Dean for a Day?
I’ve never wanted to be the dean of law school. For that matter, I’ve never even wanted to teach at a law school either. I suppose that is a good thing, since no law school has ever wanted me to teach or lead by example. So much the worse for legal education, I say.
But at least I have job security. I might work crazy hours and never really get away from it all, but I don’t have to play nice with others to earn my bread.
Not like poor Jeremy Paul, who announced this year he was stepping down as dean of the University of Connecticut School of Law. He got run out of the dean's office at UConn when the school’s ratings in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings sank to 62 out of 143. Ouch. I hear the faculty chipped in to give him a collector’s edition of a poster for the 1954 film classic, On The Waterfront. It was inscribed, “I coulda been a contender.”
The Quinnipiac School of Law Dean Brad Saxton announced his resignation, too. He’s going out a winner.
I like Saxton. He’s been atop the legal heap at Quinnipiac for a decade. The school has thrived under his leadership, emerging from the obscurity of the dread “third-tier.” It’s got a long way to go to catch up to UConn, although I am not sure why. I’ve hired a bunch of Quinnipiac graduates over the past few years. They actually know the law, and they’re hungry. Saxton has turned the law school into a formidable force in legal education.
Of course, neither school is Yale. Incoming classes at Quinnipiac and UConn don’t come in vying for a spot on the United States Supreme Court.
Connecticut’s three law schools define a quirky universe of legal education. Yale has prestige and a long history. Its graduates often go on to impressive clerkships, careers in big firms and judgeships. You won’t see many Yalies darkening a courtroom door arguing cases for a living. Such quotidian dirty work is beneath them.
Quinnipiac has a chip on its shoulder. Sitting at the bottom of the status hierarchy, its students compete to earn respect. I hear the school actually flunks students. The school is on a mission to prove that its graduates can compete in any courtroom.
That leaves UConn as the middle-child of legal education in the state. Ambitious faculty can dream of a slot at Yale if only they avoid the drudgery of actually teaching the law to students who aren’t expected to go on to great things. “Just one publication, lord, oh, please, let me write my way to the top!” seems to be the silent prayer of too many faculty. Only in UConn’s legal clinics are students taught to weep a litigator’s tears.
It’s no wonder that Quinnipiac’s ratings are climbing while Uconn shimmies on down the pole.
Saxton says he’s stepping down from the deanship at Quinnipiac to return to full-time teaching, research and writing. I wish him well as he chases the law’s clouds. But I worry about him. The law school and its students owe him mightily for a job exquisitely well done. He has transformed the school into a first-rate training ground for lawyers. I hope he doesn’t get stars in his eyes. Don’t look to leave Quinnipiac for Yale, much less Uconn, dean. What glitters often is not gold.
As I write this, I am one column away from summer vacation. It’s been a long and successful year. We’ve weathered a bad economy and emerged leaner and stronger. Interesting cases keep coming my way. Most of my bills are getting paid, too. I mark the beginning and end of each year by summer vacation. So as this year ends, I look to next year and wonder what the future holds. It strikes me, suddenly, what a fine thing it would be to get a call from one of the two deanless law schools here in Connecticut. Bring me on board, folks. Let me raise a little Hell at the helm.
Just kidding, I think.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.