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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

More on Houston Dean Rapoport's Resignation Following Drop in U.S. News Rankings

We previously have blogged Houston Dean Rapoport's resignation following controversy over the school's drop in the U.S. News rankings (here and here).  The Texas Lawyer has a very long article on the controversy, Rankings Rift Hastens UH Law Dean's Resignation, by Mark Donald:

The agenda items up for discussion at the April 7 faculty meeting at the University of Houston Law Center seemed fairly benign: honor code revisions, an update on the self-study program and a presentation on computer software that had caused some glitches during the last exam period. But there was one item within the Dean's Report that had caused more than 100 law students to cram into the small campus meeting room: the law school's marked decline in the newly released U.S. News & World Report 2007 law school rankings. Although the UH Law Center had only fallen five spots to 70th position among the magazine's "Top 100 Schools" there had been a precipitous slide of 20 slots during much of Dean Nancy Rapoport's six-year tenure....

But rather than deal with the issue that concerned the students, Rapoport proceeded with other agenda items. "I don't believe that students run faculty meetings," she says. "But it is fair to say that maybe there were other agendas at stake." Those agendas "began to dawn on her," she claims, when law professor John Mixon and other tenured faculty members began urging her to allow the students to speak. Mixon, who has served on the UH Law Center faculty for 50 years, declines to comment on the dean's resignation. "I think it is best that I not respond," he says. "I am willing to sit and let anyone comment on it as they choose." But Rapoport contends that Mixon "has been very public about his view that the rankings are very important to the school, and that it is my fault that we are not higher in the rankings."...

What did bring her to tears, she says, was the realization that only one faculty member at the meeting was willing to stand up for the dean and voice agreement with her vision for the school. "My vision has the rankings as an indicator that we are doing the right thing, rather than an end in itself, and that has bothered some folks for six years," Rapoport says. Instead, Rapoport says the meeting "became an opportunity for some folks who have not been happy for a while to do a little rallying and express disagreement with the direction I was taking the school."

Defending herself at the meeting, Rapoport says, "I turned to Mixon and said, "All of your e-mails haven't gotten rid of me.' " She would later contend that Mixon was part of a group of tenured faculty members who predated her deanship and had for years attempted to undermine her by using the rankings decline as proof that her vision for the school was misguided....

Professor Ira Shepard who teaches tax law at UH and attended the meeting says he doesn't believe he witnessed a power struggle, but rather viewed it as "an escalating confrontation between two people who very much love the law center and both want it to be the finest possible law school it can be. They may just have a different idea as to how to reach that commonly shared goal, and therein lies the problem." ...

Rapoport remains convinced that the main difference between Mixon and her is one of "pedigree vs. performance — basically, he is more focused on credentials and I am more focused on what people actually do." Mixon's e-mailed response to questions from Texas Lawyer does reflect a penchant for pedigree — certainly regarding his vision for strengthening the faculty, which he already regards as "very strong." "Specifically, our paradigm for new professors should be a recent graduate from a top-twenty law school with law review and Coif standing and federal clerking experience, preferably at the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals level . . ." Mixon writes. "[T]o regain our national position and ensure long term academic strength, we must avoid risky hiring decisions that weaken our national standing." Rapoport, on the other hand, believes that a low-risk faculty hire "isn't someone who is freshly-minted from Columbia or Yale, with a Supreme Court clerkship. The safest bet is hiring someone with a proven track record who has taught as a visiting professor somewhere and has already published articles," Rapoport says. To Mixon and others, "this is heresy."...

Even with Rapoport waiting for someone to defend her vision, at least one faculty member felt this was a futile exercise. "Nancy feels that if a group of colleagues went to [Mixon] and told him to stop being critical of her, then John would stop being critical," Shepard says. "But John cares passionately about the law school. He is not going to be deterred."

After the faculty meeting, in what might have been a last-ditch effort to heal her rift with students, Rapoport sent an April 10 e-mail to "students, faculty and staff." In the e-mail, she announced the immediate creation of a committee, "the RTF, for "Rankings Task Force' — consisting of students, faculty members, and alumni who will investigate all possible avenues and action steps that could help improve our standing in the USN&WR rankings."...

Rapoport says she never did find her defender; none amongst her faculty came forward. "I was waiting for someone to step up to the plate, but I didn't see any plate-stepping. That is when I decided to resign."

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