Monday, May 10, 2021

The Northwestern Law Dean search (UPDATED)

There's an alarmist, and not entirely accurate, report here.  I received an anonymous e-mail to the same effect.  I do not know who sent it, or if they were even at Northwestern.  A few points:

First, there were several faculty on the Dean search committee.  The finalists did not, however, meet the full faculty, which is unusual, but also not unheard of at other schools (including other top law schools).  Outside Deans (and Presidents and Provosts) are always hired with tenure in the appropriate unit and, more often than not, without doing a job talk.   I assume the search committee would have been tasked with making sure candidates were suitable for tenure in the law school and prepared a report to that effect.  If not, that would be a violation of normal procedures.

Second, the final candidate, Dean Hari Osofsky of Penn State-University Park, is not a "Critical Race Theory" scholar.  (There was another finalist who does work in CRT, who would have been an excellent choice too by the way.)   My impression is Professor Osofsky has been a successful and quite capable Dean, which no doubt explains why she was also a finalist for the Presidency at the University of Iowa.   (Osofsky was, by the way, previously a tenured professor at the University of Minnesota, a top 20ish law school.)

Third, after talking to a few Northwestern folks, the only "threat" I've heard of is that the Provost threatened to put the law school in receivership if the faculty torpedo the Dean search.   That's pretty autocratic behavior by the Provost, but par for the course at Northwestern, which has tended to centralize power in administrators, including Deans (recall the Van Zandt era at Northwestern Law).  (UPDATE:  A faculty member at Northwestern tells me that while someone on the search committee expressed the view that the Provost might put the law school into receivership if the Dean search were torpedoed, that view was not expressed by the Provost to the faculty.)

So a rather too secretive process, with (possible) bad behavior by the Provost, but a rather good outcome, or so it seems to this observer.  

(Faculty at Northwestern should feel free to email me corrections, but not anonymously; I will preserve the confidentiality of any communications.)

UPDATE:  A colleague elsewhere points out to me that after the police killing of George Floyd last year, Dean Osofsky solicited signatures to an open letter condemning racist violence, police brutality, and systemic racism.   That seems to me a serious violation of academic freedom:  the Dean of a law school should not be proclaiming the correct interpretation of public events (e.g., that this killing reflected racism, or was connected to something called "systemic racism"), let alone using her position to solicit support for her interpretation.

Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink