I would like to comment about an article found in the LA Times, California section, September 16, 2007. The article is found on the front page of that section of the newspaper. The article is titled “Law deans differ on ethics of advocacy”.
In the article the reporters interviewed a number of high profile law deans to gain any consensus at to what degree a dean of a law school should become involved in exposing and promoting a viewpoint. The article seemed well balanced but a tipping toward hibernation, I felt was the summary.
I am sure it occurs to most of us that a dean of a prestigious law school might be elevated to some ranking, a level of esteem, by the fact of title and employer name. Most any business tries to attain a good reputation in the minds of the public. Any college and university is a business and forging a good reputation is extremely important to draw in more customers and high achieving customers.
It would be obvious that any high profile employee of a business act carefully to put forth to the general public a vision of competence, relevance and propriety.
The LA times article seemed to deal with propriety but not relevance. Let us, in this argument dismiss competence as to get into the position of being a dean of a law school normally takes quite a vetting process. How does relevance insert itself into the educational process? Curriculum must be relevant; the courses taught must be grounded in reality and the necessities of civilized living. The instruction therefore must be relevant. The individuals themselves, one could put forth should be relevant. By relevant I mean significance and important to our daily lives. Some disciplines in college curriculum hug more closely relevance. Science, math, engineering, government, politics and law, my quick lists. Getting back to the classroom instruction, the teachers in those disciplines must keep up with what is new in their fields to maintain their level of expertise, and following that their relevance. I guess the LA Times article might imply that administrators do not need to exhibit their relevance to people outside the institution. On some college campuses, the deans teach one or more classes which puts a small hole in that argument. A dean is the head of the college swinging between titular to absolute. This position is an icon for all that the college represents. This person is a marketing tool, taller than most faculties working for the dean. Who better to promote the college to the outside public? A dean can spend days, months, years, giving talks before community groups but in one or two well placed news articles more people can be reached.
Colleges and universities have for years grown to promoting themselves in new and creative ways. In fact some campuses seem to spend more attention toward advertising than the core mission, education. As one goes up the ladder of administration of any campus, more and more self-promotion is required to maintain one’s job. And if an administrator can bring good press associated to the university that person will typically be well appreciated. I guess that the Irvine campus search committee might have spotted the possibility that Mr. Chemerinsky would, very quickly, bring worldwide notoriety and naturally following that, a perceived relevance of that campus law school and our society.
I hope it is obvious to us all that the world is constantly changing. We need to change with it. We need to become a better society just to survive. To become better, we need to be better informed. We need to see and understand all sides of all the issues. Our viewpoints need to be challenged by views that we do not share. Mr. Chemerinsky seems to not be shy in helping all of us see another viewpoint, which I, for one, appreciate.
Some of the opinions in the LA Times article, one might suggest, are from an older school of deans who are playing it safe, staying out of the fray of organizing public opinion. For them, they may become irrelevant and the college they represent may or may not diminish in stature as a result.