Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Hardest Job at a Law School is One Every Faculty Member Should Do

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.

 

 

 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/law_deans/2014/08/the-hardest-job-at-a-law-school-is-one-every-faculty-member-should-do.html

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Comments

Richard,

I agree that it's valuable to have faculty regularly rotating through the Associate Dean's office for the reasons you mention. The challenge, though, is that a lot of the skills and areas of knowledge required to be a successful Associate Dean are not necessarily those required to be a successful faculty member. HR compliance, budgeting, accreditation compliance, serving as chief-of-staff to the dean, scheduling, hiring/terminating employees, dealing with student issues/complaints (which can be complex and sensitive, such as Title IX investigations), and leading, managing, and supervising staff are skills that a faculty member may not necessarily have developed. Thus, for many holding the job, there's a steep learning curve. The ABA's conference for associate deans can be helpful, but it's only once every two years and doesn't focus on a lot of the nuts-and-bolts skills that I think are most critical. I have found the ABA listserv for Associate Deans to be a valuable resource. We, as an academy, should find additional ways to assist those transitioning from faculty to administration, even if they will hold that role only temporarily.

Larry Cunningham
Associate Dean, St. John's

Posted by: Larry Cunningham | Aug 27, 2014 10:57:46 AM

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