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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins of Deans

I just came across a fascinating article on the "Seven Deadly Sins" of Deans. It was written by Dean Steven Smith of the independent California Western School of Law and was first published in the University of Toledo Law Review in 2004. There are so many great excerpts:
...There are, however, the more serious decanal transgressions that are not so easily forgiven or forgotten. The worst of these are deaning's Seven Deadly Sins, the wrongs that 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.
And the Seven Deadly Sins of Deaning are .....

1. Deception.
Without trust a dean cannot effectively work for long with law school constituencies.
Very true.
Touting is the practice of proclaiming that rankings are misleading, arbitrary and unreliable, and then trumpeting or calling attention to a good ranking. At best this is intellectually dishonest. Touting the ranking to alums, students or applicants, of course, implies some legitimate meaning to the rankings that deserves attention. Another example is the deans who for a few years have been explaining that one or two point differences in LSAT scores are nearly meaningless who have now suddenly started loudly touting an increase of a point or two as evidence of a significant improvement in the school.
Can Bar passage rates be touted?

2. Revenge
[R]evenge is motivated not by promoting legitimate institutional interests, but by getting even or retaliating for slights or wrongs the dean has suffered.

Revenge is a temptation for a dean because although our real power is limited, if we put our minds to it we can make life miserable for some people. Revenge inevitably looks like petty bullying and is a misuse of the limited power we do have. It is, therefore, an abuse of the trust our institutions and colleagues have placed in us.
3. Narcissism
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.....

Narcissistic deans more commonly fall into less obvious traps. They cannot delegate properly ("nobody ever does things right," that is, the way the dean would do them); cannot genuinely participate in collegial governance ("the faculty wants to tinker with my curriculum again"); and allow their personal considerations or pet projects rather than real priorities to drive the law school budget, course offerings or research grants ("what the hell, I don't want a lot of trouble from X; give him the money").

Narcissism may also cause deans to misperceive their roles. They fail to delegate to talented staff and are distrustful of legitimate governance mechanisms. These deans also become suspicious of, and therefore unable to support fully the work of effective faculty whose productivity is threatening to them. This narcissistic "misperception of role" will likely lead to perpetual and pointless skirmishes with faculty.
4. Pessimism
A dean is a leader, and successful leaders are not pessimistic. .... At the opposite extreme of pessimism is unreasonable, baseless optimism.

5. Taciturnity
A good dean must communicate effectively. ... Decanal uncommunicativeness is not always sloppiness or accidental. Sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, it is a technique. The dean is in a position to have a lot of information and, to the extent that information is power, silence is one way to preserve power (see Narcissism).....
Taciturnity is a remediable sin. A good place to start is to develop a communications plan for each constituency. The plan profitably would begin with an honest statement of the goals or reasons for communicating with the group ("keeping them informed about the law school" does not count).
I know some alumni who would appreciate a little more communication!

6. Disloyalty
Deans owe loyalty to so many groups. The dean works for the president, is employed by the university, is appointed by the provost, is paid by the students, is bound to the faculty, is at the mercy of the staff, is beholden to donors, is at the beck and call of the bench and bar and is subject to accrediting agencies. There is individual loyalty to each of these groups, of course, but they frequently have conflicting interests. How is a dean to be loyal simultaneously to so many? Serving two masters is said to be impossible. What about serving dozens of masters? The answer is that the dean’s true loyalty should be to the interest all of the groups share, the long-term goal of improving the law school. The dean’s first loyalty is to the law school as an institution, and through the school to the profession and the public.

The moments when the immediate interest of a group is not consistent with the long-term interests of the law school are times deans deserve the "big bucks" they are said to earn. True loyalty sometimes means having to say "no" to influential constituencies. Occasionally that puts a deanship at risk. The trustee/donor who wants to drop a clinic because it offends his political views, the faculty committee that wants to tenure a really nice guy who is a very bad teacher, and the university administrator who wants to invade the law school endowment–all have to be told "no" one way or another. Each will be very disappointed and may decide to get even with the dean.
7. Aimlessness
Aimlessness manifests itself in several ways, most dangerously in the absence of vision and planning. Budgeting not clearly tied to priorities is another sign. Aimlessness results in a dean’s and a school’s wandering around from one thing to another without any clear direction, and as a result, the financial, faculty, staff and other resources of the school are used inefficiently and wasted.
Commenting on this article, Professor Russell Weaver at Brandeis School of Law has some interesting observations on Deacanal Narcissism:
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..... Unfortunately, when a dean suffers from narcissism ... 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..... 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.
Hear, hear.

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