Wednesday, June 17, 2015
In the business world, succession planning is imperative. Companies have gone from huge and thriving to belly-up in 1-2 years because a charismatic and highly effective leader unexpectedly left or died or became incapacitated. The problem is particularly acute when the departing leader has not been a very good delegator, so the departure leaves a particularly large vacuum at the top.
Even under the best of circumstances, it takes at least 1-2 years for an outsider hired as a CEO to learn the ropes of a new organization well enough to be as effective as her or his predecessor. My experience is that the same is true of becoming a law dean or a university president -- and that the learning curve likely will be even longer if the new dean/president has no prior experience as a dean or president. Similarly, I've seen studies suggesting that a new dean/president doesn't hit his or her fundraising peak until 4-7 years into the job. Again, this is consistent with my experience -- it takes about that long to form the kind of strong, trusting relationships that facilitate large gifts.
For these reasons, I think succession planning is as imperative in academia as it is in business. It has nothing to do with choosing my successor. Indeed, my successor may, for good reasons, be the anti-me, just as in many ways I am very different from my predecessor. But if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, or for whatever other reason had to step down unexpectedly, it's important to have someone who can step in at a moment's notice and hit the ground running. That takes planning, grooming, and a willingness to delegate significant responsibility.
Monday, June 8, 2015
I will be stepping down as dean of Ole Miss Law on June 30, and it has been interesting answering questions about my decision to return to full time teaching after five years as dean here (and thirteen years as a dean total).
I have enjoyed my time as dean here, very much, but I understand that what the school needs for the next five years is different from what it needed the last five years. As my wonderful colleague, Tucker Carrington director of the Mississippi Innocence Project put it, the job changes every five years. He said, "if you sign up for another term, you are really signing up for a completely new job."
I have often said that being a dean is like riding a bucking bronco. Eight seconds is the record. There is no need, or benefit, to staying on longer than those eight seconds, if you are lucky enough to last that long. I have been very lucky, indeed.
Friday, May 15, 2015
A majority of the faculty at the Charleston School of Law have written a letter explaining their opposition to Infilaw's purchase. The letter was published in the Charleston Post & Courier.
The faculty who signed this letter are aware that publishing it will likely cost them their jobs.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
According to the Charleston Post & Courier, the Charelston School of Law is likely closing.
Compare the fate of Charleston with that of Texas Wesleyan School of Law. Texas Wesleyan began as the DFW School of Law. DFW, like Charleston, was a for-profit law school. The difference is that the founders of DFW had a vision of a school that would last well beyond their own lifetimes. They sold their school to Texas Wesleyan University for $1. Now, that law school belongs to Texas A&M, and it is clearly a law school with a great future.
It is a very sad day for the Charleston School of Law, and a very good time for Texas A&M.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
It is sometimes stated that the typical law dean serves 2-3 years before stepping down. This is almost certainly inaccurate and may result from a misreading of the great data that Jim Rosenblatt collects. The median length of service of current sitting deans is 3 years. This does not mean, though, that this is the typical length of time a dean has served by the end of his or her term.
One way to look at this is that if every dean now serving suddenly resigned, their median length of service would be 3 years. But, despite the wishes of those who might see mass resignation as a good thing, most currently serving deans will continue to serve next year and probably longer.
Most years, there are 30-40 new deans appointed. This translates to 1/5 or 1/6 of all schools having a new dean. Therefore, the median tenure of retiring deans is probably in the 5-6 year range. Whether that median is declining is unclear, although that would not be surprising in these tough times for law schools.
Friday, May 1, 2015
[Post by Rick Bales]
Jeff Lipshaw has a terrific post over at The Legal Whiteboard in which he urges law schools to beware of decanal candidates selling themselves as fundraisers. Jeff makes the excellent point that before a dean can be a great fundraiser, the dean must ensure that s/he has a great product to sell. Here's an excerpt:
Beware the naive view of development. Beware the pitch that is just about willingness to knock on doors without linking it back to the hard work of building a distinct institution. Beware the person who thinks there's a meaningful distinction between being an "inside dean" and an "outside dean." ... Compelling value propositions take work and require huge amounts of effort within the four walls of the institution before you put them out to customers and investors. The same is true of schools.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
According to a report in the Charleston Post & Courier, Inflilaw has decided not to pursue a license from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education to purchase the Charleston School of Law at this time.
