Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Provost Billy Beane

In our article, What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, 82 Texas L. Rev. 1483, 1547 n.335 (2004), we noted that in importing the MoneyBall model to the law school world, "the authority wielded by Billy Beane as general manager is more akin to that of a university provost, with a university president in the role of baseball owner and a law school dean in the role of baseball manager. However, we focus in this Review Essay on deans, both to limit our inquiry to law schools rather than to university administration generally and, frankly, because 'Dean Beane' sounds catchier than 'Provost Beane.'” Gary Becker has some thoughts on what makes a good university provost:

To be sure, that many persons with exceptional analytical abilities fail at top leadership positions in large organizations may largely reflect the fact that failure, or at least mediocrity, is more common than success among heads of large organizations, whether it be government, business, or academic institutions. I am confident of that claim with respect to universities, the organizations I know best, where inspired leadership has not been common. A major reason for this must surely be the great difficulty in predicting how men or women would perform when they get promoted within an organization, or when they move in a lateral way from one organization to another.

The skills, for example, to succeed as provost of a university involves an ability to deal effectively with professors, to evaluate recommendations for professorial promotions and outside appointments, and to handle related faculty matters. Many provosts use success at that position to become candidates for presidents of universities, but the talents required to succeed as president are quite different. Presidents have to raise money, deal with businessmen, foundations, and legislatures, appoint deans, and make other basic administrative and organizational decisions. How well someone performed as provost gives some but limited insight into how well they would perform at the different tasks required of a president. This is even truer when they become president at a university different from the ones where they were provost.

Cross-posted on TaxProf Blog.

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