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.