Spotlight on Sections: Section on Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research

Spotlight on Sections: Section on Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research


By Melinda Price

Sections are central to the AALS mission of advancing legal education. In many ways, they represent the core purpose of an association—to bring together individuals from a variety of backgrounds to work on issues of shared interest. AALS Sections unite law faculty and professional staff to enhance both the scholarly fields and the professional lives of their participants. Sections undertake important work, encouraging collaboration among member schools, planning the majority of programs at the AALS Annual Meeting, and facilitating resource sharing and mentoring. Section participants benefit from taking part in the important conversations and programs that sections offer.
Recently, AALS reached an important milestone. With the addition of the new Section for Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research, there are now 100 AALS sections, each focused on a different subject matter, affinity group, or administrative area. Whatever issue faculty wish to connect with their colleagues on, an AALS section is likely to fit their interests. For a full list of AALS sections and instructions on how to join, please visit
For a new on-going feature, “Spotlight on Sections,” AALS sat down recently with the co-chairs of the new Section on Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research to discuss the work that their sections are undertaking and the value of becoming involved in an AALS Section.

AALS Section on Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research


Chairs of the AALS Section on Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research

What was behind the decision to form a section for associate deans? What made now the right time for this section? 
Jackie Gardina: At the Vermont Law School Breakfast for Academic Deans during the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting we started to discuss additional training and opportunities to meet more often to network, andto talk about what’s happening at our schools. I raised the possibility of an AALS section. After the breakfast, I sent a survey gauging interest in participating in an AALS section, and the topics they were interested in learning more about. From there, I reached out to [AALS Executive Director] Judy Areen and [AALS Senior Meetings Manager] Tracie Thomas, and then Susan [Rozelle] was brought in.
Susan D. Rozelle: We were having similar conversations at the Stetson University College of Law Associate Deans of Faculty Development and Research Breakfast at the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting. I think there was a general groundswell of support amongst associate deans, and sometimes ideas just take on a life of their own. There seemed to be a hole in our programming for career development, particularly in administrative roles. AALS is introducing the new Arc of the Career Program at the same time, and just like that program this is an area that we haven’t addressed as comprehensively as we should have, and there has been an effort to do that now.
JG: This came up at the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting when they were talking about succession planning and leadership within the legal academy generally, as well as higher education more broadly. This is something that AALS had started to take on more deliberately.
Professor Rozelle, you’ve previously served as Chair of the Section on Criminal Justice. Can you tell me about leading that section and how those experiences will help you with this new section?
SR: The biggest similarity between the sections is that they both serve two distinct subgroups under one umbrella. The criminal justice section has done a terrific job of making sure we are always serving two constituencies when planning programing. This new section will be similar in that we are envisioning consciously serving these two constituents, both the associate deans for academics and for research. Like the other section, the group for associate deans is going to have amazing people.
Professor Gardina, what was your first experience with AALS sections? 
JG: I’ve been most involved with the Section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues. In 2007, I was involved in efforts to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  The section wanted the AALS to support repeal. Because I had done work at the national level on this issue, Susan Prager [former AALS Executive Director] asked me to serve on the government relations committee. On that committee, I was primarily responsible for crafting a memorandum to the AALS Executive Committee at AALS regarding the AALS position on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
How have you both benefited personally and professionally from participation in AALS sections? 
SR: I’ve been involved in the Section on Criminal Justice and the Section on Women in Legal Education. Both of those sections have offered incredible resources and intellectual wealth. I love going to the AALS Annual Meeting because I get to be a student again.
My very first experience with the sections began with the “women’s room” at the hiring conference. A group of women were volunteering their time to help explain the process and ensure that everyone had a positive experience. As a law professor, I got to know more of these amazing women through the networking breakfasts. Cynthia Lee [professor, The George Washington University Law School] is the one most responsible for getting me on the path to becoming chair of the Section on Criminal Justice, and it’s hard to describe the amazing number of people who have been there for me through the years. It’s been tremendous for me and I am so eager to continue giving back.
JG: On a personal level, it’s the friends that you make. I think everyone knows that the first couple times attending the AALS Annual Meeting are intimidating, but within a couple years you’ve got a cohort of people that you are able to have lunch or coffee with, and that is really exciting because, especially for a school like Vermont that is in a rural area—the only law school in the state—it can be somewhat isolating. Having that connection with colleagues who teach in the same area is unbelievably helpful.
I have received wonderful support through the AALS, so having a section for associate deans seems likea natural extension. Now that I am an associate dean, I want that same kind of support and mentoring I received for scholarship and teaching. I want the ability to call on colleagues who are experiencing or have experienced the same kinds of issues and questions that parallel my experience.

