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Professor Eric J. Gouvin
Western New England College School of Law
JURIST Guest Columnist

It痴 Dean Search season again.

Every year at this time dedicated law school committees beat the bushes searching for law deans. I recently led one of these hunting expeditions. When I was appointed chair of my school's Dean Search Committee I did not know where to start. I soon found that there is no standard procedure for recruiting a dean. Nevertheless, my committee and I muddled through and we found a top notch dean.

This year I am on our Faculty Personnel Committee. In a couple of days I will be in Washington representing my law school at the annual AALS faculty recruitment conference. I am struck by how different the faculty recruitment process is from the dean search process. I think it is time for the AALS to consider the creation of a dean candidate registry similar to the Faculty Appointments Register. This may sound outrageous at first, but let me share a few thoughts about the way in which dean candidate pools currently are assembled and perhaps the idea will sound more reasonable.

Ordinarily, there are two major channels for developing a pool of dean candidates: first, by advertising the position, and second by soliciting nominations from members of the academy. With advertisements, the committee is likely to reach the group of candidates that are actively seeking a deanship. In our experience, however, the applications we could trace to our advertisements produced a large amount of 渡oise relative to the number of viable candidacies. Reviewing those noisy applications consumed the time of the search committee, although, of course, some of the applications that came in were worthy of close attention.

We had much more success with nominations solicited from academics. We talked to literally hundreds of professors across the country in an attempt to assemble a highly qualified and diverse pool. We were quite successful on the highly qualified part, less so on the diverse part. Our pool was predominantly white and male despite our best efforts to reach out to all potential applicants. I understand that is true of most dean searches at most law schools. It occurs to me that the usual nomination method probably influences the composition of the applicant pool in unintended ways.

The nomination process we employed was serendipitous but not random. True randomness suggests an unbiased sample of a given population. Pools of dean search candidates, however, are not unbiased samples. Because the pool of dean candidates is drawn from nominations provided by the professional contacts of faculties which are predominantly white and male, search committees tend to get referrals to more white men, not out of intentional bias, but through association and affinity. Even when female faculty members and faculty members of color make exceptional efforts to publicize the search and recruit candidates (as ours did), the numbers of women and people of color in the pool may be disappointing.

I believe some of this systemic bias could be counterbalanced by the creation of a central registry for dean candidates. The experience with women deans might prove instructive. In 1997, fourteen law schools were headed by women deans. In that year Dean Judith Areen of Georgetown started a databank for women in legal academia who might be interested in deanships. The very next year the number of women deans increased to twenty. While the effect of the Georgetown Women Deans Databank on the total number of sitting female deans is by no means a controlled experiment, I can attest that the databank does provide an efficient way for a dean search committee to identify promising candidates. Many of the women we contacted through the database we had already heard about through other channels, but some were new leads altogether.

Of course, a central registry could never (and should never) completely replace the existing system (just as faculty hiring should not be completely dependent on the AALS faculty recruitment process). The current system of dean recruitment has several attributes that might be highly valued. First, it is confidential. For a number of good reasons, candidates might prefer to keep their candidacy in a dean search quiet. Perhaps they do not want to risk sending the message to their own dean/provost/faculty that they are unsatisfied with their current position. Another good reason for confidentiality is to avoid the 電amaged goods label that might result from being a perennial 殿lso ran in the deanship sweepstakes.

Second, the current system allows individual candidates to pursue the deanship at a particular institution without having to declare oneself as a general candidate for all available deanships. These focused candidates might actually be the best candidates in a given school痴 pool, since the all-important 吐it between the candidate and the institution is likely to be better.

Third, the current system creates a bias in favor of dean candidates that have contacts in the academy, and that may be an important selection criterion for a dean.

