Russell L. Weaver's blog
In a prior blog entry, I began creating the "New Dean's Guidebook" in which I articulated rules for new deans to live by. In this blog entry, I continue that effort. Recall the initial two rules:
Rule # 1: Never forget that this is all about you. Oh, sure, the law school may have been there for decades (and, perhaps, more than a century). And, sure, there may be an existing faculty which has been toiling at the school for years. But, surely, those facts are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Also, don't be distracted by quaint faculty notions regarding the importance of teaching and educating, or relating to the importance of scholarship or service. This is all about you, your career, and your self-interest. You should focus your decisions accordingly. After all, what else matters?
Rule # 2: Make sure that the faculty knows who is boss. Indeed, you should regard anyone who speaks out against you, or opposes your ideas, as committing the functional equivalent of treason. Medieval kings were not simply regarded as heads of state, but as the embodiment of the state itself, and criticism of the King was subject to punishment. Moreover, since medieval kings were regarded as having been placed there by God, criticism of the King was regarded as not only treason but as a sin against God. It is important for faculty to realize that you were divinely appointed.
So, here, is the new "guide" or "rule":
Rule # 3: Assume the worst regarding faculty motives (and impose "productivity penalties"). It's wise for a dean to assume the worst regarding faculty motives and to try to rein in faculty activities. After all, aren't faculty only out for themselves? So, one great idea is to impose "productivity penalties." If, for example, a faculty member wishes to travel to do research or give a speech, make the faculty member pay 10% of the travel expenses. Without such a penalty, there is a higher probability that faculty will abuse their travel funds by being too active in scholarly activities. The reality is that far too many schools are worried about impressing others by encouraging their faculty to write books and articles and give speeches, and they thereby succumb to the hogwash and hoopla surrounding U.S. News rankings. By imposing productivity penalties, law schools can make sure that faculty think twice before they do too much research or give too many speeches, and law schools can thereby rein in these disturbing trends toward increasing productivity and visibility.
More to come...
In a recent entry, I noted Coach Rick Pitino's "ability to inspire" and made a comparable analogy to deans. Some deans inspire their faculty, encourage them to greater heights, and help faculty bring honor and glory to their institutions. A few deans create destructive atmospheres that tend to pull their faculties down.
An interesting Pitinoism refers to the "name on the jersey." As Pitino has said more than once, he wants players who are more concerned about the name on the front of their jerseys than the names on the back of their jerseys. And, indeed, Pitino is a master at creating an atmosphere which encourages players to think about the name on the front of their jerseys. This approach results in strong team play and terrific basketball teams.
Even though Pitino made his reference in a basketball context, the reference is perhaps as apt (if not more apt) as applied deans. Indeed, every dean should ask herself whether she is more focused on the name on the front of her jersey than the one on the back. Unquestionably, decanal attitudes have a big impact on faculty attitudes. A dean that is open, collegial, supportive, communicative and encouraging is much more likely to produce a faculty that is focused on the name on the front of their jerseys. By contrast, a dean that is uncollegial, punitive, plays favorites and arbitrarily hands out rewards, encourages faculty to think about the names on the backs of their jerseys. A sick atmosphere necessarily creates sick behaviors.
Indeed, if one considers why Pitino is so successful at encouraging players to think about the names on the front of their jerseys, one keeps coming back to the superb leadership that Coach Pitino provides. If he were different, his teams would be different.
When I think of the ability to inspire, my thoughts focus on Louisville's great basketball coach, Rick Pitino. I have heard it said that Pitino can beat you with his players, then trade players with you, and beat you with your own players. Of course, part of what makes a coach like Pitino great is his ability to teach technique and his ability to strategize. Although Pitino is a great strategist (as was Louisville's prior coach, Denny Crum), equally important to Pitino's success is his ability to inspire his players. More than once when a Pitino coached team was trailing in a game, he inspired his team to victory (e.g., note Louisville's win over then # 6 Georgetown last week, and (going father back) Kentucky's astounding 31 point comeback a few years ago).
Some deans also have the gift of inspiration. Oh sure, some deans are simply place-holders who accomplish nothing, aspire to nothing, and do not inspire their colleagues. They simply want to be called "dean." Even worse, some deans have a negative impact on morale and tend to demoralize their colleagues (who, by the way, they would not regard as "colleagues"). These deans have a negative impact on their colleagues, as well as their institutions. When they leave, the faculty fully understands how the French felt when the allies liberated Paris from the Nazis. A chosen few deans are Pitinoesque in their ability to inspire their colleagues (and these deans really do regard their faculty as "colleagues"), and encourage their faculty and their schools to greater heights. In a subsequent entry I will talk about what it takes to "inspire."
The best deans leave enhanced institutions and positive feelings in their wake. In other words, they leave strong "legacies" on which their successors can build. At the University of Louisville, even though he has been dead for years, many faculty still speak with reverence regarding the deanship of James Merritt. Lots of other deans have left, or are in the process of creating, similar legacies at other institutions. Don Polden, Tom Galligan, Steve Smith, Ian Holloway, Bruce Elman could be mentioned.
