Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Praise of Alex Johnson

Former BigU Law Dean, now at UVa

Mr. B. is a little behind the curve. This is the first of a couple of related posts. I have no special knowledge, other than the web, of BigU's Law School, but some things that have been written by former faculty members and deans may have general applicability to the situation at BigU.

First, Brian Leitner reports:

August 22, 2007

Johnson, former Minnesota Dean, to Return to UVA Faculty

Alex Johnson (critical race theory), who served as Dean at the University of Minnesota Law School for four years, is rejoining the law faculty at the University of Virginia, which he left to become Dean at Minnesota.

Jim Chen is a prolific former law school faculty member at BigU who is now Dean at Louisville. Law school faculty are heavily into blogging. At last count there are 307 of them - you could look it up. Even OurProvost, E. Thomas Sullivan, a former law school dean, 2x, is going to start posting a blog. Jim Chen participates in numerous blogs, but the one of most interest to Mr. B. is MoneyLaw wherein he writes:

No person in legal academia has taught me more, or been more generous with his time and political capital, than Alex Johnson. He earned -- and deserved -- the fierce loyalty of his lieutenants. The name of this forum, MoneyLaw, owes its origins to long discussions we had about the careful stewardship and effective deployment of our law school's resources. Our shared passion for legal education, baseball, and the University of Minnesota defined the four years I was privileged to serve on a law faculty led by Alex Johnson.

Alex served all too briefly as dean at Minnesota. During those hundred fortnights in which he presided, however, Minnesota accomplished extraordinary things. As detailed in Virginia's press release, Alex "recruited and hired 19 faculty members to 'reinvigorate the faculty and the enterprise.'"

Even more remarkably, Alex posted this phenomenal record during a period of brutal budget cuts. The University of Minnesota slashed the law school budget on his arrival. The University and the state continued slashing, each year Alex served as dean. Alex responded by "revamp[ing] the alumni relations office" and "ramp[ing] up on our annual giving campaign." The bottom line? "We were actually able to not only cover the shortfalls, we were able to increase the budget and hire all those faculty members."

What once was allegory must now be stated explicitly:

There was a . . . dean . . . whose effective tenure was devoted to making the school's stakeholders brave and dignified and good . . . . When he left the people burst into tears in the halls and their minds wailed, "What can we do now? How can we go on without him?"

The allegory referred to is perhaps Jim's best piece on MoneyLaw, "On the Three Deans." This post is very provocative and can easily be generalized to department chairs.

There are many new hires at the BigU law school. As Alex Johnson himself has pointed out elsewhere, high turnover is the norm at law schools. Let us hope that the new crop contains people of the caliber of Jim Chen and Alex Johnson.

I see UVa law school is looking for a new dean. Hmm….

Mr. B.