Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More on Houston Dean Rapoport's Resignation

Following up on Tuesday's post, Houston Dean Rapoport Resigns Following Flap Over Drop in U.S. News Rankings:  Inside Higher Ed has published Resigned Over Rankings, by Rob Capriccioso:

In 2002, the University of Houston Law Center was ranked 50th in the U.S. News & World Report annual law school rankings.

Today, it’s ranked number 70.

Some faculty members and students at the institution believe that the downward slide may have been the cause of Monday’s resignation of Nancy Rapoport, the center’s dean since 2000. Others say that notion — and the rankings themselves — are phooey.

“After six years as dean, I don’t think this is a really big deal,” says Michael A. Olivas, a law professor at Houston and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the school. “There is a shelf life for deans, you know. These rankings are definitely not how I measure the success of a dean.”

But, according to students who attended a faculty member meeting last week, some professors directly criticized the dean for the drop. While the U.S. News rankings are regularly derided by educators as poor measures of quality, many of those same educators worry about how their institutions fare....

One professor, who wished to remain anonymous, said that faculty members and student groups had been meeting regularly since the most recent rankings came out to discuss what could be done to boost them. The professor indicated that none of these meetings involved the dean.

Disclosure:  I am a big fan of Dean Rapoport, as she gave one of the best talks at our symposium last year on The Next Generation of Law School Rankings and published a particularly thoughtful paper, Eating Our Cake and Having It, Too: Why Real Change is so Difficult in Law Schools, 81 Ind. L.J. 359 (2006).  In light of the recent events, I was struck in re-reading her concluding words:

An administrator who has the best interests of her school at heart can’t afford the folly of taking things personally or of retaliating when people oppose her ideas.

What I’ve learned as part of Magellan [Houston's strategic plan], though, is that not all of my colleagues operate under the same constraints. The debates in Magellan have involved matters of deeply held principles, and there has been real heat in our discussions. In fact, on more than one occasion, one committee member’s passionate advocacy of his position took on the appearance of a personal attack....The point is that, out of honest disagreement or just pure cussedness, a faculty member can resist change and even rally his colleagues to resist change. Sometimes, that resistance is healthy for the institution. Not all change is good. But only time will tell whether resistance at a particular point in a school’s history was good or bad for the school.

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