Decanal Narcissism

This blog was originally published on Dec. 15, 2007 by Professor Russell L. Weaver

In his terrific article, The Seven Deadly Sins of Deaning, Dean Steven Smith identifies decanal narcissism as one of the deadliest of sins. He refers to it as one of those sins that will rot a deanship and prevent a faculty from moving forward.

In an ideal world, there will be mutual respect between a dean and his/her faculty. Indeed the best deans find ways to encourage and promote their faculty, and help them excel. In a prior posting, I mentioned Dean Tom Galligan (now President Tom Galligan) who was formally the dean at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Tom was one of these rare individuals who had a strong relationship with his faculty, and who actively promoted the faculty’s interests.

Unfortunately, when a dean suffers from narcissism (obviously not the case with Tom Galligan), there is a significant (and likely) risk that the dean will place his own narcissistic interests above those of the institution. If that happens, the result can be deadly and the psychology of an institution can be absolutely destroyed. The self-serving narcissist dean can affect both a faculty’s morale and productivity. And, if a narcissistic dean continues in office over a long period of time, the deanship can severely damage the institution.

Of course, institutionally, a narcissistic dean may come with a silver lining. In some instances, an incompetent or malevolent dean may divide a faculty and create severe schisms or divides. In a few instances, such a dean may unwittingly help to create¬† more cohesive faculty. The narcissistic dean may stand as a common enemy for the faculty, and may unify the faculty against that enemy (who actually might come to regard the dean as a “foreign invader” if the dean came from the outside. Under such circumstances, the dean may have the beneficial effect of healing old rifts and this “halo” effect may continue (in the sense of improved faculty relationships) once the narcissist is gone.

In my 26 years teaching law, I have seen a range of deans. However, almost without exception, one knows that a deanship is in trouble when the dean is no longer the leader of the institution. When a dean is a respected leader, the faculty may follow the dean in a suggest course of action simply because they respect the dean’s judgement (even if they may have mild reservations). In a troubled deanship, the dean’s support produces the opposite effect. Not often, but I have seen situations when the dean’s support for a proposition would guarantee a number of votes against the dean’s position. I believe that this is what Steve Smith meant when he said that narcissism will “rot” a deanship and prevent an institution from progressing.

As Professor Ron Krotoszynski (Washington & Lee University School of Law, but visiting Alabama this year) said, a dean can get away with holding her faculty (individually or collectively) in contempt, but she better not show it. I might add an addendum to this sentiment: a dean might place her own personal interests ahead of the institution’s interests, but she had better not reveal that bias either.


Deaning’s Seven Virtues

This blog was originally published on Oct. 14, 2007 by Professor Russell L. Weaver

OK, ok, so the number may not be exactly seven. However, the one question that people have asked me is why I focus on decanal sins so much, particularly the “deadly sins.” Aren’t there decanal virtues? The simple answer is “yes.”

I was thinking about titling this entry “In Praise of Tom.” In general, I do not intend to write about individual deans. This blog is not about individuals, but rather is about decanal issues. But I’m going to make an exception in this case (as well as in one later blog).

The “Tom” that I’m referring to is no longer with us. No, no, he isn’t dead. He has simply left the decanal and law school ranks to become a university president. But he is “gone” in the sense that we no longer have the pleasure of seeing him. Of course, the “Tom” that I’m referring to is Tom Galligan (however, I’ll refer to another “Tom” in a later entry).

So, why do I link this Tom with “decanal virtues?” Galligan was an extraordinary dean because he eschewed decanal narcissism and focused on ways to promote and further his faculty and his institution. Unlike some deans, Tom realized that a law school advances through the collective efforts of its faculty and staff.

Of course, I never had the pleasure of serving under Tom. However, I sensed that his faculty held him in like regard. When the Louisville deanship came open, I remarked to a friend at Tennessee that I had my eye on Tom (who was stepping down as dean at Tennessee) as our new dean. She told me in no uncertain terms that I had better not think about taking him away from them.

Even though I did not serve under Tom, I saw his virtuous traits from my position as Executive Director of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools. Whenever I’d send out a request for panelists, I would receive an immediate response from Tom touting one of his faculty members. The net effect was that a lot more of Tom’s faculty ended up on important panels than might otherwise have happened. In addition, he was unfailingly thoughtful in SEALS discussions and never allowed his ego to get in the way.

I am pleased to say that there are lots of other deans like Tom in our region. However, Tom was a pleasure to work with and is missed in the region (and, I’m sure, especially at Tennessee).

More on Deaning’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins’

This blog was originally published on Oct. 4, 2007 by Professor Russell L. Weaver

In a prior entry, I mentioned Dean Steven Smith’s brilliant article, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Deaning.” These are the “sins” that will “rot a deanship. They may destroy the trust that allows a dean to function, dissipate the opportunity for the law school to make progress under a dean, or interfere with the collegial environment that supports learning and discovery.”

One of the “sins” that Dean Smith identifies is “narcissism.” He notes that: “Narcissism may be the mother of deadly sins. Many other sins arise when deans merge the school with their own identity. They begin to see the law school as ‘all about them’ or egocentrically confuse the success others achieve as their personal success. Perhaps monarchs could get by with viewing personal disloyalty as treason against the state, but deans cannot. A dean should be committed to the law school, but no matter how long a dean serves, how influential, or how good the dean is, the law school is never ‘the dean’s.’ It has a separate identity that the dean must expect to share continuously with many others.”

Tyrants and Freedom of Expression

This blog was originally posted on Sept. 30. 2007 by Professor Russell L. Weaver

As David A. Strauss so cogently recognized in his article, “Persuasion, Autonomy, and Freedom of Expression,” 91 Colum. L. Rev. 334, 337 (1991: “[T]yrants suppress speech because they fear it will be persuasive.”

This fear explains some of the major developments in free speech history. For example, after Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1436, governments moved to suppress this new “technology” because people could use it to communicate more efficiently and effectively with each other. Prior to this invention, the people could communicate with each orally, but it was difficult to efficiently communicate with large audiences. The printing press changed the dynamic by allowing people to print multiple copies of texts and disseminate them widely.

At the same time, this “democratization” of technology struck fear into the heart of government which previously had exercised a semi-monopoly over the means of communication. In an attempt to address the potential “evils” that might result from unrestrained communication, governments enacted licensing laws (which prevented individuals from publishing without a license, and required that proposed texts be vetted through governmental censors), and England (in particular) enacted seditious libel laws (which made it a crime to criticize the government, and punished truthful communications more severely than untrue communications on the theory that they were more likely to have impact).