Paul Schiff Berman

Let me keep today’s post pretty short and a little less than sweet.

Something odd happened back east to a law school dean. And that former dean has ties to the Grand Canyon State.

Anyone up on updates regarding the ASU Law School probably learned this weeks ago, but for everyone else, it may be news that Paul Schiff Berman has exited the deanship at the George Washington University Law School.

Berman, you may recall, helmed the ASU Law School for a time (you can read our interview with him here). But he headed east to lead GWU Law, which was announced in April 2011. That, however, didn’t last long. By summer 2012, discontent was evident. By January 2013, he had left the law school, and the university named him vice provost for online education and academic innovation.

More than ever before, law deans have proven to be a transitory bunch. But even in a world in which deanships are rarely calculated in decades, Berman’s exit is noteworthy for its speediness. And according to the university newspaper, his departure was welcomed by a majority of law school professors. The story, titled “Law faculty plotted to oust dean,” opens:

“Faculty say they launched a near coup to remove the former dean of the GW Law School, who unexpectedly announced last fall he would resign after holding the position for just 18 months.”

“Paul Schiff Berman stepped down in January and moved to a new vice provost position after professors drafted a petition to reject his leadership, citing staff tensions and poor decision-making about how to restore a reeling legal education system, The Hatchet has learned.”

George Washington University Law School headerYes, the independent student newspaper is called “The Hatchet.” Draw your own conclusions.

If you want another take on the dean’s departure, be sure to read Above the Law.

A hat tip to Arizona lawyer (and ASU Law alum) Ruth Carter for sharing the news. If there is a followup or more of a response from Professor Berman, we’ll share it.

Last week, we received an announcement about new leadership at an Arizona law school.

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law announced that Marc L. Miller had been selected as dean. It is on an interim basis while the school conducts a national search, but the UA method is that Marc is the Dean, capital “D,” no “I,” until we hear otherwise.

UA Dean Marc L. Miller

UA Dean Marc L. Miller

In its selection, the school found a dynamic, funny and smart man. And in that regard, he is similar to the man he replaces, Larry Ponoroff. Let me speak for a moment to Dean Ponoroff’s leadership time there.

As I’ve written before, deaning in this day and age is no picnic. The budget challenges are rough ones, and they are exacerbated by the (sometimes wise) hesitancy of potential applicants to plunge into an expensive three-year endeavor, whose outcome is uncertain.

In a recession, deans must make difficult and sometimes unpopular choices. Their legacy will rarely be that of those who glided through law school on the easiest of streets.

Larry Ponoroff has now returned to the ranks of the faculty, where he will reside in a well-deserved lower profile. But from this outsider’s view, his legacy is this: He was unfailingly upbeat, courteous and visionary. And, perhaps most important, he was (and is) one of the funniest leaders I’ve ever met, in law or out.

Former UA Law Dean Lawrence Ponoroff

Former UA Law Dean Lawrence Ponoroff

As law schools try to move forward in a boggy economy, there are worse things than having a sense of humor. Good luck and thank you, Dean Ponoroff.

As I opened, though, the school has chosen someone else whose wry muscle is fully developed. Besides being funny, Marc Miller is involved in more varied initiatives than a black-ops team. I have worked with Dean Miller on a few endeavors, and I am confident that the school will benefit from his vision—if it can keep up with his legal velocity.

Here is part of what the school announced about Dean Miller:

“He is the editor of two leading casebooks, one on criminal procedure and the other on the law of sentencing. He co-founded the Federal Sentencing Reporter, the leading journal on sentencing law and policy that for 20 years has focused on nurturing an ongoing conversation between scholars, judges, lawyers, probation officers, and policy-makers.”

“Dean Miller currently serves as a series editor for Summits—books focused on issues at the intersection of environmental law, science, and policy. The Summits series is a collaborative effort between the law school, the UA Institute of the Environment, the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, Biosphere 2 and the Biosphere 2 Institute. The first two books in the series are Conservation of Shared Spaces: Learning From the United States and Mexico, and Navigating Climate Change Policy: The Opportunities of Federalism. A third volume, Stitching the West Back Together: Conserving Working Landscapes and Biodiversity in the American West, is forthcoming. University of Arizona scholars have played the central role as editors and authors.”

You can read the school’s entire announcement here. Congratulations, Dean Miller. Break a leg.

Vincent Chin

This past weekend, I read a moving op-ed piece in the New York Times. It was in regard to the brutal slaying of a Chinese American man in 1982. Significantly, his death and the legal events that followed so angered the Asian American community that it demanded substantive changes.

The author, I happily noted, was Frank Wu, who is an accomplished scholar—and the Dean of my alma mater (UC Hastings College of Law). His piece is titled “Why Vincent Chin Matters.”

I previously wrote about the Vincent Chin case here and here. It was brought to my attention by great Arizona lawyers, who featured a documentary about the case at the 2011 Minority Bar Convention.

Here is how Dean Wu opens his editorial:

“On June 23, 1982, in Detroit, a young man named Vincent Chin died. Four nights earlier, he had been enjoying his bachelor party with friends at a local bar when they were accosted by two white men, who blamed them for the success of Japan’s auto industry. ‘It’s because of you we’re out of work,’ they were said to have shouted, adding a word that can’t be printed here. The men bludgeoned Mr. Chin, 27, with a baseball bat until his head cracked open.

“I was a Chinese-American teenager growing up near Detroit then. I remember the haunting photograph of a smiling, fresh-faced Mr. Chin, shown repeatedly in newspapers and on TV, and the tears of his mother, Lily Chin, who lamented that his killers had escaped justice. Mr. Chin was buried on the day he was to have been married.”

So congratulations to my dean for writing on a matter of great importance—and in the New York Times, no less. Well done.

Later this week, I will share two remaining posts arising from the State Bar Convention last week. Both were phenomenal speaker opportunities, the kind that stay with you long after the applause fades.