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November 01, 2023 Feature

Section Leader and Touro Law School Dean Patty Salkin Publishes Book on Lawyer Careers in Law Schools

Nicholas W. Allard

May It Please the Campus: Lawyers Leading Higher Education is a must-read for anyone who cares about academic leadership and the future of educational institutions. That is especially so at a time when the only constants in higher education are accelerating change, daunting, often unexpected crises, increasing regulations, and legal challenges. The author, Dr. Patricia Salkin, offers and backs up provocative insights into every facet of talent acquisition in academic settings. Her original, readable, provocative, comprehensive, and data-driven new book ostensibly focuses on a previously underappreciated and largely ignored phenomenon--the historic affinity, success, and recently sharply increasing number of lawyers who are excellent college and university presidents. For this reason alone, Dr. Salkin’s unprecedented, prodigious study and analysis is a resource for appointing lawyers with the “Swiss army knife” type tool kit and temperament to handle the demands of a top academic administrative job. Even so, the potential impact of the book is much more significant. With a historical sweep from the 1700s to 2021 and ample well-presented data, Dr. Salkin’s study could soon become scripture, if not the bible, for how to think anew about and improve every facet of talent acquisition in academic settings.

The book was drawn from Salkin’s Ph.D. dissertation, which she wrote while serving as the influential graduate provost of Touro University. Before publication, her prodigious study generated eight leading-edge, widely-read articles. No doubt, May It Please the Campus will stimulate many more articles by other authors. It also is a roadmap for future studies. For example, some areas Salkin flags as worth examining include whether legal education teaches lawyers to be leaders and, if so, that training is transferable to other fields. What accounts for the outsized presence of lawyers in private and public sector leadership roles, given that lawyers are only about four percent of the U.S. population? Are lawyers leading campuses likely to innovate and fundamentally change higher education, or conversely, will they sustain the status quo by ably performing academic administrators’ complex duties and overcoming disruptive challenges that might otherwise precipitate change?

May it Please…does so. It is skillfully edited, bolstered, and documented with vivid tables and charts and a stunning array of appendices and references that should be catniped for academic readers. Yet the compelling text is wonderfully engaging and accessible to professional search firms, search committees, trustees, and other audiences involved in academic hiring. Dr. Salkin’s findings do not require legal or academic training to evaluate.

Having written about aspects and idiosyncrasies of the established academic search process and given my deep experience on both sides of the appointments table, I appreciate the value of Salkin’s work.

Her book should prompt much-needed conversations about the ingrained approaches to academic searches. Fundamental questions are begging to be asked, such as: Are conventional academic searches and widespread hiring practices serving their institutions as well as they might? Why are we doing things the way we do? Can we do better? Why do so many unique institutions spend enormous time and money generating search profiles and job descriptions that are almost cookie-cutter versions of what many other and often starkly different colleges, universities, and graduate schools rely upon? (That frequently is the case no matter which search consultant is used or the unique circumstances and the actual priorities of the institution). Why do academic searches take pains to identify long lists of qualifications, expectations, challenges, and opportunities but then begin internal discussions by relegating people to rigid boxes? Candidates are typically characterized as either inside, traditional, nontraditional, a scholar, or diverse, outside the box, alums, famous, please heaven gives us, a fundraiser we can tolerate, and so on. Why not evaluate each candidate on the same basis according to how they measure up to the specified criteria rather than relegate candidates to different boxes? And what are the bespoke and priority selection criteria for each particular institution? These are but a few of the questions that Dr. Salkin’s book might prompt. Such a reevaluation of academic appointments is, in my opinion, sorely needed, and it should matter to anyone who believes that higher education is critical to the world adequately responding to the existential issues of our time.

While not delving into such matters, much less making findings related to them, Dr. Salkin’s work does an excellent service to the academy because it suggests many avenues for further consideration, study, and action. Suppose readers agree with her findings and believe that the established talent acquisition and retention methods are undervaluing or entirely missing relevant pools of able, well-prepared candidates. In that case, they might be motivated to adapt academic searches to the evolving needs of the 21st century.

Finally, the most impressive aspect of this important and timely work is that Dr. Salkin completed it. After all, she has an enormously demanding day job, is an active leader within many academic circles and bar associations, built on a foundation of a legal career spanning 34 years as a government lawyer, law professor, law school dean, university provost, and a later in life than usual Ph.D. student. Somehow, behind the scenes, she also manages to be a selfless, generous, unsung mentor and advocate to colleagues and students. This supports the central thesis of Dr. Salkin’s magnum opus: If you have a challenging academic job, consider asking a busy lawyer with the right skills and temperament to do it.

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Nicholas W. Allard

Jacksonville University College of Law

Allard is the founding Dean of the Jacksonville University College of Law. Previously, he served as President and Dean of Brooklyn Law School. Throughout his career in government service, as a senior partner in some of the world’s most respected law firms, and as an innovator in higher education, he has been deeply involved in the impact of new technology on society, law, and policy. Allard‘s expertise is reflected in his extensive writings, teaching, and as a frequent speaker and commentator. He is particularly interested in historical comparisons with our contemporary digital and biomedical discovery age.