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Monday, August 24, 2015

Co-Deans Are All the Rage!

Congratulations to my colleagues Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf, whose interim co-deanship was just made permanent!

Apparently, at least a couple of other schools have jumped on the co-dean bandwagon--according to TaxProf, LSU and New Mexico have adopted this model, which was also utilized (pioneered?) at the University of Minnesota Law School. 

Having observed co-deans in action since November of 2013, most recently from my post as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, I can say that it works, or can work, fabulously.

Of course, the two individuals leading a law school have to be the right two individuals, and they have to work well together. But if those two pieces are in place, it seems that two heads really are better than one in most instances. Deaning in today's world really is a two-person job. A co-deanship allows one person to be on the road and another to be present for urgent internal matters that arise. This makes a co-deanship better for the faculty, staff, and students, who can almost always be assured that someone is in the building with authority to handle high-level issues. It also helps to avoid (or at least minimize) the exhaustion that accompanies a bruising travel schedule.

But beyond all that, I think one of the greatest advantages of the co-deanship is that each dean can bounce ideas off the other and make sure they haven't missed some major problem or concern. I imagine it can sometimes be difficult to get honest feedback from those who report to you when you are dean, and it can be lonely making multiple dean-level decisions on one's own. There is enormous upside and very little downside (assuming a good working relationship) of having a second person sign off on every major decision.

Posted by Jessie Hill on August 24, 2015 at 08:54 AM | Permalink


Not to belabor the point, and no offense, but if you "can't imagine" that any of these matters would need to be urgently attended to on a daily basis while the dean is on the road, I am guessing that you have not served as a dean in the current era.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 26, 2015 3:47:35 PM

The list you provided is really little more than the things a Dean has to deal with. I can't imagine any of them has to be done on the day or days when a Dean is on the road, which is the justification for the co-Deans. It is a demanding job no doubt, but one that a single person can and has done.

Posted by: MLS | Aug 26, 2015 10:06:53 AM


While the Associate Dean can handle many internal matters, there are many more than can only be handled by the/a Dean. To name a few:

(1) Budget and expenditures
(2) Admissions, Career Services, and Communications
(3) Personnel problems involving faculty and staff
(4) Interactions with the central university and service on university-wide committees
(5) Tenure and promotion matters
(6) Faculty and staff annual reviews
(7) Overseeing faculty and staff hiring
(8) Student matters that don't fall within the purview of the Associate Dean
(9) overseeing ABA (and U.S. news) data collection and reporting
(10) overseeing the law school's program, centers, and initiatives.

Those are just off the top of my head.

I don't know whether co-deans is a good idea per se and I'm not at a school that has co-deans. I do know that it's not "gimmicky" to think that the range of matters above, coupled with the extraordinarily large number of external relations matters that a dean handles, make it worth considering whether it is something one person can effectively do for very long these days.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 25, 2015 11:56:03 AM

To me, these co-Deanships just sound gimmicky. The only advantage really cited, one Dean on the road and one at home, describes a typical Associate Dean role. I gather multiple constituencies can be allayed with the co-Deans but it just feels a bit like a school election where all the candidates are so awesome that one just can't decide between them . . . Is this a phenomenon anywhere outside of law schools?

Posted by: MLS | Aug 25, 2015 10:10:30 AM

brad, I'm not privy to the compensation details, but my sense is that they each get something less than a full dean salary, but more than a faculty salary. They each get a faculty salary plus maybe 2/3 (I'm guessing) of the administrative supplement that a single dean would receive. As for staff size, no, it has not increased. One assistant supports both of them. We have actually reduced the number of associate deans recently, partly because having two deans allows more internal matters to be dealt with by a dean rather than having to delegate everything to an associate dean or vice dean (as might happen if the dean is constantly on the road).

Posted by: Jessie Hill | Aug 25, 2015 9:39:33 AM

In a co-dean situation do they each get compensation comparable to deans at other schools? Does having co-deans increase the associated staff size?

Posted by: brad | Aug 25, 2015 9:32:26 AM

You beat me to it, CBR, and I agree with your assessment. The big fear is what happens if they disagree, but this issue arises surprisingly rarely, if at all. Of course, you have to have two people as leaders who are willing to listen to each other, and the faculty, with an open mind.

Posted by: Jessie Hill | Aug 25, 2015 8:36:19 AM

Doug raises an interesting issue about what happens when co-deans disagree over a "major decision or initiative"--it's interesting that we really haven't seen this in the two years we've have interim co-deans at CWRU. I suspect that one of the things that makes co-deans in academia different from co-CEOs in business is that academic governance isn't really a top-down model, but relies heavily on faculty participation. While there are plenty of areas where the deans would need to make decisions without faculty input, those areas tend not to be of the "major initiative" variety. (And to Matt's question, I think the answer is "some of both"--Michael is probably on the road more, but both do take turns traveling for development, admissions, etc.).

Posted by: CBR | Aug 24, 2015 1:35:10 PM

Thanks for this post -- it's a hot topic and really raises a lot of questions for folks. You mentioned that the co-deanship allows for duties to be split up and handled more effectively. I was wondering if, from your experience, co-deans have different bailiwicks, or do they take turns on tasks? So, is one dean consistently on the road and the other at home, or do both take turns going on the road for fundraising?

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Aug 24, 2015 11:51:21 AM

What happens when co-deans who are generally of like mind disagree on some major decision or initiative and one can't persuade the other to come over to his or her side? A coin toss? A quick game of rock-paper-scissors? Maybe the answer is that the chance of such a situation is remote and whatever problems it potentially poses are outweighed by the perceived advantages of co-deaning, but co-leadership positions in business, education, and elsewhere are rare for a reason: they generally are not as effective as the traditional one-person model.

Posted by: Doug Richmond | Aug 24, 2015 9:21:53 AM

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