Some people think that law professors are boring. A dean in Cleveland is proving them wrong.
A year ago, Case Western Reserve Law School Dean Lawrence Mitchell burst onto the national scene with a New York Times op-ed selling a law degree as a great deal. Shortly thereafter, he gave a Bloomberg Law interview in which he continued to press his case. For his efforts, Mitchell took center stage in my article, “The Law School Story of the Year – Deans in Denial.”
Well, he-e-e-e-e’s b-a-a-a-a-c-k! Mitchell is now the leading man in what is becoming a tragedy for his school.
The principal antagonists
Raymond S.R. KU, became a tenured professor at Case in 2003, co-director of the Center for Law, Technology & the Arts in 2006, and associate dean for academic affairs in 2010. On Halloween 2013, Ku filed an amended complaint against Lawrence Mitchell and Case Western Reserve University for alleged retaliation because he opposed “Dean Mitchell’s unlawful discriminatory practice of sexually harassing females in the law school community.”
Lawrence Mitchell became dean in 2011. The complaint alleges that he arrived from George Washington University Law School with some personal baggage, including several marriages culminating in divorces, one of which involved a student. If the allegations about his conduct after becoming dean at Case are true, his behavior was both stupid and reprehensible. (Spoiler alert: the details are less titillating than most voyeurs might like — and the juiciest stuff is hearsay. UPDATE: Dean Mitchell has moved to strike many of the allegations as “immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous.)
Buried in the salacious allegations that have generated media attention is paragraph 86 of the amended complaint: “In relation to the performance of his duties as dean of the Case Law School, Dean Mitchell stated vehemently, ‘I am a dictator.'”
Allegations aren’t evidence. Maybe he never said it. But what if he did? Maybe he was joking. Or maybe he believed it. Or, worst of all, maybe it was true.
In many respects — from framing a school’s mission to creating annual budgets to doling out office assignments — deans wield enormous power. But the best deans aren’t dictators; they’re consensus builders. They have line accountability to university provosts, presidents and trustees; however, they also have to deal effectively with students, alumni, and faculty. Any dean who likens his role to that of a dictator eventually becomes a problem for his institution.
Dollars behind the drama?
As the controversy swirls around Mitchell, a very good law school suffers. Case graduated 223 new attorneys in 2010. The entering first-year class of 2013 includes fewer than half that number — 100. Apparently, Mitchell’s year-end sales pitch landed on deaf ears.
In his Bloomberg Law interview last January, Dean Mitchell said, “Of course, we’re running a business at the end of the day.” From that perspective, perhaps Case University’s central administration doesn’t view things as badly as Case’s 1L numbers might suggest.
Specifically, there’s gold in law school LLM students, and Case has 85 of them entering its program this year. For a school with only 100 first-year JD students, that’s a lot. (The University of Chicago has 196 entering JD-students and 70 LLM-students.) In contrast to more extensive financial aid available for JD students, those seeking an LLM at Case are eligible only for “a limited number of merit scholarships…in the form of a partial reduction for tuition.”
What lies ahead?
Perhaps Mitchell’s business plan has been to follow the money, focusing on the lucrative LLM recruits. Maybe that’s his vision for the school as a profit-maximizing venture. Maybe that’s precisely the direction that his bosses want him to take. Maybe Case’s central administration has given Mitchell such latitude to wield power that he feels comfortable boasting about it. Or, as I suggested at the beginning, perhaps there’s no substance to any of the claims against him.
If it turns out that Mitchell’s superiors are rewarding what they regard as “business success” by allowing him to run the school as a dictator, they have forgotten an important truth. Sometimes dictators get deposed — especially if they’re defendants in lawsuits.
I wish more law school deans (and college presidents, and even business school deans–my bosses) were dictators. Then they could pursue interesting reform policies. Some would be good, some would be bad, but we’d get more innovation than we do now.