January 15, 2013
What's Going On At SMU?
SMU Dedman School of Law Dean John Attanasio will not be renewed when his contract expires in May. As we know, deans come and go in the legal academy. This going, however, has its own controversy associated with it for a number of reasons. One is that it was the SMU’s choice rather than Dean Attanasio’s. Another is that it came out of the blue. Even Dedman’s executive board wasn’t aware of it. According to the ABA Journal, Dallas attorney and board member Leslie Ware resigned after hearing the news. He had recently donated $1 million to the law school. Two other board members are considering similar action.
The Dallas News (subscription required) reports quotes from other prominent Dallas litigators who are also upset by the news. Most reactions note that there was no explanation or justification by the University for the action. The closest there was to a reason was in the internal memo sent to Attanasio that said “it is now time for another individual to take on the leadership of the law school at SMU and to provide leadership for the challenge necessary in the current climate of legal education.”
I’ll say that university presidents and provosts are well within their rights to tinker with the administration of their law schools if they want to, and typically without any negative reaction by the ABA if past events are a guide. There are political consequences depending on the circumstances. The alumni and donor base at Dedman like Attanasio and are rising to defend him from everything I’ve read. Their pressure may prompt some explanation beyond the usual “new beginnings” BS. [MG]
First, " ... Dean Attanasio will not be renewed ..." when his contract expires? Who wrote that sentence? It makes my head hurt. [Dean Attanasio's CONTRACT will not be renewed.]
I'm a current student at the law school. I'm aware of a number of fellow students who are not fond of Attanasio. Why has always been a mystery to me. I don't know what they have against him, and I haven't bothered to ask.
Some have said the Dean was arrogant, elitist, and that he didn't acknowledge the students. (See the Above the Law story.) I haven't had much personal interaction with the Dean, but he has always been friendly and outgoing to me. He's at every tailgate party, interacting with alumni and students. He's always had a smile and greeting for me when we pass in the halls. Those aren't the acts of an elitist arrogant man. (And I'm no order of the coif / law review superstar. I KNOW I'm not getting special treatment.)
That said, rankings matter. Regardless of what you might think of them, they matter. The Dean has been around for a decade or longer, and what progress have we made during his tenure? We've fallen in the rankings while schools like Baylor have caught up to us. When I matriculated, we were ranked at 47th or 48th, and we'd been in the top 50 for quite awhile. My hope was that we'd improve. This year, we dropped out of the top-50. That hurts. Name recognition and reputation matter when looking for a job. And comparative rankings between Texas law schools matter. We're losing our competitive edge.
I'll also say this. NYU and other highly ranked law schools have permanent legal institutes and foundations dedicated to legal scholarship. This institutes and foundations influence the development of the law. They raise the status of the school and make it more relevant. We had this under Dean Storey in the Southwestern Legal Center. Anybody remember that? This Center, based at the law school, was an important influence on the development of international law in the wake of WWII. It played a major role in the spread of democratic principles, such as the rule of law, during the Cold War. Members of the bar, the bench, and academia from around the world came to the law school for institutes and seminars to learn and collaborate. There were also programs for Oil and Gas and other areas of law. Where is the Center today? Gone(or in Plano). SMU Law was the first or one of the first law schools to have a law center. Today, we're one of the few top-tier schools without one!! This needs to be addressed, and Dean Attanasio has done NOTHING, that I know of, to address it. [Law Centers almost certainly had nothing to do with Attanasio's ouster.]
I've heard that money has been an issue between the law school and the university. I've heard murmurings that the University was taking too much of our (the law school's) money. I think people have been butting heads over the funding of the law school and this might have had something to do with it, but that's all I know.
Also, while Leslie Ware might not be happy about this, other men such as Dedman and Boone apparently support the decision. Some have also pointed out that Attanasio is a ConLaw man. He's brought Justices like Ginsberg and Scalia to the law school, but that's not what the school needs. Some are suggesting that, in a city like Dallas, we need a dean with a background in business law. If you can ignore some comments by "mexmustang" there's a good discussion of the issue by people with a little more inside information here: http://ponyfans.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=65084
For more info about Dean Storey and the Southwestern Legal Center, see:
(NYU kept and built up their law center. How are they ranked today?)
(THIS IS WHAT WAS ONCE SMU LAW'S LEGAL CENTER. WE ARE NOW WITHOUT A LEGAL CENTER!)
Posted by: LegacyLawyer | Jan 18, 2013 2:19:47 PM
He was Dean for 15 years. After 15 years, I'm not sure it's all that unusual to expect change.
Posted by: Gail Daly | Jan 16, 2013 7:08:20 AM