world. The size of the organization insures that its sections and committees have the critical mass necessary to put on programs each year. Speaking at AALS is considered an honor, and a law school benefits from having a faculty member present on a AALS panel. Attendees have multiple opportunities to network with colleagues from many different law schools.
Con: The exclusive nature of the conference means that it is often hard for new voices to be heard as speakers or panelists. One complaint that I hear, repeatedly, is that the same people appear on panels every year. I have also heard that the audience has been greatly discouraged from asking questions or participating during several of the panels. The atmosphere at AALS is much less relaxed and casual than the atmosphere at SEALS.
The conference is held in large cities, where the hotel costs tend to be high. As shown, above, the cost of membership and registration for the AALS meeting is much higher than SEALS membership and registration.
The January meeting time can make travel to and from the conference difficult.
Friday, August 1, 2014
As reported on Taxprof:
Texas Wesleyan Law alumni have filed a complaint with the ABA against Texas A&M. Their goal is to be recognized as graduates of the new Texas A&M law school, since Texas Wesleyan School of Law no longer exists. While their ABA complaint will likely go nowhere, I recommend that Texas A&M embrace the alumni of Texas Wesleyan, because they can be a huge asset to Texas A&M law school.
A&M's dilemma is not unique in Fort Worth. The law school that is now Texas A&M was originally called the DFW School of Law. The students at DFW took a big risk by going to a new law school, with no guarantee that the school would achieve accreditation. They literally helped to build the school. When Texas Wesleyan University purchased the law school for $1 (the school's value seems to have increased somewhat), the law school was told that the DFW students would have to graduate before the law school would be provisionally approved. As might be expected, this did not sit well with the students who helped start the law school. Fortunately, they were permitted to sit for the Texas Bar, because the Texas Supreme Court granted them an exception. Still, these important alumni were not happy with the way they were treated.
When Texas Wesleyan received full accreditation in 1999, the law school held a reception for those students who paved the way, and dedicated a plaque with all of their names on it. That plaque remains there today, and those alumni have been strong supporters of the law school from that point on.
Texas A&M law school will have many generations of alumni, but it has none. In many cases, the Wesleyan Law graduates have the capacity to employ new lawyers, and to make financial contributions to the law school. The upside of including them as A&M alumni seems to far outweigh any downside. They did, after all, pave the way for Texas A&M to have its new law school, and to be fully approved from the beginning.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
When I teach a tax class, I always tell my students that tax burdens follow tax benefits, and vice versa. For example, the person who enjoys economic benefit typically bears the tax burden for that benefit, and the person who bears the burden of an expense is the person who should have the benefit of an allowable tax deduction. Taxpayers get into problems when they try to enjoy benefits and avoid burdens.
It is therefore completely appropriate that Tax Prof posted a link http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/03/nlj-california.html earlier this year to Karen Sloan's NLJ article discussing a proposal by California law schools to change the US News Rankings methodology: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/home/id=120264694929/California%20Grumbling%20at%20US%20News?mcode=1202615432217&curindex=1&slreturn=20140623111507.
I have symapathy for the challenges the California law schools are facing, but their proposal seeks to allow them to keep the benefits they have enjoyed, while avoiding any burdens that accompany those benefits.
California's Legislative Analyst's Office reports that California is the ninth biggest economy in the world: http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2013/calfac/calfacts_010213.aspx#Californias_Economy
Not bad for a state that has been suffering an economic downturn. I would surmise that an analysis of rankings over the past twenty years would show that California schools have historically benefited in the rankings, simply because they are California schools. Now some of those schools seek to discount the burden of California's job market, because it appears to be a drag on those rankings.
If we separate benefits from burdens, how will that affect other law schools in other regions? Some regions of the country have LSAT/gpa medians that are lower than other regions. http://www.lsac.org/docs/default-source/research-%28lsac-resources%29/tr-12-03.pdf
The LSAC data shows that the performance of test takers from the various regions remained fairly constant across 7 testing years. Test takers in the New England region scored the highest for all testing years covered in the report. Test takers in the Southeast and South Central regions scored the lowest on average. Should US News adjust its rankings methodology to take into account those differences, as well?
Maybe we should all stop worrying about rankings, and focus on helping our students reduce their debt, and find jobs.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Declining applications have certainly made serving on a law school admissions committee a more challenging proposition, but there was another issue hanging over admission committees until Tuesday's 5th Circuit decision in Fisher http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/09/09-50822-CV2.pdf.
Most law schools agree that having a diverse student body enhances the learning environment for all students. Furthermore, ABA Standard 212(a) of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools requires that:
(a) Consistent with sound legal education policy and the Standards, a law school shall demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to providing full opportunities for the study of law and entry into the profession by members of underrepresented groups, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, and a commitment to having a student body that is diverse with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity.
