Paul L. Caron

Monday, March 31, 2014

President 'Crushed Hopes of Law School' by Rejecting Dean Candidates Approved by Faculty

Florida Logo (GIF)Gainesville Sun op-ed:  Failed dean search delivers a terrible blow to law school, by Michelle Jacobs (Florida):

I am a tenured full professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. I came to this institution in 1993, as both the college and the university were struggling to free themselves from the legacy of southern segregation.

Between then and now, the College of Law has experienced many tumultuous moments, particularly over diversity issues. These chaotic upheavals have rarely produced anything of value for our college. The same can be said of the current fiasco created by UF President Bernie Machen's act of failing our dean search.

An article in The Sun last week did not adequately reflect the depth of the anger and embarrassment our community is experiencing as a result of the rejection of two candidates we believed provided our college with an excellent opportunity to move forward. Machen could not give any concrete explanation for why the candidates forwarded to him, particularly University of Kentucky College of Law Dean David Brennen and former ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner, could not satisfy his criteria.

In an email sent to our faculty, he stated that he made his decision after consulting "stakeholders." These "stakeholders" could not have been anyone from our community who would have worked with the new dean. We suspect that these "stakeholders" were the individuals who tried to force Alex Acosta, dean of the Florida International University College of Law, upon our faculty.

Our faculty rejected him as unsuitable. Machen was quoted as saying he wanted a "visionary" to lead the law school. Where was his concern for visionary leadership when he reappointed our current dean six years ago, despite the fact it was clear he had absolutely no coherent vision for our college?...

Machen's decision delivers a terrible blow to our college. He has damaged our institution in the eyes of our peers throughout the country, and has now burdened any search we will conduct next year. What candidate of high quality would consider applying to be dean at UF after these shenanigans? Machen disrespected our faculty, students and staff, not only by crushing our hopes, but also by reminding us that he neither values nor understands the assets here at the College of Law.

For far too long the college has rested on laurels it achieved decades ago. We routinely squander opportunities that open the door to greatness, but this time, our college stepped up to the plate. We dared to hope and speak out loud that we could become great. But Machen was not ready. UF is not ready.

Perhaps the saddest truth is that we are now forced to admit publicly what we have only whispered among ourselves privately: this university and our college, pulled in the wake, are not capable of being more than what they were 20 years ago.

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So, the writer publicly asserts that her school is useless and irredeemable.

If this woman retains her position, we will then know that the current environment in academia is itself irredeemable. She is an employee, announcing to the world that her employer is venal and dishonest. She needs to be gone from there, and if it's as bad as she says, she should have no objection to a quick parting.

Posted by: bobby b | Apr 1, 2014 2:01:55 PM

Why hasn't Professor Jacobs updated her resume for over ten years on the UF website? I would like to see how she has helped UF become visionary.

Posted by: Brian T. | Apr 1, 2014 9:46:33 AM

Kaimi -- You raise a good question. The answer is, "No, not at all." But that she arrived as tenured faculty at that time should suggest they were no longer the Dem KKK member people of the past.

Perhaps one question that is only asked in hushed tones -- "Is the legacy of segregation and racism that we admit faculty, staff and students who really aren't up to the par set"? Which of course is the question raised in this author's piece, in a round about way -- that for her, race and sexual orientation trump finding the best academician.

Posted by: geek49203 | Apr 1, 2014 8:25:23 AM

geek49203 writes:

"" 1993, as both the college and the university were struggling to free themselves from the legacy of southern segregation."

Florida graduated its first black grad in '72, so I'm trying to ponder how 21 years after that this statement might be true."

Is the argument really that, as long as the college has graduated at least one Black graduate, the legacy of segregation is over? Because that claim seems -- well, at the very least, not unanimously agreed upon.

Posted by: Kaimi | Mar 31, 2014 8:52:15 PM

It is obvious that for Professor Jacobs the only criteria for a dean is race or sexual orientation.

Posted by: Brian T. | Mar 31, 2014 7:09:02 PM

If this letter is representative of the writing of a full professor at UF law school, I shudder to think of the dissonance from the lectern.

Posted by: Theo | Mar 31, 2014 5:58:51 PM

I must confess that I have not followed the issue at all; and only stumbled on this bit on line. So, coming to the discussion with no history, I conclude that the issue must be about race.

A safe guess in any case, since most issues in 21st century America seem to be about race; despite promises by our President that we would move past that issue, and on to more contemporary ones; such, as the return to Constitutional government.

On a historical note, the first black graduate of UF Law school was W. George Allen in 1962. To the dismay of her father, my wife signed a petition for his admittance while she was an undergraduate at UF.

Posted by: Oldflyer | Mar 31, 2014 3:02:52 PM

This leaves me completely unknowing about what actually happened and why. Rather than offering veiled accusations about the UF president's motivations what exactly were the reasons the faculty found the two candidates suitable and Acosta anathema? Cloaked references to diversity and racial history aren't helpful but are serious and powerful methods of condemnation that ought not be used without a degree of specificity. I suggest (tongue in cheek of course) that since the two people in question appear to be tax professors that they inevitably could not simultaneously be "visionaries" (hi Paul). But seriously, visionaries about what? Rather than vague assertions about poor leadership over the past six years and the need for diversity at the UF law school (and university) what is required for the UF law school to be "great"? The main analysis above seemed filled with indignation and bereft of specifics and substance.

Posted by: David | Mar 31, 2014 2:52:41 PM

In what world is being the Dean of FIU the stepping stone to being the Dean of UF? I agree with the UF faculty on this one.

Posted by: HTA | Mar 31, 2014 1:34:19 PM

" 1993, as both the college and the university were struggling to free themselves from the legacy of southern segregation."

Florida graduated its first black grad in '72, so I'm trying to ponder how 21 years after that this statement might be true. My gut tells me that this is another instance of "going Nazi" (Godwin's Law) only using painful race history. Either by the confusion it creates, or the mistrust in my gut, I immediately discount the rest to a point where reading it is a waste of my time, and writing the rest was a waste of the author's time.

Perhaps the good professor will realize that said law school is not "theirs" but rather property of the taxpayers and donors of the place. While they hold titles that say (basically) they are valued employees, they are employees none the less.

Posted by: geek49203 | Mar 31, 2014 11:57:08 AM

For some reason, law school faculty members feel free to discriminate against republicans like Acosta.

Posted by: JP | Mar 31, 2014 10:52:44 AM

The real news is that now republicans (like Acosta) are the only group that faculty members feel free to discriminate against.

Posted by: JP | Mar 31, 2014 10:44:34 AM