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Can you tell us a little bit about the activities Associate Deans conducted before becoming a section? I understand two different groups met for breakfast at the Annual Meeting. 
JG: The Vermont Law School has hosted a breakfast for academic deans at the AALS Annual Meetings, but there hasn’t been anything organized through AALS beyond that. Before this, there was a gap where I think a lot of new associate deans came into their positions and weren’t able to experience the great benefit of being able to come together in a group and talk about what’s happening and what their positions are like.
SR: Stetson had hosted the associate deans for research breakfast for a number of years and, as Jackiesaid, it was not a section function but just an informal opportunity to get together and share. We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response over the years on how much attendees appreciated having other associate deans to talk to, whether they were new associate deans seeking advice or more seasoned associate deans looking to build on other’s experiences. We were the only law schools filling that need.
Why is it important for associate deans to connect with their colleagues at different schools? What kind of conversations are taking place? 
JG: Law schools are in a time of transition right now. There’s a lot of innovation and similar issues arising within the legal academy, yet we rarely have the opportunity to come together to talk informally and privately about how schools can collaborate better and share ideas. The new Section on Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research will benefit us as institutions and individuals through connecting about the similar things happening across the legal academy right now.
SR: One of the common threads for associate deans is that we’re living our professional lives moving from one crisis to another. We rarely have time to reflect and plan to become the problem solvers that we would like to be. Problem-solving is what drew many of us to the academy in the first place. Having a time set aside to examine how to solve some of these big-picture, long-term problems with colleagues across the academy is a tremendous idea, and we’re excited about it.
JG: The ABA listserv has been the primary vehicle for associate deans to talk to each other, and it is a phenomenal resource. That’s been the primary vehicle for us to find out what is happening at other schools as it relates to our own. We’re hoping we can take what’s happening on the listserv and expand it to allow for face-to-face interaction.
SR: There is one listserv for academic deans and another for faculty development. Between the two of them, they are a treasure trove of information. Someone will post a question, “How does your school handle X?” The questioner will compile the answers and then post the best responses on various approaches. One of the missions of this section is to systematize that kind of resource.
What do you hope to accomplish in the section’s first year? 
JG: We hope to start establishing a sense of community, and that is grounded in translating what happens on the listserv into AALS meeting programming and networking. We have an idea about what would be most helpful based on the survey responses. One of the things that came up was how to take all of the great information that’s collected and make it accessible for incoming associate deans. Additional ideas include creating a FAQ template, hosting training webinars or monthly calls, and providing other support to associate deans navigating their positions.
SR: The first goal is to establish a broader base of involved members. Despite the fact that this is a new section and associate dean positions have a high turnover rate, the first goal is to build on that core sense of community that Jackie mentioned. Creating a structure that folks can count on to help them develop in these roles is primary for us this year.
The section is currently in the planning stages for its first Annual Meeting session. Can you tell me what issues will be explored? 
JG: We’ve set up two different panels. One is going to discuss leading and managing. The other is going to provide a mechanism for people to workshop issues, problems, or challenges that arise on the job in small groups. We wanted to create an opportunity to both provide information about leading and managing, as well as discuss problems that frequently arise. We will also hear from other deans about how to solve those problems.
SR: The program that we’re working on includes a plenary session, and the speakers will address fundamentals that are universal to all associate deans such as time management, teaching and writing time, and goal-setting. Additionally, the program will look at how to interact with faculty and non-faculty colleagues within the law school, and in the university. The session is also designed to encourage people to think more deeply about what they want their legacy as a law school leader to be and how to go about creating it in a conscious fashion.
How can associate deans make the best use of this new section? 
SR: I would say get involved. We welcome all colleague contributions and ideas for breakout session topics. We have a call out to the two associate dean listservs soliciting ideas, and we ask them what issues they would like to workshop, what the takeaways should be, and what ideas would they like to implement at their schools.
JG: Part of building a section to meet the needs of associate deans is to define the goals for the next year. We are asking: “what is it that associate deans most need, and how can we best accomplish that?”
The Section on Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research is the 100th section. How does it feel to be a part of this AALS milestone?
SR: It’s an honor. AALS has done so much for me personally, and for the legal academy as a whole. I’m just thrilled.
JG: AALS has primarily been focused on the intellectual teaching and scholarship aspect of professorship, and now we’re starting to pay attention to the larger leadership questions that are emerging. The creation of the section seems to fit nicely with the direction that AALS is going, in terms of trying to help faculty and administrators define the next phase of legal education.
JG: I want to make sure to give a shout out to Tracie [Thomas]. She’s done an amazing job in helping us put together the building blocks of the section and creating that first set of panels.
SR: I would echo that.
Read this month’s other Spotlight on Sections interview with the leadership of the Section on Administrative Law.