Thursday, February 2, 2017

Should a law school Dean be writing op-eds in support of controversial (or even uncontroversial) political appointees?

That's an issue posed by a dispute between Nancy Staudt, Dean of the law school at Washington University, St. Louis--who wrote an opinion piece in support of Andrew Puzder, Trump's nominee for Secretary of Labor, who is also an involved alum of Wash U--and Emeritus Professor Richard Kuhns, whose open letter you can read here:   Download Puzder letter Kuhns.  Professor Kuhns thinks it was inappropriate for the Dean to write this column; I am inclined to agree.  But I am curious what others think about the propriety of Dean Staudt's piece.  Signed comments only: full name and valid e-mail address.  Submit the comment only once, it may take awhile to appear.

Faculty News, Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink


Hi Brian,

University of California policy prohibits deans (and others) from making political statements in their capacity as a dean.

“In correspondence, statements, or other material relating to political activities or issues, the University title of a faculty or staff member shall be used only for identification; if such identification might reasonably be construed as implying the support, endorsement, advancement, or opposition of the University with regard to any political activity or issue, the identification shall be accompanied by an explicit statement that the individual is speaking for himself and not as a representative of the University or any of its offices or units.”

Posted by: Kevin Gerson | Feb 2, 2017 10:14:54 AM

I think saying "Dean" is insufficient, because I think the analysis is different for a state school than for a private school (such as my alma mater Washington University). Whether it was advisable in this particular instance is a separate question; the difference in context, though, limits the applicability of the University of California policy cited by Mr Gerson. (It doesn't negate it, because it's still "persuasive authority" on advisability.)

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Feb 2, 2017 12:39:55 PM

Whether it's public or private, the title "Dean" may create an impression that the statement is one supported by the faculty of the school. Unless a majority of the faculty agree that a public statement by the Dean on behalf of the school is appropriate, for example, concerning the impact of the immigration executive order on the law school or legal education, it is better for the Dean to refrain. If the faculty has not clearly expressed support for a position I think the Dean needs to have a very clear disclaimer indicating it is her opinion only.

Posted by: Bob Bohrer | Feb 3, 2017 2:20:23 PM

If the word "Dean" or "Professor" appears for "identification," we should be tolerant of such a use in connection with "political" statements. In fact, we should encourage Deans to speak out on important political matters.
What I am more concerned about is the lack of "political opinion" as stated protected bases against disrimination at universities, by the AALS, and the ABA re law schools.

BL COMMENT: Surely there's a difference between "Dean" and "Professor"? Even the federal courts recognize that there is no academic freedom protection for pontificating as an administrator.

Posted by: Professor Jordan J Paust | Feb 8, 2017 3:03:50 PM

Deans do and should have less freedom than professors to speak about political appointees but I'm inclined to let them opine if they have something to add, especially something factual. Staudt didn't. Even if someone else composed the fatuous headline, there's no substance in her editorial. Puzder "has a vested interest in creating opportunities"? He believes in hard work and open dialogue? Nobody needed to hear that.

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Feb 17, 2017 2:11:13 PM

Post a comment