Students at the law school are naturally concerned about its future. A spokesman for the law school says that information is forthcoming after the exam period ends in early May.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
This blog post from Stephen Diamond, via Brian Leiter, nicely collects the criticism of Paul Campos's recent editorial in the New York Times on the rising cost of higher education. Rather than piling onto the criticism, I'd like to use this as an opportunity to ask a different question: at what point is a tenured faculty member's public pronouncements, professional misconduct, and/or research methodology, so outlandishly bad as to justify permanent removal of that faculty member from the university?
Academic freedom is rightly a powerful force; it protects the ability of academics to seek and speak Truth to Power. But what if a tenured astrophysicist insists -- publicly and at every possible opportunity, that the earth is flat? What if a geneticist claims to find a genetic basis for arguing that members of a certain race are inherently less intelligent than members of another race, and the geneticist's "findings" both are obviously methodologically flawed and completely ignore counter-evidence? What if a faculty member uses social media or the classroom to denigrate her university, or to make ad hominem attacks against fellow faculty members? At what point does a tenured faculty member become such an embarrassment to the institution, or become so disruptive to its educational mission, that the institution is justified in terminating the relationship?
For better or worse, many administrative matters that historically were primarily the responsibility of faculty have become the responsibility of professional administrators. Perhaps this is for the good -- shifting at least some responsibility for student admissions to administrative professionals helps ensure more consistent outcomes and frees faculty members to use their time more productively. But if faculty governance is to mean anything, it must mean the freedom to govern, not the freedom from governing.
Self-policing is difficult, uncomfortable work. No one wants to discipline or expel a colleague, and "enforcing professional norms" too often has been used as a subterfuge for excluding worthy individuals on other, less benign, bases. Perhaps for this reason much of the process of evaluating tenured faculty and holding them accountable has been either abdicated or shifted from the collective power of a college's faculty to deans, administrators, and university-level faculty bureaucracies. The unfortunate consequence is that we've largely lost the sense of colleges being a group of self-governing colleagues.
Thoughts and responses are welcome, though because of a yet-unresolved technical glitch I will have to rely on the other contributors to this Blog to approve comments.
Monday, April 6, 2015
Many of you probably saw Paul Campos's editorial in yesterday's New York Times, in which he argued that tuition in higher education is going up primarily because of administrative bloat and university administrators receiving fat-cat salaries.
Paul apparently lives on a different planet than the one I do. Dean Dad has a nice response:
Dear New York Times,
I’m writing to apply for a position as editor of your higher education coverage. Judging by Sunday’s column, “The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much,” written by law professor Paul Campos, you need one. Preferably, one who has actually been in the room when tuition increases have been proposed and discussed.
As with so much of your coverage of higher education, the column is both a failure and a mess, and the two are related.
If Campos were to draw the connection between, say, Baumol’s Cost Disease and price increases, he would have been on much more solid ground. But like community colleges, Baumol’s Cost Disease is entirely absent from his piece. I guess it doesn’t fit his preferred narrative of administrative fat cats with seven-figure salaries....
I’ve been in the room when fee increases have been discussed, debated, proposed, and approved. They’re about filling gaps. If you fail to understand those gaps and where they came from, you will fail to understand the increases.
If you hold institutional operating funding flat or worse, but increase aid to students, then you could predict that institutions would have to raise prices to students to meet increased expenses.
The piece is so sloppy and shallow that a more cynical sort would think that it got published because it confirmed someone’s preconceived notion. Some basic journalism would have debunked its argument in short order.
