Dean Search More Inclusive Than in Years Past

Even though President Lee C. Bollinger announced the creation of the CLS dean search committee on September 9th, discussions on how the new dean search would be conducted started months before that.  The idea of a dean search committee grew out of a study and faculty resolution from the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.  The search committee, co-chaired by Professors Richard Briffault and Robert Scott, consists of eight faculty members, an administrator, a student, an alumna and a member of the University faculty other than the Law School.  The committee hopes that the dean search will wrap up by mid-March 2014, when it plans on recommending a candidate to President Bollinger.  President Bollinger will officially select the next CLS dean before the close of the current school year.

In a break from tradition, this CLS dean search hopes to be more inclusive of various stakeholders within the Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 1.17.23 PMCLS community.  “For past dean searches, recommendations were primarily faculty-driven,” Briffault stated, “while this current dean search is the first that I know of that has included student, alumni and other university members input.”  Sarah Green, CLS ’14, the student on the search committee, decided to join the committee because she believed “that members of the search committee saw value in including a student in the room, who would bring that important perspective to this initial phase of the dean search.” She does not see her role on the committee as representing students, but rather as providing the perspective of a student.

The phases of the dean search have only been briefly outlined by the committee (see timeline box to the right). Members of the committee have already met with individual faculty members and over 50 student representatives, including members of the Student Senate executive committee, the heads of a large number of student organizations, and the editors-in-chief of ten of the law journals.  The goal of these meetings, according to Briffault, was to gather thoughts on both the search process as well as the qualities they are looking for in the next dean.  While the committee does not anticipate scheduling any more meetings with the Law School community, both Briffault and Green emphasized that if students would like to share their thoughts on the process, they should meet with any member of the committee that they feel comfortable reaching out to. Briffault also suggested that students should work with the various student organizations and Student Services to have their views shared with the committee.

Student groups have found ways to create greater student input in the dean search beyond those provided by the formal search process.  Student Senate sent a five-question survey to students: What is your class year? What is the most important quality that you would like to find in our next Dean? If you were to ask a prospective candidate for Dean one question, what would it be? What do you think is the most important role that a new Dean should serve for CLS? If given an opportunity to meet with prospective candidates in a small group (less than 20 students) format, which format would you prefer?  While the Senate Executive Board says they plan to share the results with the search committee, they told the Muckraker in an email that they do not plan to share them with the student body.

The Diversity Coalition, a committee comprised of presidents of Columbia Law’s identity groups, sent a letter to the dean search committee to communicate the values they hoped the committee would take into consideration. The letter, written by LaLSA and co-signed by the identity group presidents, urged the committee to consider why it is important to find a dean who is committed to  diversity.  June Hu, CLS ’15, president of the Columbia Law Women’s Association (CLWA) and a co-signer of the letter, said that “it would be great to have a Dean who’s aware of some of these issues and  is committed to diversifying the school, including students and faculty.”

The committee anticipates more opportunities for students and alumni to get involved next semester, when the list of finalist candidates has been created.  “Right now, the process seems very secretive, but that is only to preserve the confidentiality of candidates that are being considered, but who may not be interested or are not invited back for a more in-depth screening,” emphasized Briffault, “This is not typically the kind of job that people apply to – instead, it’s a delicate process where candidates have to be contacted and asked if they are interested.  We don’t want someone’s name to get out who didn’t even know they were being considered.”

In narrowing down the slate of candidates, Briffault and Green spoke about the qualities they are personally looking for in the new dean.  “Ultimately, I want a dean who has a well-articulated long-term vision for the school that includes faculty and curriculum development, but also considers the professional and academic interests of students,” Green described to the Muckraker.  “I would like a dean who is attuned to student interests, who sees the value in what students are thinking about and doing – what students are feeling both positively and negatively about – and who is interested in fostering a strong relationship between students and the Dean’s office.”

Briffault voiced similar qualities that he was looking for, such as “a leader, a community builder, someone who is a good administrator or shows strong capacity as an administrator, and a good scholar.  The new dean should have a high EQ [emotional quotient], an ability to interact successfully with a wide group of people and have a good understanding of the current state of legal education and how Columbia will shape and respond to this changing landscape.”


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