Neitz, Michele Benedetto, Pulling Back the Curtain: Implicit Bias in the Law School Dean Search Process (February 23, 2019). 49 Seton Hall L. Rev. 629 (2019).. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3241031 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3241031
The dean search process can be viewed as a bellwether for the health of a law school. Within the microcosm of a civilized “dean search committee” can lie the tensions of rival factions attempting to impose their visions for the next chapter of the law school enterprise. If law school revenue is down, the factions may be fighting for their own survival.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the dean search process is a lightning rod for the stresses facing law school faculty and staff and university administrators. As a result, the implicit biases of individuals and institutions can play a major (if unseen) role in the selection of a dean. Despite the regularity of dean searches in American law schools, no scholar to date has fully examined the ramifications of implicit bias in the dean search process.
This article stems from my experience chairing multiple dean searches and my research interest in the causes and effects of implicit bias. Part II reviews the role of a law school dean, with special consideration of the ways the Great Recession and its effects transformed the role of the dean. Part III describes the typical dean search process and evaluates dean diversity statistics to determine which candidates are selected for these powerful roles in today’s law schools. Part IV introduces the concept of implicit bias, specifically focusing on in-group favoritism. Part IV also analyzes the ways implicit biases can manifest in the dean search process, focusing on racial, gender, socioeconomic, and sexual orientation biases. Finally, Part V suggests recommendations to minimize implicit bias on the part of dean search committees, and offers new and creative ways to change the traditional dean search process.