And yes, university administrative costs have risen over the last several years. But this is not, as far as I can tell, because of administrative bloat and fat-cat salaries. It's largely because reporting requirements have risen. Consider, for example, the proportion of law school resources that today must be devoted to complying with ABA reporting requirements and with providing disability accommodations; the same is true at the University level regarding financial aid and Title IX and a slew of other new and expanded reporting requirements. I'm not saying these reporting requirements are bad; I'm just noting that they are not free.
Monday, March 30, 2015
This is a volatile time in terms of bar admissions. Some states have added subjects to the bar exam (a terrible idea, in my opinion). Some have or will raise passing scores. In Illinois, most of the deans were recently able to convince the Supreme Court to significantly scale back such a plan. A few have considered Wisconsin-style diploma privileges (as a dean I am too biased in favor of this to comment objectively; it does seem odd to limit this option to graduates of law schools within the state - are graduates of Marquette and Wisconsin really more prepared to practice there than graduates of Loyola or Northwestern?). Others, led by New York, have added, or are considering, a pro bono/public service requirement prior to admission (well meaning, but almost completely unrelated to competence to practice law; why not impose that requirement on experienced lawyers first?). Still others, starting with California, are moving towards experiential learning requirements beyond those in the ABA Standards (quite defensible, although burdensome to law schools and threatening to a national standard of legal education requirements). Meanwhile, this past summer saw a significant drop in bar pass rates around the country, reflecting, depending on your point of view, either a flawed examination or the results of declining admissions standards.
It seems like a good time for modernizing bar admissions. The Uniform Bar Examination is worth serious consideration, as are recent innovations in Arizona and New Hampshire. More effort should be made to test competence to practice law rather than the ability to do well on something that is a mix between a law school essay exam and a standardized test. Bar associations that have been quick to establish law school-bashing task forces, should convene state-wide dialogues on this important topic.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Charleston Law board members, and former federal magistrates Robert Carr and George Kosko, have made public statements that they would rather have the law school close, than approve board member Ed Westbrook's plan. Westbrook has formed a nonprofit corporation to run the school, which he says would provide a viable alternative to selling it to the for-profit InfiLaw System. A majority of the original five member board had always planned to transition the school to a nonprofit model, once it was firmly established. Unfortunately, two board members retired, and Carr and Kosko saw the school as a road to personal wealth.
It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Carr and Kosko are putting their interests ahead of the students, faculty, staff, alumni and Charleston legal community. Despite the prohibitions found in Canon 4A of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Magistrates Carr and Kosko were governing board members of CSOL, and they spent several hours of the day at the school. Neither Carr, nor Kosko contributed money to the founding of the school. Instead, they each signed a $400,000 note to repay Ed Westbrook from the revenue of the law school. Westbrook is the only board member who actually funded the school in its start-up years.
The plans put forth by the five law school founders showed that repayment was expected to take place over a five year period. The initial entering class was projected to be 125 full-time students. Instead, the school was able to enroll 135 full-time students and 65 evening students. The board had not planned to include an evening program, but the associate dean of admission convinced them that there was pent-up demand for a limited evening program. The faculty were enthusiastic about teaching in the evening program. The median LSAT for this inaugural class (including the evening students) was a respectable 151. The result would be that the school earned enough money in two years, rather than the projected five, to cover the notes of Carr and Kosko. From that point on, they had no risk.
Irrespective of the fact that they had acquired their interests in the law school by leveraging student tuition dollars, and the dedicated work of faculty and staff, Carr and Kosko regularly referred to the law school as belonging to them. George Kosko,who was not renewed as a magistrate after his first eight-year term, frequently bullied faculty and staff members. He has now turned towards Ed Westbrook, and the remaining faculty, because they have fought the sale to Infilaw. It is unconscionable that CSOL is offering buy-outs, when Carr and Kosko have each withdrawn in excess of $5 million from the school over the last 3 years.
Oaths of admission to many state bars state that the lawyer will not "delay anyone's cause for lucre or malice." The mess at the Charleston School of Law can almost completely be attributed to two board members, who are the embodiment of lucre and malice.
More to come on this story.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Two weeks ago, I announced that I would be stepping down from the deanship at Ole Miss Law.
