The Forgotten Constituency? Law School Deans and Students

12 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2011

See all articles by Kevin R. Johnson

Kevin R. Johnson

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: April 25, 2011


Although law schools unquestionably vary dramatically, law school administrations tend to follow a somewhat formulaic hierarchical model. In essence, the dean supervises the law school administrators and staff who regularly work directly with law students. As any law dean can readily attest, unaddressed student dissatisfaction can make a dean’s life miserable and produce unhappy alumni who are less likely than happy alumni to provide much-needed financial support to the school.

Specifically, law school deans at various (often inopportune) times must deal with an array of demands – requests, if you will – from individual students and several different student organizations. In thinking about the dean’s relationship with students, it seems important that deans, as the leaders of their law schools, to some degree must be visible to law students and interact with them on a number of different levels. Students are students, consumers, and future alumni, all rolled into one.

Part I of this essay sketches the nature of the relationship between the law school dean and students at UC Davis School of Law, the law school where I have the privilege to serve as Dean. Part II sketches a process-oriented approach to the administration’s response to student interests and concerns.

This essay draws some basic lessons from my experience with law students about how a law school dean might build and maintain positive relationships with students. Deans ignore students at their peril, and they cannot satisfy their entire constituency’s or any constituency’s demands, or follow all of their suggestions. As with other leadership roles, deans must work hard to listen to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other interest groups, and offer the respect, opportunity to be heard, accessibility, and transparency in decision-making that students demand, value, and in my experience and appreciate. Through collaboration with students, just as with other constituencies, deans and law schools can create an environment that ensures students receive a high quality legal education and the support that they need to thrive in law school.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Kevin R., The Forgotten Constituency? Law School Deans and Students (April 25, 2011). University of Toledo Law Review, Forthcoming; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 254. Available at SSRN:

Kevin R. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States
530 752 0243 (Phone)
530 752 7279 (Fax)

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