The process of selecting a new dean for the University’s Law School to replace the outgoing Dean Jeffrey Lehman, who is the incoming president of Cornell University, is well under way. According to members of the search advisory committee, the ball is now in Provost Paul Courant’s court. University spokeswoman Julie Peterson has said that Courant wants to have a candidate selected and pending approval by the Board of Regents by the end of June. His selection would then be subject to approval by the University Board of Regents. The process has taken on greater importance because the law school is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of its admissions policies, and the dean would have to lead the school following that decision.
As the Daily reported on Tuesday, May 27, the search advisory committee is a nine-member panel charged with the task of recommending candidates to the provost for final approval. Sources from within the committee have confirmed that three names were provided to the provost from a list of six. While the identities of the three finalists is a tightly held secret – even the candidates themselves do not seem to know who the finalists are – the list of the six candidates consists of: University Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Evan Caminker, who is popular with students for his support of the law school in the admissions suits and his close relationship with the student body; University Professor of Law Steven Croley; University Professor of Law Christina Whitman, who is a former associate dean of academic affairs; Harvard Professor of Law Randall Kennedy, who is considered the most controversial of the candidates because of his book “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” and is popular among segments of the student body for his support of diversity; Columbia Professor of Law Carol Sanger and Vanderbilt Law School Dean Kent Syverud, both Law School alums.
Law Prof. Kyle Logue chairs the selection committee. Other law professors on the committee are Sherman Clark, Rebecca Eisenberg, Phoebe Ellsworth, Clinical Professor of Law Rochelle Lento and Assistant Professor of Law Richard Primus. Dean of the School of Information John King is on the committee as well as law student and President of the Law School Student Senate Maren Norton and alumnus Ronald Olsen.
University searches to fill administrative positions have recently come under scrutiny for being excessively secretive. Because of the Open Meetings Act, the search that resulted in the selection of Lee Bollinger to become the University’s president was so transparent that regents could not even meet privately with candidates. After the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law, the process that selected University President Mary Sue Coleman was considered extremely closed. Stories of regents taking private jets around the country to meet with candidates left observers with a dirty taste in their mouths. It seems clear that the public has the right to receive information regarding the identities of finalists for a position with the power to spend millions of tax dollars.
Most students and faculty members with whom I spoke, including Prof. Clark felt that the process for selecting the new law school dean struck the right balance between the need to insulate the process so that candidates are willing to enter into it and the desire to have a fair and transparent process seeking student input. While the input of about 100 students was sought, because classes had ended by the time the list of six candidates was available, it is unclear whether rank-and-file students have had knowledge of the process, or whether student leaders and members of prominent student organizations had the unique opportunity to contribute the majority of the student input. Even though this process was indeed more open than similar efforts at other universities, it is unfortunate that the list was not made public, as this type of scrutiny can help assure quality candidates are selected and lessen feelings of distrust among the public.
Clark and a number of students with whom I spoke all said that it is important that the new dean support the law school’s admissions policies and diversity in general. As to whether there is a desire to have a woman or minority fill the position so often held by white males, there is no question that such a selection would be popular, but ability to do the job well was cited as the most important factor to take into consideration.
Chair of the University Board of Regents, Larry Deitch (D-Bloomfield Hills), had no comment on the matter, and neither current Dean Jeffrey Lehman, nor Provost Courant was available for comment. It’s all in the hands of the provost at this time, so those with opinions regarding whom he selects should contact him.
Pesick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.