The comings and goings of deans are major events, even though deans themselves can only do so much to affect what happens at their schools. Schools need to take on the responsibility of marking these times and using them to advance the school's mission.
At the University of Nebraska College of Law, I think we did a good job of marking Harvey Perlman's term as dean by making a fuss over his dean's portrait and giving him a named professorship. Deans may be popular or not, but they are people who have stepped up to the plate to try to serve the school, and that service should be acknowledged.
At the University of Houston Law Center, the External Affairs folks (Greg Robertson & Deborah Hirsch) who worked with me did a fabulous job of rolling me out, including hiring a very good PR/marketing person, Alex Kopatic, to help me with my introductions to various constituencies and to train me on how to work with the press. They planned my rollout very deliberately, and thanks to them, I met over 1,000 people who cared about UHLC in year 1 of my deanship.
Law schools seem to have more difficulty with departing deans. I don't know whether that's because of a natural introvertedness of many professors or the awkwardness that can come with any dean's departure, especially a controversial one. We seem to be much better at celebrating the departures of professors and staff members than we are at celebrating the departures of deans.
For the record, I think it would have been a smart idea to have done more to celebrate my colleague Steve Zamora's deanship when I took over as dean. He served as UHLC's dean for five years, and among other things, he did a lot to improve the morale at the Law Center. Steve's special strengths in building morale were of vital importance to our school, which had had a couple of failed dean searches before Steve stepped up to the plate. He's continued to do impressive work since his return to the faculty, and he's a mensch. He's been incredibly kind to me during and after my deanship, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to thank him publicly.
We celebrate the graduation of our students because graduation marks a turning point in their lives. Celebrating the "graduation" of a school from one deanship to another makes sense, too. That's why I 'm looking forward to seeing how UNLV celebrates Dick Morgan's deanship when he retires. Dick is UNLV's founding dean, and he's built an amazing faculty and staff. I'm quite proud to be joining that group. The departure of any dean marks a major change, but the departure of the founding dean is a (by definition) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My guess is that the William S. Boyd School of Law is going to find the right way to honor someone who has done so much for the school, the university, and the state.
Things that schools may want to consider when welcoming a dean:
1. If possible, try to have some overlap between the incoming dean and the outgoing dean, so that the two of them can share some observations, dean-to-dean. The outgoing dean's views may not mesh completely with the incoming dean's views, but the perspective is invaluable.
2. PLAN A ROLLOUT for the new dean. Give the dean time to shape his or her message. Figure out in what order the dean should meet with the various constiuencies and make sure there's time on the dean's calendar to prepare for those meetings. Even if the dean comes from the school's faculty, he or she is taking on a new role and needs the same prep time that an outside dean should get.
3. That rollout should include meetings with individual faculty and staff members and with the faculty, the staff, and the students in groups. And, of course, the rollout should involve immediate meetings with the school's top alumni and major donors--before the official start date of the deanship, if possible.
4. The new dean is going to need some people who can filter the parade of folks who want to spend time with the dean. I found that my assistant, Kelli Cline, was excellent at making sure that people who needed to get in to see me immediately were able to do so, and she tried hard (despite my proclivity to want to meet with anyone at any time) to keep my calendar in manageable shape).
5. The most difficult time for the new dean is the first six months, when he or she is trying to figure out in whom he or she can confide. Sometimes the dean guesses right; sometimes, she makes mistakes and trusts the wrong people. (Even when she trusts the right people, she has to be cautious; because of her position as dean, those "right people" can be counted on the fingers of one hand.) Confidants, however, are key to keeping a dean (somewhat) sane during the deanship.
Things to consider in helping a dean depart (assuming that the dean hasn't committed some sort of indictable offense):
1. Read Kent D. Syverud, How Deans (and Presidents) Should Quit, 56 J. L. Ed. 3 (2006). As always, Kent has wise advice.
2. Deans get emotionally involved with their schools, and some sort of official ritual is a nice way to ease the separation, unless the dean requests that no fuss be made.
3. It takes a while for deans to get reacquainted with professorial life. DEPARTING DEANS SHOULD GET SABBATICALS. (New deans take note: you might want to put the issues of sabbaticals and professorial salaries in your offer letters. And, if you want to be able to change schools after your sabbaticals, it's helpful to get a written agreement that you won't have to repay that leave after your sabbatical ends. That sure helped me.)
4. Faculty and staff members who like the former dean should tell him or her that directly, especially if the departure was unpleasant for the dean. (Our egos might need some soothing.)
5. To the extent possible, the new dean and the former dean should present a united front, so that the various constituencies can carry on as normally as possible.
Transitions always are emotional, and transitions are healthy for people and for institutions. I've learned a lot from each of my job transitions, and I consider those lessons valuable. (This last transition reminds me a lot of Yeats' Slouching Towards Bethlehem, but that's another story for another time.) Just remember that the incoming and outgoing deans are people, too, and not just representatives of their institutions, and you'll likely do the right thing by each of them.