On the other hand, a central registry might make sense for some candidates. Some talented folks who would make excellent candidates will, for whatever reason, not get caught up in the net of referrals and nominations that a particular law school initiates. For example, our search committee set out to have personal contact with at least one person on every law faculty in the United States. Because of geography, the size of our faculty, and other factors, however, we fell short of that goal, reaching about 120 of the 180 or so accredited schools. There may have been some folks at those last 60 schools who might have been interested in us and vice versa, but we did not make the connection.

A central registry of dean candidates would be open to all applicants and would get the names of potential candidates before search committees even when the candidates are not connected to the school痴 existing 登ld boy referral network. In my mind, this attribute could make a central registry a valuable tool for identifying minority and women candidates.

Another benefit of such a registry is that it would lower the search costs for applicants. Applying for a deanship is very time consuming and demanding work. Just preparing the application letter and an appropriate CV can take many hours. Potential candidates cannot cover all the schools where they might have a viable candidacy. A registry would allow dean search committees to contact candidates they judge as promising, thereby sending a signal to candidates about which deanships are worth pursuing.

Finally, the development of a central dean candidate registry would be a small step toward standardizing the dean search process. The recruitment process employed now has very few standard features. While the steps in the process may be broadly similar, the details vary widely from school to school. The time frame for the selection process is not standardized, and competing schools sometimes find themselves second-guessing each other in an attempt to get out front for the most promising candidates.

Of course, deans are not interchangeable from one law school to the next, and the most important aspect of a search is to assess the fit between the candidates and the institution. Nevertheless, a mechanism like a central registry that promotes the identification of the possible candidates would make life a little easier for dean search committees and, to some extent, for dean candidates as well.

I hope these random musings spark some debate and maybe even a dialogue about how we should conduct dean searches. When I set out as chair of the dean search committee, I had almost no guidance. I conducted a literature search and found virtually nothing addressed to the chair of the dean search committee. Granted, some the of the articles addressed to dean candidates also provided some thoughts about what the search might entail, but those articles did not tell the search committee chair how to pull the process together or how to think through the predictable issues that would arise in a search. The one article I did find specifically devoted to the search committee was written in the early 1970's and it was a bit dated.

Because I was surprised at the lack of guidance for dean search chairs, I resolved to commit my experiences as chair to writing in an attempt to fill that void. My personal essay, Searching for a Leader: A Primer for the Dean Search Committee Chair[PDF], is available on JURIST. Of course, that essay represents only my experiences and the institutional quirks of my law school. I cannot purport to describe the 都tandard procedure for all dean searches. I offer my experience as one data point and hope other search committee chairs will add their voices to the discussion. Perhaps if the dean search process at a number of schools is made known some kind of best practice might emerge that will improve that process, for the benefit of all of us.

Eric J. Gouvin is a Professor of Law at Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts. In the academic year 2000-2001 he chaired the dean search committee for his law school. .

October 24, 2002


JURIST guest columnist Eric J. Gouvin is a Professor of Law at Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts. In the academic year 2000-2001 he chaired the dean search committee for his law school.

Professor Gouvin teaches courses in Contracts, Corporations, Corporate Finance, Secured Transactions, and Business Planning. He has written numerous articles on banking law and corporate structure, and on North American banking issues. He is currently working with Professors Phillip Blumberg and Kurt Strasser at the University of Connecticut and Professor Nicholas Georgakopoulos of Indiana University on the 2d Edition of the treatise Blumberg on Corporate Groups.

He served during 2001-2002 as a Business Organizations fellow for the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) and has been on the CALI Board of Editors for several years. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the AALS Section on Financial Institutions and Consumer Financial Services.

Professor Gouvin graduated with honors from Cornell University in 1983 and from Boston University School of Law in 1986. He holds additional degrees from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (M.P.A. 1999) and Boston University (LL.M. in American Banking Law Studies). Before becoming a law teacher, Professor Gouvin spent 5 years in the commercial and corporate departments of Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, a private law firm in Portland, Maine.

He hopes he never has to chair another dean search.