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Behind the Columns

bc law dean john h. garvey

John GarveyA Dean's Job
Having been a professor is no longer enough to be a modern-day dean. Management and fundraising skills are also a must.

When I took this job in 1999 the median term for law school deans was three years. There was a time when it was longer. I have been reflecting on the reasons for the high mortality rate, and I think the principal one is this: the job is not what it used to be. Fifty years ago Boston College Law School had twelve faculty and an administrative staff of eight. Our revenue came from tuition. Law schools everywhere were cash cows for universities because they had high student-faculty ratios and did not need labs or equipment. In those days the dean’s job had fewer parts. He would teach some classes. He could maintain a fairly close personal relationship with each member of the faculty. He could assemble the entire staff around a small table. His principal financial concern was admissions. Except for a few elite schools, the students were local. Boston College drew its students from Boston and nearby towns. Its graduates pursued their careers locally.

Law school deans come from law school faculties. In the old model this was not bad preparation. A faculty member who coveted the dean’s job would have a pretty good idea from first-hand observation what it was like. He could run the place with the help of a secretary. He would already be well acquainted with the school’s other employees. I like reading the minutes of our old faculty meetings. Those from 1950 are almost quaint. The faculty met eighteen times that year and spent almost all its time approving degrees, excluding students for low marks, and voting on whether to excuse someone for missing an exam on account of illness. The chief controversy concerned “the advisability of making law-club work. . . a requirement for all students in the Law School”—an issue discussed several times but not resolved.

One big change in a dean’s job today is the shift from supervision to management. BC Law now has fifty faculty and an administrative staff of seventy-one. Day-to-day operations are guided by five associate deans, two assistant deans, and a number of directors. I wish it were otherwise, but many of my contacts with faculty and staff are at one remove.

A second big change is the focus on development and alumni relations. Our faculty and staff have grown much faster than our student body. This is true at all law schools. Faculties grow to cover the curriculum, and there is more law today than there was in 1950. Staffs grow because law schools compete for students by offering more and better services. This unbalanced growth has changed the economics of legal education. Tuition, already very high, no longer covers our costs. Today the University supports us, rather than the other way around. Our future success and prosperity will depend on our fundraising ability.

You can see how this financial imperative changes a dean’s job. My principal concern over the last six months has been the growth and reorganization of our alumni relations and development staff in Barat House. Now that that work is done I meet almost daily with our new Associate Dean for Institutional Advancement, Marianne Lord. Most weeks I am out of town for several days for alumni events or development calls. In town my schedule includes reunions; meetings of the Board of Overseers, the Law School Fund Committee, and the Alumni Council; alumni, development, and law firm events; and individual alumni visits and solicitations. This is work I enjoy a great deal. But it is quite different from the things a law professor does.

These two big changes bring others in their wake—in the way we communicate with faculty, staff, and alumni; in the division between dean and faculty of the responsibility for governance; in the complexity of relations between the Law School and the University. All these changes have radically transformed the dean’s role. He or she is no longer a senior faculty member with added prestige and responsibility. He or she is more like the CEO of a middlesized company. It’s possible to love both jobs, but it’s like baseball and violin lessons. Don’t suppose that a child who likes one will like the other as well.