What do successful deans have in common? Jim Merritt and David Partlett (formerly of Washington & Lee and now dean at Emory) provide good examples. Both individuals display (or displayed) visions for their institutions, tremendous interpersonal skills, a healthy emotional balance, respect for their colleagues, and an ability to build a working consensus among their faculties.
When I arrived at Louisville, my more senior colleagues frequently told me that Dean Merritt was never taken by surprise by a faculty vote. This was no accident. Jim regarded himself as a "first among equals," rather than as an "emperor" or a "dictator" or a "boss," and was in constant communication with his "faculty colleagues." In other words, Jim actively sought to work with his faculty to find ways to push the institution forward.
Of course, an important aspect of all successful deanships is core self-esteem. A dean who lacks self-esteem is more likely to make decisions based on personal, rather than institutional, considerations. In addition, a dean without core self-esteem is less likely to do what is right for the institution. As a result, relations with "faculty colleagues" (if, indeed, the dean regards his or her faculty as "colleagues") are likely to be strained or dysfunctional.
Dsyfunctional deans ultimately pay the price, as (unfortunately) do their law schools. In addition, they leave a tattered legacy in their wake. Instead of throwing a "going away" party when the dean steps down, the faculty throws a "gone away" party.
At the new dean's workshop, or so I'm told, the following joke was circulating at one point: A faculty member goes to the dean's secretary and demands to see the dean. The dean's secretary expresses sorrow at being the bearer of bad news, but explains that the dean died last night. The faculty member goes away, but comes back the next day demanding again to immediately see the dean. Even though the secretary is a bit preturbed at receiving the same request, especially in light of the conversation of the day before, the secretary patiently explains again that the dean has died, and that a meeting is not possible. The faculty member goes away, but returns the following day with the same request that is made somewhat more emphatically. In frustration, the secretary reminds the faculty member regarding the prior conversations, and inquires how it is possible to convey the fact that the dean has died. The faculty member responds: "Oh, I got it the first time. I just wanted to hear the good news again."
A colleague at a California law school sent me the following missive regarding his law school's experience with a narcissistic dean:
I was reading your missive on decanal values. Quite interesting! I would characterize our former dean's relationship with the faculty as adversarial. In our case, it did not have an appreciable impact on the dean's power. That may reflect poorly on us as a faculty or the downside of a private-freestanding law school that is dominated by a board of trustees selected by the person the board is supposed to oversee. My take on the experience was that it was uncomfortable, but not unbearable. The dean becomes a force opposed to change because he can't lead the faculty to agree to change. Eventually he moves on.
As I mentioned previously, the purpose of this blog is to write about issues related to deans and deaning, and I generally try to avoid writing about individual deans. However, in some instances, individuals are particularly worthy of mention. In a prior posting, I mentioned former Dean Thomas Galligan of the University of Tennessee.
Another extraordinary dean was Tom Read who may hold the modern record for deanships (five). Tom deaned at a large public law school (the University of Florida), as well as at an array of other types of institutions (Chicago Kent, Richmond, S. Texas).
Tom, who I had the great pleasure to serve under for one year on a visiting basis, used to say that a dean who took two deanships could be referred to as a "recidivist." Tom referred to himself as a "serial dean."
Tom was absolutely extraordinary for a number of reasons. First, Tom was able to inculcate in his faculty a "rising tide raises all boats" philosophy. As a result, rather than competing against each other, the faculty seemed to be working together towards a common objective. In a profession like law teaching, where individuals function in some respects so individualistically, this was an extraordinary achievement. In addition, by his enthusiasm and support, Tom enabled and encouraged faculty to perform to the best of their abilities.
During my visit, I came to understand the regard with which Tom was held, not only by his own faculty, but also the greater law school community. Tom, who attended SEALS (Southeastern Association of Law Schools meetings) as dean at Florida and Richmond, inquired whether South Texas College of Law might be able to join SEALS. My suggestion that Houston and Texas might be more Southwestern looking than Southeastern looking was met with his argument that Houston is only 90 miles from Louisiana. The long and short of it is that I presented Tom's request to SEALS' membership. Although a number of Steering Committee members had doubts about whether Houston could legitimately be defined as "Southeastern," a large majority were willing to admit STCL and the other Houston schools based on the high esteem in which they held Tom.
In his terrific article, The Seven Deadly Sins of Deaning, Dean Steven Smith identifies decanal narcissism as one of the deadliest of sins. He refers to it as one of those sins that will rot a deanship and prevent a faculty from moving forward.
In an ideal world, there will be mutual respect between a dean and his/her faculty. Indeed, the best deans find ways to encourage and promote their faculty, and help them excel. In a prior posting, I mentioned Dean Tom Galligan (now President Tom Galligan) who was formerly the dean at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Tom was one of these rare individuals who had a strong relationship with his faculty, and who actively promoted the faculty's interests.
Unfortunately, when a dean suffers from narcissism (obviously not the case with Tom Galligan), there is a significant (and likely) risk that the dean will place his own narcissistic interests above those of the institution. If that happens, the result can be deadly and the psychology of an institution can be absolutely destroyed. The self-serving narcissist dean can affect both a faculty's morale and productivity. And, if a narcissistic dean continues in office over a long period of time, the deanship can severely damage the institution.
Of course, institutionally, a narcissistic dean may come with a silver lining. In some instances, an incompetent or malevolent dean may divide a faculty and create severe schisms or divides. In a few instances, such a dean may unwittingly help to create a more cohesive faculty. The narcissistic dean may stand as a common enemy for the faculty, and may unify the faculty against that enemy (who actually might come to regard the dean as a "foreign invader" if the dean came from the outside). Under such circumstances, the dean may have the beneficial effect of healing old rifts, and this "halo" effect may continue (in the sense of improved faculty relationships) once the narcissist is gone.
In my 26 years of teaching law, I have seen a range of deans. However, almost without exception, one knows that a deanship is in trouble when the dean is no longer the leader of the institution. When a dean is a respected leader, the faculty may follow the dean in a suggested course of action simply because they respect the dean's judgment (even if they may have mild reservations). In a troubled deanship, the dean's support produces the opposite effect. Not often, but I have seen situations when the dean's support for a proposition would guarantee a number of votes against the dean's position. I believe that this is what Steve Smith meant when he said that narcissism will "rot" a deanship and prevent an institution from progressing.
As Professor Ron Krotoszynski (Washington & Lee University School of Law, but visiting at Alabama this year) said, a dean can get away with holding her faculty (individually or collectively) in contempt, but she better not show it. I might add an addendum to this sentiment: a dean might place her own personal interests ahead of the institution's interests, but she had better not reveal that bias either.
OK, ok, so the number may not be exactly seven. However, the one question that people have asked me is why I focus on decanal sins so much, particularly the "deadly sins." Aren't there decanal virtues? The simple answer is "yes."
I was thinking about titling this entry "In Praise of Tom." In general, I do not intend to write about individual deans. This blog is not about individuals, but rather is about decanal issues. But I'm going to make an exception in this case (as well as in one later blog).
The "Tom" that I'm referring to is no longer with us. No, no, he isn't dead. He has simply left the decanal and law school ranks to become a university president. But he is "gone" in the sense that we no longer have the pleasure of seeing him. Of course, the "Tom" that I'm referring to is Tom Galligan (however, I'll refer to another "Tom" in a later entry).
So, why do I link this Tom with "decanal virtues?" Galligan was an extraordinary dean because he eschewed decanal narcissism and focused on ways to promote and further his faculty and his institution. Unlike some deans, Tom realized that a law school advances through the collective efforts of its faculty and staff.
Of course, I never had the pleasure of serving under Tom. However, I sensed that his faculty held him in like regard. When the Louisville deanship came open, I remarked to a friend at Tennessee that I had my eye on Tom (who was stepping down as dean at Tennessee) as our new dean. She told me in no uncertain terms that I had better not think about taking him away from them.
Even though I did not serve under Tom, I saw his virtuous traits from my position as Executive Director of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools. Whenever I'd send out a request for panelists, I would receive an immediate response from Tom touting one of his faculty members. The net effect was that a lot more of Tom's faculty ended up on important panels than might otherwise have happened. In addition, he was unfailingly thoughtful in SEALS discussions and never allowed his ego to get in the way.
I am pleased to say that there are lots of other deans like Tom in our region. However, Tom was a pleasure to work with and is missed in the region (and, I'm sure, especially at Tennessee).
In a prior entry, I mentioned Dean Steven Smith's brilliant article, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Deaning." These are the "sins" that will "will rot a deanship. They may destroy the trust that allows a dean to function, dissipate the opportunity for the law school to make progress under a dean, or interfere with the collegial environment that supports learning and discovery."
One of the "sins" that Dean Smith identifies is "narcissism." He notes that: "Narcissism may be the mother of deadly sins. Many other sins arise when deans merge the school with their own identity. They begin to see the law school as 'all about them' or egocentrically confuse the success others achieve as their personal success. Perhaps monarchs could get by with viewing personal disloyalty as treason against the state, but deans cannot. A dean should be committed to the law school, but no matter how long a dean serves, how influential, or how good the dean is, the law school is never 'the dean's.' It has a separate identity that the dean must expect to share continuously with many others."
As David A. Strauss so cogently recognized, in his article, Persuasion, Autonomy, and Freedom of Expression, 91 Colum. L. Rev. 334, 337 (1991): "[T]yrants suppress speech because they fear it will be persuasive."
This fear explains some of the major developments in free speech history. For example, after Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1436, governments moved to suppress this new "technology" because people could use it to communicate more efficiently and effectively with each other. Prior to this invention, the people could communicate with each orally, but it was difficult to efficiently communicate with large audiences. The printing press changed the dynamic by allowing people to print multiple copies of texts and disseminate them widely.
At the same time, this "democratization" of technology struck fear into the heart of government which previously had exercised a semi-monopoly over the means of communication. In an attempt to address the potential "evils" that might result from unrestrained communication, governments enacted licensing laws (which prevented individuals from publishing without a license, and required that proposed texts be vetted through governmental censors), and England (in particular) enacted seditious libel laws (which made it a crime to criticize the government, and punished truthful communications more severely than untrue communications on the theory that they were more likely to have impact).