Law Professors, Law School Deans, Law Schools, Vicious Infighting

More About Paul Berman’s Departure From the Deanship at GW Law School

As we reported yesterday, Dean Paul Schiff Berman is leaving the deanship at the George Washington University Law School to assume a university-wide position as GW’s “Vice Provost for Online Education and Academic Innovation.” He’s switching jobs effective January 16, 2013.

Since the news of Dean Berman’s resignation became public, we’ve heard all sorts of rumors about why he’s departing as dean of GW Law. What are the rumors — and is there any truth to them?

Here are some of the things we heard from tipsters:

“There are rumblings that the faculty didn’t like him and may have forced him out. I’d be interested in finding out what actually prompted this move.”

“[I heard] that Berman was moved into the vice provost position after receiving a no-confidence vote from the GWU Law faculty. Have you heard that?”

“I’m staff here, and the faculty voted two weeks or so ago for ‘no confidence’ re: Berman. I’m guessing they made the Vice Provost decision because they didn’t want to kick him out on his ass. Perhaps he’ll even do some good there, but most of us are relieved we won’t have to deal with him again.”

We reached out to Dean Berman for comment. Here’s what he shared with us:

Thanks for checking with me on this. No, there was no no-confidence vote of the faculty, nor do I believe any no-confidence vote, had it been attempted, would have been successful. I was pushing to innovate and change the law school to respond to the changing realities of the law market, and of course there is always some resistance to any change, but that’s simply part of the job. In the end, the chance to think about the future of education and to do it on a cross-University level was too exciting to pass up.

Paul Schiff Berman

So where did these erroneous reports of a “no confidence” vote come from? We reached out to several sources of ours, including GW faculty, and here’s what we learned.

First, as stated by Dean Berman, there was never any “no confidence” vote by the faculty. It is true that Dean Berman had some detractors on the faculty, and it is true that some of these critics were in favor of having a discussion about Dean Berman that might, at some point in the future, have resulted in a “no confidence” vote. But the dean is correct that there was no “no confidence” vote.

“The university has a whole procedure for ‘no confidence’ votes,” one source explained to us. “In this case, there was not an actual vote.”

Second, Dean Berman did try to institute changes at the law school — entirely understandable, in a market where GW undergraduates are getting warnings about law school — and some of these changes were not well-received by some faculty members. In particular, Dean Berman wanted to make certain law school staff changes that upset people. Some staffers complained about Dean Berman’s plans to their friends on the faculty, and these faculty members started organizing against the dean.

Third, some of the discord may have stemmed less from substantive disagreements and more from Dean Berman’s manner of dealing with people. This was an issue back when he was dean of Arizona State University’s law school. See, e.g., this post by ASU law grad Ruth Carter (noting that sometimes entirely reasonable actions can engender opposition if executed poorly).

As for his dealings with members of the GW law school community, “some people felt he was bossy with staff,” a source said. “There was some faculty resistance, and some of it amounted to questions about treatment of staff — whether he was pleasant with staff, had pushed them aside, or mistreated them.”

“I like him, respect him, and thought he did a very good job as dean,” this source added. “But he’s not someone who comes into a place and doesn’t do anything, which is the norm in academia. He’s hard-charging, he wants to change things, and that upset some people.”

Change can be upsetting, to be sure, but sometimes there is no choice. Defenders of the status quo in legal academia might have won this battle, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll win the war.

Legal experts warn applicants at law school fair [GW Hatchet]
Reputation Management – Learn From Others’ Mistakes [Undeniable Ruth]
Law school dean steps down, moves into provost’s cabinet [GW Hatchet]

Earlier: Change Comes To George Washington University Law School

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