I have enjoyed being dean at Ole Miss, very much, and am really pleased that my wonderful colleague Debbie Bell has agreed to serve as interim dean.
I have been fortunate to serve as a dean at three very different institutions, and am grateful to each of those institutions. My experience at Ole Miss was enhanced greatly by the professionalism and strength of the senior administration we have at our university. This is a difficult time for law schools, and having a Provost who understands that makes a huge difference in a dean's day-to-day. The Provost here, Dr. Morris Stocks, has been simply great to work with. Not many deans publicly thank their Provosts, after they step down, so I wanted to make sure I thanked Morris in this very public way.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
At an informal lunch at AALS last January, the topic turned to LL.M. programs at a group of professors’ respective schools. Five or six faculty members chimed in – faculty members from across the spectrum of U.S. law schools – and every one of them said some variation on the theme that their school’s LL.M. program was explicitly designed to be a cash cow – to bring in wealthy foreign students, get them to pay full sticker price, plug them into existing J.D. courses (i.e., no additional curricular expenditure), implement an explicit two-tier grading system (i.e., all LL.M. students receive high grades), and pass the LL.M. students so that they can either sit for an American bar exam or return home with a new and presumably valuable credential.
Surely not all American LL.M. programs fit this model. The one at my own law school doesn’t – our LL.M. program in democratic governance and rule of law is designed for students in transitional states, they have a mostly independent curriculum, we explicitly require them to return home to practice government-reform or NGO work for at least two years after graduation, and it's a net money-loser to our institution (though we more than make up for it in goodwill and international diversity). But if even a significant number of American LL.M. programs are diploma mills or cash cows, doesn’t that devalue the legitimate programs? How are foreign prospective students expected to be able to discern the difference?
Currently, LL.M. programs are virtually unregulated. The ABA/AALS looks at them only to the extent that they do no harm to the J.D. programs; the converse is not part of the consideration. Maybe it should be.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Much as I despise the USNWR ranking system, I’m a bit surprised that we deans (and associate deans) don’t use our relatively outsized influence as voters in the peer-assessment component of the ranking to police our own ranks.
When a school subsidizes the employment of large numbers of graduates for nine months and a day after graduation, or a quarter of its second-year class is comprised of students who it rejected for admission as first-year students, it’s obvious that the school is playing games to artificially inflate its employment outcomes and student selectivity and ultimately its USNWR ranking. In my mind, this is unethical, because it actively seeks to mislead consumers (prospective students and employers of current students) who may not understand the numbers-manipulation that is occurring behind the curtain. It’s also, I believe, a sure sign of structural weakness – if a school has to play games to maintain its employment statistics or entering-student credentials, the school is masking significant underlying problems.
I'm not against transfers per se -- there are legitimate reasons for students to transfer, and in an open market they should be free to do so. Likewise, I have no problem with incubator projects or a law school hiring an odd recent graduate or two to help with admissions or the like. These are not the manipulations I'm objecting to.
I am not, by any stretch, a fan of the USNWR rankings. Many law deans boycott the annual survey, or at least say they do, for good reason. But for those who do fill the survey out, perhaps it makes sense next year to consider using the survey to significantly penalize the law schools who are manipulating their numbers and misleading consumers. Forcing schools to pay a price for their misbehavior seems the best way to stop it.
Over at The Faculty Lounge, Al Brophy asks, "Is US News Still Relevant?". One thing that caught my eye in the new rankings is that far fewer opinion survey recipients seem to be responding. Over the past decade, an average of 67% of the academics receiving the US News survey filled it out. This year, that number was down to 58%. Among judges and lawyers, the average response rate over that time period has been 22%. Several years ago, US News started using two years of the judge/lawyer responses each time, probably in recognition of the low response rate. This year, US News did not even publish that response rate. And, they moved to a 3-year average. This strongly suggests that the response rate dropped significantly.
What does it mean that more people than ever are throwing out the US News survey? My guess is that the ongoing crisis in legal education makes it easier to recognize that the annual horse race-like results of the rankings are far less important than lots of other things going on in legal education.