To achieve greater diversity, admissions committees have been using holistic review of files. Tuesday's ruling by the 5th Circuit should help them breathe a little easier, but it probably can't hurt to have a Constitutional Law expert serving on the committee.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
This essay is by Dean Frank H. Wu, who is Chancellor & Dean of University of California Hastings College of the Law.
The other day a colleague of mine reported that at a conference she attended, people knew me. They were surprised I was still where I am, because they confided to her that I am ambitious. I have heard it before: I'm rumored to be in the running for this or under consideration for that. I have never been sure whether to take these comments as compliments.
On the one hand, I suppose someone who is thought of as ambitious likewise is thought of as successful and that by definition should be positive. Nobody achieves anything without making an effort. Even what looks like luck is rarely an accident.
On the other hand, since all but the people who have dropped out of the economy — itself a respectable choice, in my book -- possess some ambition, to be noticed for the trait suggests an abnormal quantum of it.
The problem with ambition is more often too much of it. An individual who displays overvaunting ambition generates mixed feelings. It is tedious to be around anyone who points out with any frequency above once that they have other opportunities, which highlights that the listener is more dependent on the speaker than vice versa.
The innuendo of the label "ambitious" is not that you are qualified for anything better; rather that you are eager to move on anyway. Or you are willing to use whatever means to advance your ends: Richard III will kill everyone to possess the crown.
Almost all of us, however good willed we are, wish an upstart will meet her comeuppance. Our resentment persuades us a fall may be deserved.
All the more so if you occupy a position of authority. A leader must demonstrate commitment to a community. She must belong to it.
Anyone who is deemed a flight risk is low on credibility if she claims to share in suffering during a crisis. She could simply leave.
Or perhaps her self-interest isn't quite aligned with other people's interests. Since trust is mutual, that makes it difficult to sustain the relationships that are vital.
Ambition also is perceived differently depending on identity. Some people are reminded of their place. They especially are not to reach beyond their grasp. A woman's ambition is more readily disapproved of, it seems, by other women as well as men.
I never thought it would have been possible for someone who looks like me to have been selected for my job. I used to be considered too young (and was told that explicitly), but such a problem takes care of itself. I was once briefly the youngest law school dean in the nation. It was nothing to brag about.
Yet society conspires against modesty. When I was appointed to my current role but before I knew my way around campus, I started receiving calls from headhunters. I am flattered by inquiries, but I wonder if society benefits from what they are encouraging. From the perspective of every other institution, it is rational to recruit someone already holding a similar position elsewhere: the initial screening is done, and somebody else essentially is vouching that the potential applicant is capable.
Aside from the lack of loyalty that is promoted, however, the implication is that both people and communities are fungible and interchangeable. The one is as good as the other, and there isn't any need to be concerned about compatibility. We reduce ourselves to plug-and-play components in a system. Such a regime renders it rational to be selfish.
While we might lament for the era when a person joined a company with mutual expectations of lasting employment, much has evolved since back in the day. Discrimination was normal and open until recently: not only on the basis of race and gender, but also religion, disability, and sexual orientation.
It is an improvement, if you ask me, that most of us will switch jobs more than our parents. But it is no aspiration of anyone's to mimic the lifecycle of the fruit fly — the model organism, scientist Charles W. Woodworth's drosophila melanogaster, birth to death in a laboratory in one week.
Over time for most of us, personal priorities inexorably shift. I am ambitious for my institution. I am motivated to be a better husband and better person more generally. I've had a lifelong dream to build my own house, and I'm determined to make that happen. These goals are as significant as adding another award on the CV, and I will not be tempted otherwise.
I recently was renewed for another term. I'm ecstatic. The extension is unusual. Law school deans tend to expire prematurely: the median length of service (four years) is less than the typical contract period (five years).
I remain enthusiastic, because there is much work to be done. As I consider the prospects, I see the distinction between being a good candidate for a job and being good in the job. When I was hired, I was evaluated on potential; now, I am judged by performance.
I am fine with that. From my perspective, the corollary is that I must be sure not merely that I wish to hold the job but that I want to do it on a daily basis.
As I reflect on my career, while still in what I hope to be a healthy period, I cannot deny that it took ambition to arrive where I am. But now that I am here, it is imperative that I show dedication. The greater the challenge presented by any calling, the greater the need for staying power.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
It seems that Law Schools have much greater success as defendants in law suits than they do as plaintiffs. The 6th Circuit has just ruled against Thomas Cooley in its defamation claim against Kurzon Strauss. http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/14a0139p-06.pdf
LMU Duncan was also unsuccessful in its 2011 lawsuit against the ABA.http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/dec/22/lmu-suing-american-bar-association-over-law/
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Monday, June 23, 2014
From a Mississippi College Press Release:
A graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law, Wendy Scott will make history as the first African-American to serve as dean at the Mississippi College School of Law. This summer, Scott becomes the 8th law dean at MC Law, which became part of the Christian university in 1975. Mary Libby Payne broke ground as the first woman to lead the law school, with Professor Scott now the second woman to hold that distinction.Scott will succeed Dean Jim Rosenblatt, who served as dean for 11 years.
