Faculty weigh in on dean search, candidates
Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.
This isn't University of Florida law professor Michael Wolf's first rodeo -- if by rodeo you mean the complicated process of vetting a new dean for a college of law.
Wednesday's dean search committee meeting is set for 8 a.m.-noon in 158 Norman Hall.
But it's the first time in his 30-plus years in legal academia that he couldn't recall a chance for faculty to privately discuss their thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates being put forward.
Wolf said that lack of communication made it difficult to form an opinion, even though he said he favored University of Kentucky College of Law Dean David Brennen, in part because the two worked together at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
“I can't tell you how I feel because I don't know how my colleagues feel,” Wolf said during a recent public discussion between the faculty of the Levin College of Law and the search committee members appointed by UF's president to find a new dean.
Faculty's opinions of the candidates are going to factor into the search committee's decision Wednesday about which names they recommend to President Bernie Machen and Provost Joe Glover. Those two will make the final call on who is hired to replace outgoing Dean Robert Jerry, who will step down in July after 11 years as head of the law college.
The committee staff will tally up the surveys submitted by faculty and present the results when the committee meets at 8 a.m. Wednesday to make its final recommendations, said Glenn Good, dean of the College of Education and chairman of the search committee.
The committee will send at least two names and no more than three to Machen and Glover.
Law faculty have been critical of the search process, that it was less than open and didn't provide enough opportunities for them to provide input. They also have been critical of the fact that only four of the 11 members of the search committee were law school faculty, and wondered how the non-law faculty members would be able to hear their views.
Law professor Pedro Malavet said the search committee hadn't fulfilled its obligation to keep the law faculty informed.
“I do not take issue with the newspapers' reporting on the progress on the dean search,” Malavet told the committee via email. “I take issue with the search committee's failure to keep us directly informed about the process of selecting the person who will be our next dean before it is published in the papers.”
Malavet further stated that law faculty are supposed to be active participants in the process, “not an observer on the sidelines.”
From listening to faculty during a discussion Monday, two candidates emerged as favorites -- Brennen and former ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner. Sam Donaldson, a law professor at Georgia State University and former associate dean at the University of Washington School of Law, came in a distant third.
Faculty had several reservations about Alexander Acosta, dean of the Florida International University College of Law and a former federal prosecutor.
Brennen and Donaldson, both UF law alumni, meet the qualifications for tenure, and have the most academic and academic administrative background. As graduates of UF Law's tax program, however, one faculty member asked whether either candidate would favor the tax program over other programs.
Huebner and Acosta would have trouble meeting the standards imposed on other faculty for tenure, which some faculty said would insult those faculty seeking tenure, could hurt UF's reputation, and become an accreditation issue with the American Bar Association. The ABA standards say that college deans should be tenured faculty except under extraordinary circumstances.
Faculty said they were favorably impressed with Brennen's answers to questions on shared governance and fundraising, but were divided on how he'd handle diversity issues. Some faculty members said they were concerned he may not be sensitive enough to gay rights.
Several said they were intrigued by Huebner's candidacy because he had no academic experience other than some stints as an adjunct professor. Despite his lack of academic background, the faculty said they were impressed with his intelligence and personality, his answers to their questions and his track record managing two large, private international firms.
And they joked that his skills as a diplomat could come in handy dealing with faculty.
Many liked Donaldson, and saw him as someone who wants to die in the dean's chair. Others said they were not sure UF Law needed another 10-year dean and observed that either Brennen or Huebner likely would eventually move on.
There was almost unanimous antipathy expressed toward Acosta, dean of the Florida International University College of Law in Miami and a former federal prosecutor.
“Acosta is unacceptable,” said Michelle Jacobs, assistant director of UF Law's Criminal Justice Center, echoing the sentiment shared by other faculty at the meeting. She said his responses to questions about two cases where his ethical conduct as a prosecutor were questioned were less than forthcoming.
While an assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in 2004, Acosta sent an unsolicited letter to a federal judge hearing a voting rights case challenging an Ohio law that allowed political parties to challenge voters at the polls.
The judge found the practice racially discriminating and ordered the Republican Party to stop challenging voters.
In 2009, Acosta and other federal prosecutors were accused by a Miami federal judge of violating ethical guidelines by acting in bad faith in secretly investigating the defense team of a doctor accused of illegally prescribing painkillers.
The U.S. attorney's office was ordered to pay $600,000 in fines and the doctor was acquitted.
Acosta, the U.S. attorney for Miami at the time, said mistakes were made.
Law professor Mark Fenster said via email that he was disappointed by the “low quality” of the four finalists.
“I am afraid that our choice will be to continue our rudderless, leaderless response to changes in the profession and academy or a failed search,” Fenster said. “I am not sure which I'm hoping for or dreading more.”
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