Friday, December 11, 2015

On College Presidents and Closing Law Schools

Sale[by Rick Bales]

I wanted to riff on a couple of David Yellen's recent posts, one noting the relative paucity of law school closures given recent application/enrollment declines, and the other noting the increase in the hiring of non-academic university presidents.

Regarding law school closures, I think the real question is not why more law schools haven't closed, but why more law schools haven't moved or been sold. Texas A&M's acquisition of the former Texas Wesleyan law school, discussed extensively in the most recent Journal of legal Education, shows this can be done, and at great profit to the selling institution. Among other things, I suspect that a sale would allow the selling institution to monetize the present value of much of the sold law school's endowment. More importantly, it would move law schools to parts of the country that are underserved legal education markets (and where a law school would be a valuable acquisition for a university) from parts of the country that have too many law schools relative to population and demographic trends, where the current value of a law school to a university is financially negative. Yes, there are regulatory/accreditation hurdles to overcome, and alumni will have to be assuaged, but neither are by any stretch insurmountable obstacles. 

Regarding college presidents, in my very limited experience, the most obvious academic stepping-stone to a college presidency is being a college provost. But at least at the institutions with which I am most familiar, the skill set required of a successful provost (accreditation, curriculum, acute attention to detail)  is radically different from the skill set required of the modern college president (external/alumni relations, fundraising, budgeting, big-picture vision, ability to balance the university as a business with the university as an institution of public service). Except for the last of these, all of these skills seem to align better with someone who has leadership experience in the business world -- or leadership of a relatively autonomous professional school like a law school -- than with someone who has experience as a provost. Maybe universities are looking for presidents in all the wrong places.


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