Congratulations to Dean Scott and Mississippi College. I will look forward to working with her in Mississippi.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
One of my favorite things I get to do as dean is to call all of the students admitted to Ole Miss Law School. From the many conversations I have had, I am happy to say that the majority of students entering law school in 2014 have a really good understanding of the economics of legal education. They have done their research, and recognize that the cost of their legal education will affect their options when they graduate. They are certainly entering law school with their eyes wide open.
In that regard, the National Jurist Prelaw Magazine has published a list of the best value law schools. The story can be found at: http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/best-value-law-schools-5-private-schools-make-list
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Jocelyn Benson, who has served as interim dean of Wayne State University Law School since December 2012, has been appointed permanent dean.
According to the press release, she is the youngest woman ever to serve as dean of a law school.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Legal Education has received a great deal of bad press, so it is nice to recognize positive contributions law schools are making.
For example, Mercer Law School is a 2014 recipient of the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, given annually by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism. The Law School also received the award in 1996 for its Woodruff Curriculum, based on the "depth and excellence" of its commitment to professionalism education.
The award was given for the "Inside the Legal Profession" component of the first-year Legal Profession course developed and taught by Professor Pat Longan. This component of the course, modeled loosely on the Bravo television show "Inside the Actor's Studio," consists of a series of 45-minute live interviews of lawyers, conducted by Pat in front of the class and allowing the students an opportunity to ask questions of the interviewee.
In the letter announcing the award, the committee stated that "[T]he judges were impressed by the program design's emphasis on transcending standard practitioner testimonials with a deep and thoughtful examination of lawyer professionalism, what it means, and how it manifests itself in the day-to-day lives of working lawyers and judges."
Congratulations to Mercer, and especially Pat Longan, for this accomplishment.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) had planned to vote on June 5 whether to approve Infilaw's application to acquire the Charleston School of Law. Infilaw has decided to suspend its application, but still plans to pursue the purchase. The story can be found at:
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
The SC Commission on Higher Education (CHE) will be voting on the sale of the Charleston School of Law (CSOL) to Infilaw on Monday, May 19. The CHE is holding hearings about the matter on Friday, May 16. Interested parties in favor of the sale have represented that the CSOL faculty supports the sale, and that is simply not true.
This week, the faculty of CSOL presented two letters to the CHE. One was openly signed by tenured faculty members who felt they could not stay silent, even in the face of possible retribution for their opposition to the sale. The other was a letter from an attorney representing other members of the faculty certifying that a "super majority" of the faculty does not support a sale to Infilaw. Both letters can be found at:
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I forget most graduation speeches, but I was privileged to hear Congressman John Lewis's address to the Ole Miss law school graduates on May 10. He is truly a great American hero, and is the most inspiring speaker I have ever heard. He is also one of the nicest and most humble people I have ever met. http://news.olemiss.edu/civil-rights-leader-tells-graduates-to-use-degree-for-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-rights-leader-tells-graduates-to-use-degree-for-change#.U3Eq7PJLp8E
Who is speaking at your law school this year? Please comment with the names of your commencement speakers.
UPDATE on Speakers: NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at Syracuse University College of Law
Harold Hongju Koh, 22nd Legal Adviser to the Department of State and current Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School (and former Dean of Yale Law School). will speak at University of Denver Sturm College of Law (thanks to Dean Martin Katz)
Monday, May 12, 2014
This essay is by Dean Frank H. Wu, who is Chancellor & Dean of University of California Hastings College of the Law. This essay was previoiusly published at the Huffington Post.
In a recent report on the state of legal education, Moody's, the credit rating service, noted in passing that tuition cuts are not necessarily an effective tactic for improving enrollment. The rationale is important for people to understand.
Tuition cuts might not be all that they appear to be. The reason is virtually all institutions of higher education already discount tuition to a great extent. Almost all of them also are tuition dependent: Their operating budget comes from what students pay them.
That is the case for the highly-regarded and the not so reputable. Public institutions and those that value public service typically return a significant amount of their tuition revenue to their students in the form of need-based financial aid. Other schools that wish to recruit highly-credentialed students award scholarships on the basis of those metrics. Some of the moneys for these purposes may come from endowments, but much of it comes from what students themselves are putting into the coffers.
