Monday, August 25, 2008

A short history lesson

Because I think that there will be yet another article this week on the rankings and my relationship to it, here's a brief recap of what happened at my last job during my final year as dean. In September of that academic year, one of the senior faculty members who was unhappy with me sent in a colleague of his to meet with me. He told her to tell me that, if I didn't resign, he'd find a way to embarrass me publicly and ruin my career (his words, through her). I told the provost and some key alumni, and we all agreed that I wasn't going to be bullied out of office.

Sure enough, when the rankings came out, in March of that same academic year, the school had slipped by a few points. It's my understanding that the same faculty member, along with a few others on the faculty, worked with some law students to use the rankings as a pressure point to get me to resign. The law students, who were certainly worried about the effect of the rankings on their employment options, allowed themselves to get worked into a dither by a few manipulative people, and I don't really blame them for getting involved in the fray (although I worry about their gullibility).

I resigned because I was tired of working at a place that was so dysfunctional that it would permit that kind of behavior from colleagues on the faculty. It's fair to say that the rankings were part of the reason that I resigned, because the rankings were used as a rallying cry; it's not, however, fair to say that I resigned because of the rankings.

Now let's talk about the good results that came from that resignation: I'm much less stressed and much happier, and I'm at a place that is one of the most collegial law schools in the country. The Boyd School of Law at UNLV proves that it's possible for people to be actively engaged in scholarship and to be good teachers--and to encourage each other on a regular basis. When I look down the hallway, I see people writing, talking to each other without jealousy, and mentoring students. It's pretty hard to beat this environment (although 115 degrees in the summer can get onerous).

And at my old post? People seem happy with the new dean, and I wish the school well. There are many talented, nice people at that school, and the school has many resources that UNLV doesn't yet have.

What was an awful time for me (and, I'm sure, not very pleasant for anyone back then) has turned into a blessing (although I miss living in the same city as my dad). I know that I'll get to rehash my relationship to the rankings for a while to come, and as long as people realize that the negative effects of the rankings can be disastrous for legal education, I guess that--on balance--I can live with that.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You should give the former students of UH more credit than to assume they "allowed themselves to get worked into a dither by a few manipulative people..."

Long before the events that preceded your departure, there was much talk among students of your ineffectiveness as a dean. During my tenure as a student at UHLC, I had the unfortunate experience of speaking with many alumni, who, upon finding out that I was a UHLC student, would say that they hoped Dean Rapoport would soon be leaving. I had no idea what to say to that so I said nothing. Unfortunately, because I had dealt with you directly a number of times, I began to have the same feelings as the alumni.

What is interesting to me is that you have never taken any sort of responsibility for what you did wrong at UHLC, you've only discussed the faculty member who hated you, the students who are "easily manipulated" and the unfairness of the rankings.

I am not, by any means, saying that you were entirely at fault, but the events in the week preceding your departure were dramatic and odd. No other dean or faculty member had generated the negative feeling that you had. Why is that? Perhaps you should consider using this situation as a teachable moment for yourself rather than continuing to blame others with no mention of your own culpability.

This is not to say that others involved in this situation do not have their own guilt to contend with and their own regrets, but you can do nothing about them. You can change only yourself and some time spent in deep reflection about what you could have done differently to better the situation. What was your role in this? A question that can only be answered by you and an answer that can only, hopefully, benefit your future endeavors.

I do hope that UNLV is a better environment for you and that you are able to move on with a clearer understanding of the lessons your very public, and sad, teachable moment bestowed upon you.

- A UHLC Alumni

A note: in case you wonder why I am posting this anonymously, it is because I would like you to consider the message rather than the messenger. When ideas are presented that are difficult to take in, the message tends to get lost in the feelings the messenger generates.

Nancy Rapoport said...

Dear Anonymous UH Alumnus:

I spent a little time thinking about whether I'd respond to your email, and I've decided to do so.

I've often said, in print and in person, that I made several mistakes while I was dean. Most deans do, and most deans are comfortable admitting that they make mistakes. But I also raised record funds for the Law Center while I was there, including significant funds from formerly absent alumni donors (and some record-breaking totals in annual giving), and I worked with the faculty to hire fourteen great new faculty members. Those new faculty members have changed the Law Center for the better, and I hope that the school is able to keep them and keep the momentum of the school going.

One of the hallmarks of being a dean is being able to stand up and take responsibility for things, Anonymous. I don't buy, even for a moment, your claim that you want me to hear your message separate from your identity. You could be a well-meaning alumnus with a message, or you could be someone with a grudge who takes comfort in lobbing charges across the Internet without fear of personal reprisal.

All of us interpret events based on our own experiences, and I can't interpret your message w/o knowing whether you were someone whose path I crossed (maybe I said "no" to a pet project of yours, or maybe you're one of the faculty members--who could also be counted among UHLC alumni--who never liked what I did as dean) or someone I never met. If you really want me to listen to what you have to say, Anonymous, have the courage to sign your comments with your name.

Anonymous said...

I am neither a faculty member nor a person to whom you said no regarding a pet project. If I had never met you, I wouldn't bother posting on your blog.

If you'd rather focus on the fact that I choose to post anonymously, you may do so of course. It's probably easier for you to think that I am a person with a grudge who takes comfort in lobbing charges across the Internet without fear of personal reprisal than to consider your own issues.

You are correct that you can't interpret my message without knowing exactly who I am. But then, that is the point - your interpretation would be affected with my identity known. Frankly, it wouldn't matter if you knew who I was, you would still do the same thing you did in your reply - directing the blame/responsibility to me. Rather than answer what I said with thought and reflection, you decide to post about my lack of courage in not being my name on my comments. Deflection doesn't make the issues any less real.

Whether you listen to my comments or not doesn't affect me personally. It is only you who is affected by your own issues. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

I graduated from the Law Center in 2002, and my three years there were some of the best of my life. I had some great teachers (and, of course a few not so great teachers) and I got to spend a lot of time around a number of really smart and talented people. While I never personally interacted with Dean Rapaport, I felt the school was moving in the right direction. I was happy with the emphasis on attracting faculty with stellar credentials who were also great teachers. I also was impressed that, from my perspective, Dean Rapaport was student-centric in her approach to management.

Having been aligned with and against lawyers who went everywhere from Texas Southern to Yale, I can say I don't feel UH cheated me in any way.

I guess I want to say that I appreciate what Dean Rapaport did for my law school. The anonymous detractor doesn't mention anything specific, which I find a little suspect. If all he or she cared about was rankings, he or she should have gone to Yale.

Nancy Rapoport said...

Thanks very much, Anonymous 2--I sure appreciate your kind words!