• August 1, 2014

Deans Come From Less-Traditional Backgrounds

Colleges Break With a Few Traditions in Selecting Senior Administrators 1

Catholic U.

Daniel F. Attridge

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close Colleges Break With a Few Traditions in Selecting Senior Administrators 1

Catholic U.

Daniel F. Attridge

During his three decades in private law practice, Daniel F. Attridge says, he has had few opportunities to do public-interest work. Now, at 58, as he prepares to take over as dean of the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, he sees himself as having an opportunity to "be of service."

The selection of Mr. Attridge, a managing partner of Kirkland & Ellis's Washington office, is an example of a spirit of experimentation among some colleges that filled senior administrative positions last year. Some are choosing deans who have not traveled the traditional academic path to that leadership post; others are creating high-level jobs and filling them with people who they hope will take the institution in new, fruitful directions.

Mr. Attridge's hiring followed the appointment last spring of another lawyer in private practice as a law dean. Nicholas W. Allard, who was chair of the lobbying, political, and election-law practice of Patton Boggs, now leads Brooklyn Law School.

Mr. Attridge says that though one of his new duties as dean, fund raising, will be different from what he's done before, his skills as a trial and appellate lawyer should translate well. "I have a lot of experience persuading people to come to the result that I'm interested in having them come to," he says.

John Garvey, president of Catholic University and a former dean of Boston College Law School, compares being a managing partner at a law firm to leading law-school faculty members. "Neither partners nor faculty think that you're their boss—and in fact you're not," he says. "They're both very democratic institutions."

Business schools, like law schools, are more open than some other professional schools to hiring deans from outside academe. But all of the 46 new business deans listed in The Chronicle last year were from traditional, academic backgrounds. Notably, 15 of them, or nearly a third, were women.

Engineering schools also selected some female deans last year, though not at such a rapid pace. They include Barbara D. Boyan, an associate dean for research at the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Engineering, who was set to begin leading Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Engineering this month, and Liesl Folks, a scientist at HGST, a hard-disk-drive company, who will become dean of the University at Buffalo's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Among the institutions that created new positions are Columbia University, which named Sree Sreenivasan as its first chief digital officer, and Stanford University, which appointed John C. Mitchell as its first vice provost for online learning.

The University at Buffalo, University of Iowa, and University of Wisconsin system all appointed their first associate vice presidents for economic development last year. 

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