Whether it is meant to help many students by offering the opportunity for higher education or buy a few of them by rewarding earlier academic records, the budgetary consequence is the same. As with most other ventures, there is a difference between gross and net.
So a tuition cut may well leave many, perhaps most, individuals worse off as compared to the baseline. Here are the consequences of a cut to tuition.
Assume before it publicizes a cut, a school has a program oriented toward need-based grants. It may be giving as many as three-quarters of its students such packages. Only a quarter of them are paying the full sticker price. Three-quarters pay less; the one-quarter make that possible.
Now after a cut, that school has two choices. (We can put to the side the equivalent of money falling from the sky: alternate revenue sources. They exist, but they usually are an order of magnitude less than what would be needed to offset significant tuition decreases.)
The first option is a real cut. The school could reduce expenditures in a manner commensurate to its loss of total tuition coming in. To be pointed about what that means: Since human resources are the bulk of the budget, such a real cut means faculty, staff, or both, would have to be paid less or be laid off. Savings from the non-personnel share of the budget are not likely to be sufficient to make ends meet.
The second option is the illusion of a "cut." The school could reduce what insiders call the "discount rate" to exactly the amount that makes up for the tuition drop. Again to be pointed about what that means: Given that most students previously received generous grants, most of them end up actually paying more. The students who were not receiving grants prior are the only ones who in fact benefit.
To illustrate it with numbers, consider the simplest possible example. Suppose Acme Law School had two students (in this hypothetical, each of them stands in for hundreds who are treated identically); and a "rack rate" of $50,000 per year. Alpha, who is impoverished, receives a $10,000 grant; Bravo, who is well-to-do, receives no grant.
The real cost of attendance for a year (not including living expenses) is as follows. Alpha expends $40,000 ($50,000 tuition less a grant); Bravo, $50,000 (the stated tuition with no break).
Imagine then Acme Law School that announces a tuition cut of 10 percent or $5,000. Its new, much-praised "flat rate" is $45,000.
But the leaders of Acme Law School do not wish to affect its programs. That frames their intentions in the most positive terms. They need to maintain the same overall revenue the school was receiving from Alpha and Bravo notwithstanding the cut, which is $90,000 (the $40,000 from the former plus the $50,000 from the latter).
Accordingly, to achieve their goals, they direct that the financial aid program be zeroed out. Alpha and Bravo each pay $45,000. The school receives $90,000 as it always has. Transaction costs are lowered as a side benefit.
Look at what has happened to Alpha and Bravo. Alpha pays more than before, $45,000 instead of $40,000; Bravo pays less, $45,000 instead of $50,000. Alpha has a subsidy taken away; Bravo benefits.
Note too this is not ideological. If you object to Alpha receiving need-based financial aid to begin with, change the example to a credentials-based scholarship. So in this variation, Alpha, who has scored at the top of the range on standardized tests and been valedictorian from her undergraduate alma mater, would have been offered a $10,000 scholarship. That is eliminated with the tuition cut.
Thus, at a school that has announced a tuition cut, there must be, sooner or later, an announcement of the real cut that matches it. Absent that, the inference that can be made is that only the illusion of a cut has been presented. It is marketing, puffery, call it what you will.
The same can be said of flat-rate tuition programs more generally. It's no different than flat-rate taxation proposals. The resulting flat-rate may or may not be a better deal than varying rates, depending on a student's individual situation.
All of the above is exacerbated by the lower levels of enrollment at law schools. A school trying to balance its budget, as all of them need to do, can compensate for lower enrollment with higher tuition, or vice versa. But simultaneous downward trends on enrollment and tuition cannot be sustained without even greater real cuts to spending, financial aid, or both.
Whatever people think about the cost of higher education, it is important to understand the choices that decision makers face. Much of what looks like reform may be symbolic.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
While this is off the topic of legal education, I wanted to weigh in on the Supreme Court's decision in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, No. 12–696, slip op. at 8 (Sup. Ct. 2014).
As a southerner, and a member of a minority religion, I am used to prayer in public governmental settings. People have asked me if I am offended when a person offering the prayer or invocation prays in Jesus's name, and I am not. What bothers me is when a person in a public setting says "we pray this..." The "we" is the word that I find problematic, and the "we" is what the Supreme Court failed to understand.
At our law school graduation this coming Saturday I would never presume to speak for everyone, or even anyone else in that audience on a political issue. Why do people offering a prayer assume that they know how everyone else in a public gathering prays? Prayer is very personal, and some people exercise their First Amendment rights by choosing not to pray, at all.
While I am not a fan of prayer at public gatherings, I am happy to tolerate it (and the Supreme Court has said I must accept it) if the person praying would simply say "I pray this..." I would fully support that person's right to express their beliefs in public. I do not grant them the right, or authority, to pray for me, and neither should the Supreme Court.