TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ron Allen on David Van Zandt's Deanship at Northwestern

Northwestern Logo Brian Leiter has a riveting interview with Ron Allen about David Van Zandt's deanship at Northwestern. Here are some excerpts:

Leiter:   David van Zandt was Dean at Northwestern for 15 years, an unusually long tenure for any law school Dean.  Van Zandt also seemed to have a  very concrete vision for what a law school should be.  How would you  describe that vision and what did you think of it?

Allen:  The vision had two parts, one of which had beneficial aspects but became harmful; the other was ill-advised from the beginning.

The first part was to increase the emphasis on producing empirical legal scholarship.  In my opinion, this was a courageous move at the time and I think fully justified.  ... However, over the years the shift in emphasis became a radicalized vision, and here is where it became harmful.  In the last five years, essentially the only hiring that could be done was of quantitative Ph.D.'s for whom a JD was irrelevant.  ... This took the law school further and further out of the mainstream of legal scholarship and also compromised the teaching function.  To compensate for the latter point, VZ created a shadow faculty of adjuncts and lecturers who reported only to him to teach hard law, which now comprise about half the teaching load at the law school.  ...

The second agenda VZ had was ill-advised from the beginning.  He wanted essentially to eliminate so far as possible faculty involvement in the affairs of the school.  He wanted to centralize all authority in the Dean's office and to eliminate any opposition to his policies.  He largely succeeded in doing this, but at great cost to the school.  Very early in his deanship, for example, he eliminated by fiat all faculty committees.  At another point, he simply started announcing new degree programs, even though the University vests the faculty with the power to create degree programs (the faculty finally stood up to him on this one).  At the end of his tenure, he put the small number of people who actually shared his radicalized vision for a law school in charge of the faculty appointments and promotion process.

In addition, he would literally sanction people who did not comply with his mandates, ranging from threatening, and perhaps carrying out the threat, to fine them (can you imagine?!) to in at least one case removing a tenured faculty person's research funds.  I do not have access to salary data, but I'm confident that it would show that those who were compliant did systematically better than those who were not, controlling for other variables.  ...

You are also aware of the denouement of this story line, which was an unjustified and indeed outrageous denial of tenure, the only rational explanation for the decision being that the person did not fit into the radicalized vision of the law school dedicated to quantitative empirical research. In a somewhat remarkable turn of events, the tenure denial galvanized some of us to devote our energies to getting it overturned, which has now occurred, and also ending or at least blunting what I referred to in an email to the faculty as the "idiosyncratic goofiness" of the VZ era.  The Faculty have come together in these efforts in a very positive and hopeful fashion.

Legal Education | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Ron Allen on David Van Zandt's Deanship at Northwestern:


But the dictatorship was rewarded with promotion to the Presidency of an important University, which tells you something about academics, doesn't it?

Posted by: mike livingston | Mar 21, 2011 3:21:33 PM

Some pigs are more equal than others.

Posted by: tax guy | Mar 21, 2011 4:53:08 PM