Law Dean Search


To the editors of The Crimson:

Michael G. Harpe's discussion of the selection process for Dean of the Law School in The Crimson of February 21 states with moderation a widely prevalent judgment that "a candidate who is afraid of damaging his career or embarassing himself by meeting with students, would not perform well as dean." Along with two colleagues at the Graduate School of Education. I am currently supervising a dissertation by Judith McLaughlin on search procedures, and I have for some years been a student of such procedures in selecting college and university presidents and also other top administrators. I have had the opportunity, as has Judith McLaughlin also, of interviewing participants in both more closed and more participatory procedures. It should be evident that there are many excellent candidates, well-situated where they are presently, who are not prepared to declare their candidacy. By declaring candidacy, a person is saying to the institution where the person is at the moment that he or she is thinking of leaving, which immediately damages the person's position there: "X is not loyal," "X does not think we're good enough...," etc. I have observed a number of instances where superior candidates for positions at some of our most distinguished universities have been forced to withdraw their names because there have been rumors of their candidacy. Once an institution decides to have everything in the open, many of the best potential candidates disappear.

President Derek Bok's request to students that they write him letters concerning their concerns about and candidates for the Deanship of the Law School appears to me an excellent way to invoive students, and at the same time to maintain confidentiality. I should think it was a mistake for students, with a few exceptions, not to have taken up that offer. It is cynical and defeatist on the part of students to decide not to write letters because they believe that their thoughtful and considered judgments and suggestions as to possible candidates could not be influential. One cannot know until one tries. I have observed instances where the suggestion by a student of someone who had not previously been considered made that person at once a serious candidate. A prospective member of the Bar would appear not to have a case if he or she refuses to use the opportunities made available because they are not regarded as ideal.

Mr. Harpe points to a genuine dilemma. We live at a time when there are very few capable academic administrators to meet the increased need for them in a period of retrenchment and rapid turnover (averaging from five to seven years in college and university presidencies). Choosing the best candidate would seem to require minimizing open involvement of constituencies. But the person so chosen then faces the task of securing eventual legitimation is-a-vis all those who claim a stake in the outcome. In a number of instances, those chosen would not have been chosen by faculty or students, perhaps because they did not come up the preferred academic or professional routes, but have nevertheless proven themselves by virtue of their character, their convictions, their quick intelligence, their empathy, and other desirable qualities.

It is also a mistake to assume, as many members of CORDS apparently did, that women and or minority candidates will not be considered except in open searches. In the searches I have observed over the last decade, in large universities, public and private, and in liberal arts colleges, this has not been the case. David Rlesman '31, Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus