Could a K-Mart manager run your law school?

The Association of American Law Schools’ annual conference starts today. I’ll be there tomorrow and I’ll be speaking there on Saturday about law school rankings.

AALS is a giant mixer for law school deans. I don’t like to go, because I don’t like being yelled at or assaulted, but it’s a great conference. You’ve got to remember, law deans are not afraid of the American Bar Association or the Department of Education. The so-called “regulators” of legal education don’t do much actual regulating of established programs. Instead, law deans are afraid of their faculties. Law deans are afraid of law faculties the way kings are afraid of their generals.

Deans are not afraid of their students. Student happiness has nothing to do with whether law deans get to keep their jobs. I don’t expect that a new law dean will care about an impolite greeting from one of his new students. But still, if I see this guy at AALS I’m going to give him a hug….

The Indiana University Maurer School of Law has hired a new law school dean. Austen L. Parrish became the new IU law dean effective yesterday. Previously, Parrish was Dean and CEO of Southwestern Law School.

Now, Southwestern isn’t the most prestigious institution in legal academia, but everybody has to start somewhere. Alas, one IU tipster doesn’t seem too impressed with Parrish’s credentials:

WTF? IU Law School appoints new dean from the Kmart School of Law. Why would IU even open a letter from the Kmart School of Law? Seriously, a clown school with a $45,000 tuition and 60% bar pass rate is where IU Law finds its dean? IU Law seems determined to sink itself. Don’t forget that IU Law School insists on calling itself something other than IU Law School — let’s see what sounds better: IU Law School or Nobody Law School.

Man, that’s harsh.

UPDATE (12/3/2013, 12:00 p.m.): From an Indiana law student on Twitter, disagreeing with our original tipster: “That is not even close to the sentiment at IU. Everyone who attended Parrish’s open house meeting was really impressed by him.”

Well, I for one am not going to pre-judge Parrish just because he comes from Southwestern. K-Mart, as it were, has a business model that’s different from IU’s. And I don’t think hiring Parrish is an indication that IU wants to go down the K-Mart route.

What’s problematic, if anything, about the hire is the same thing that’s always wrong when schools hire new deans. The IU press release on Parrish touts his legal scholarship and his fundraising success. There’s not one mention of jobs, either Parrish’s success in finding them for his old students or his commitment to helping his new students get them. That’s not surprising. At a fundamental and institutional level, law schools still don’t think that they have a responsibility to help their students become employed. University presidents don’t look for deans with a proven track record of student job success. And deans know that their jobs and salaries aren’t in any way tied to student job success.

That’s not how they hire football coaches. If they hired football coaches to be good teachers and good fundraisers for the university, Mack Brown would still have a job. Instead, they hire football coaches to win games. And so coaches care about winning games.

There are probably people who run K-Marts who could place 80% of their students in long-term, full-time, JD-required jobs upon graduation if their own jobs depended on it. Sometimes it’s just a question of focus and the proper incentives.

Austen Parrish named dean of IU Maurer School of Law [Indiana University - Maurer School of Law (press release)]


comments sponsored by

38 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments