Chancellor Weiss Resigns: PMH Community Responds
By: Mallory Richard
Following an eight-year stint at the helm of the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, former Chancellor, Jack Weiss, steps down this month, citing “major differences” with the Law Center faculty as his reason for resigning.
“I am proud of the many positive developments at the Law Center during my eight years as Chancellor and look forward to submitting the progress of the Law Center during those years to the judgment of history,” Weiss said in a July statement.
“Unfortunately, however, major policy differences with a vocal segment of the faculty have made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to continue to lead the Law Center on a day-to-day basis and to implement my vision for the Law Center’s future.”
Though the specific events that led to Weiss’s decision to resign remain unknown, his resignation comes on the heels of a petition signed by Law Center faculty calling for an “urgently needed” change in leadership. The petition, which surfaced as a result of a public record request filed by 2015 law school graduate, Kyle Alagood, is signed by 25 of the 33 Law Center’s tenure or tenure-track faculty members and was presented to LSU’s provost in May.
“The entire process took place behind my back without a single faculty member ever seeking to discuss his or her dissatisfaction directly with me,” Weiss said in a statement to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Materials prepared in connection with a Spring 2015 faculty retreat, however, suggest otherwise. An agenda for the Spring 2015 faculty retreat dated April 29, 2015, specifically references issues of governance that were discussed at the retreat. Professor Carter, a non-tenured faculty member of the Law Center, also raised several of her frustrations in an email that was considered by the entire Law Center faculty during the Spring 2015 retreat. Among the governance issues raised by Professor Carter were transparency, adjunct faculty appointments, committee appointments, and diversity considerations in appointments.
When contacted for comment, Weiss issued a statement expressing gratitude to students of the Law Center but refrained from offering any clarification on the circumstances that led to his resignation.
“Hamlet, you’ll recall, said ‘But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue,’” Weiss lamented.
“What I would like to say to students, though, is this: Since I announced my plan to step down as Chancellor, I’ve run into a number of you personally and heard from many more. Your encouragement and kind words of appreciation have meant more to me than you could possibly know. Thank you.”
Many alumni have spoken out in support of Weiss, condemning the faculty’s decision to circulate the petition. Among Weiss’s supporters is Gene Fendler, who has served as president of the Board of Trustees since 2008.
“I think what the faculty has done, is, on many levels, a really bad thing.” Fendler said. “I think that not only as a friend and supporter of Jack Weiss – which colors my opinion. But I think many alumni really hate how it happened. The process was absolutely despicable. Where was due process here?”
Adjunct faculty member, distinguished alumnus and local attorney Ed Walters also spoke out against the faculty petition, saying that he had no knowledge of any frustrations harbored by the Law Center faculty.
“The way it went down to me, as a relative outsider, is that it went down poorly,” Walters said. “I’d think that the Board of Trustees and adjunct faculty members should know about any problems, but this was a total shock.”
Students of the Law Center were also surprised and frustrated by the faculty petition.
“From what I understand, a number of faculty members were reluctant to have the letter publicized,” said Andrew Hairston, a third-year student at the LSU Law Center. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with voicing one’s opinion, particularly in the setting of a professional school, but, as taught to me by my grandfather’s favorite maxim, one should not throw a rock and subsequently hide one’s hand.”
When contacted for an explanation for the petition, all but two faculty members declined to comment. The majority of the faculty who refused to comment replied to those requests with a uniform, guarded response, expressing a desire to move beyond the past and focus on the Law Center’s future. However, two of the 25 signatory faculty members, a professor who wishes to remain anonymous (“Professor X”) and Professor Carter, spoke out to clarify the events that necessitated the petition and the circumstances that led to the faculty’s overwhelming dissatisfaction with Weiss.
“I understand that many law school alums are unhappy with this petition,” Professor X said. “Jack was allegedly a successful lawyer at the time that the sought the Chancellorship and seemed always to maintain cordial relations with people who moved in his elite circles. But I think that they really need to hear the other side of the story – not just Jack’s. I’m guessing that they never have seen Jack’s dark side, the side that he consistently presented to me and to my colleagues.”
Professor X contends that a large part of this concealed “dark side” stemmed from Weiss’s insistence on a hierarchical management of the faculty rather than a consensus-building approach.
“In my, and I believe most of my colleagues’, view, Jack saw his role to be little more – and nothing less – than imposing his will on the faculty,” the Professor X explained. “Everything in his administration was top-down. One small but revealing example: a former staff member told me that as soon as Jack replaced former Chancellor John Costonis, she was instructed to report to another staff member, not to Jack himself.”
Both professors also described the hostility Weiss directed at his naysayers, and the supposedly prevalent fear of retaliation for speaking out against him.
“I believe that the faculty often passed Jack’s proposals not because they actually believed in them but simply because they were worried about him retaliating against them individually,” Professor X added. “For example, he would deny them promotion or tenure or withhold summer grant stipends, which many faculty depend on.”
Professor Carter described a personal experience when she encountered this kind of hostility in Weiss—which ultimately culminated in a colleague filing a Title IX complaint against Weiss on her behalf as well as Carter filing her own complaint. Those complaints remain under investigation by LSU.
She explained that she had become increasingly concerned with the lack of diversity amongst the law school faculty – particularly the adjunct faculty. She further explained that such a disparity and the ad-hoc process used to hire adjunct faculty could constitute a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; and LSU Permanent Memorandum 55.
“I was worried that we weren’t providing our students with a diverse faculty and thereby depriving them of skills they need to succeed in practice, but also that we may have been violating federal law,” she said.
Professor Carter chose to voice these concerns during a faculty meeting concerning adjunct faculty appointments—where the faculty was asked to approve the appointment of more than 40 adjuncts, only one of whom was a woman.
“The Chancellor told the faculty that he had a few new candidates he wanted to appoint because he had gotten to know them, they had become good friends, and the Chancellor thought they’d be a good addition to the faculty,” Professor Carter said. “I explained to the Chancellor and the faculty that the process that Weiss had just described has led to a disparate outcome that likely ran afoul of the federal law.” In response to her concerns, Carter said “the Chancellor yelled at me in front of the whole faculty, refused to allow me to continue to voice my concerns in a constructive manner, and told me that he was ‘not getting into it with me.’ It was very disturbing.”
Though each faculty member has not explained his/her motivations for signing the petition, Professor X gave a litany of specific instances that he/she believes may have driven the 25 faculty members to sign the petition.
“I believe that the specific events that finally prompted some members of the faculty to circulate the petition included Jack’s repeated claim that he did not have time during the worst of the budget crisis to do any significant fundraising, his repeated refusal to explain why he did not have this time, his alleged reluctance to address the diversity issue until it became public, his alleged microaggression against black law students (reported by Kyle Alagood ‘15 in the Huffington Post), his alleged bullying of Kenneth Barnes, Jr. ‘15 for reporting a racist incident at the law school to The Reveille, his alleged bullying of various students on The Reveille staff after this article was published, his alleged (and arguably actionable) sexually inappropriate comments at a law review banquet and to some faculty members, and his alleged (and arguably actionable) indifference to several female students’ and faculty’s complaints about sexual harassment and stalking,” Professor X opined.
Professor Carter believes that some faculty members may have signed the petition because they shared her concerns about Weiss’s management style.
“I think that people signed for many different reasons, but I think that that type of ‘bullying’ behavior was probably the most common reason why people signed,” she said. “Just… not a good leader.”
When contacted for a response to these allegations concerning his time as Chancellor, Weiss gave the following statement:
“The latest round of charges from the Civilian’s two faculty ‘sources’ are so full of falsehoods and distortions that I can’t possibly respond to them in a Civilian news article. So please just put me down for a general denial.
I do hope that fair-minded readers of the Civilian will weigh carefully the credibility of your two faculty sources. One of them remains hell-bent on promoting her false claims in every medium that will publish them. Meanwhile, not one of her claims has ever been substantiated. Your other faculty source, whom you’ve dubbed ‘Professor X’, won’t even speak on the record. So your readers have no way of assessing his or her credibility or holding this accuser accountable at all.
It’s time to move on and look forward. The Law Center’s faculty revolutionaries must now face up to the hard decisions that are involved in running a competitive law school in 2015 and beyond. Among the difficult decisions on tap are those that involve setting priorities for spending the school’s limited budget and for fundraising, plus the vexing challenge of reconciling the school’s role as Louisiana’s flagship public law school with its need to attract, and the needs of, students from other states. I trust that the Civilian will keep the PMH community carefully and critically briefed on those decisions in the months to come.”
Regardless of the events that may have led to Weiss’s resignation, the LSU Law community has commended the initiatives he put into motion during his time as Chancellor.
Maryam Brown, member of the Energy Law Center Advisory Board and Assistant to House Speaker John Boehner for Policy, applauded Weiss’s ingenuity in creating the energy law program.
“I work around leaders for a living, and Jack Weiss was an exceptional leader,” Brown said. “With the Energy Law Center he was leveraging Louisiana’s strengths to deliver what students as well as what the energy legal practice area needed. It was allowing our students to compete in this space on a national level on day one. He should have been hoisted on shoulders.”
Walters also spoke out in support of Weiss’s contributions to the Law Center, particularly his promotion of practice-oriented programs.
“Chancellor Weiss fostered good on-your-feet trial ad curriculum,” Walters said. “We teach people how to be lawyers. Supporting the NITA program, the clinical programs, the Apprenticeship Week program – all of these help us do that.”
As the Law Center turns its eyes towards the future, the LSU Law community weighs in on what this legal community should focus on in its selection of the new Dean.
“I hope the new Chancellor will be able to get the support of faculty and the alumni,” Fendler said. “It’s an awful thing to have this disruption that’s taking place. I hope the new Chancellor will see the value that Jack brought to the school with the help of faculty members and alumni. I hope it’ll be someone who can reach out to the alumni, because it’s going to take some real reaching out to bring everyone back together.”
Walters, who is on the selection committee appointed to find the new Dean, emphasized a need for unity amongst adjunct and full-time faculty.
“As an adjunct faculty member, I’m pretty isolated from what happens at the Law Center,” Walter said. “In the future, I would hope that the adjunct faculty and the faculty have a closer relationship.”
Some said that a renewed commitment to student learning should be the primary focus in the selection of the new Dean.
“Ideally,” Professor X explained, “the new dean will share the law faculty’s view that the law school should not be regarded as a factory that pumps out fresh lawyers, but rather as an academic enterprise that encourages learning as an end in itself, inspires curiosity, increases knowledge, and promotes the happiness and careers of all students and faculty.”
Others expressed a hope that diversity would be a strong consideration in the search for the new Dean.
“To be quite frank, I would love to see a woman of color ascend to the position,” Hairston said. “Such a selection would demonstrate the Law Center’s commitment to diversity, and I think that the unique perspective provided by such a candidate would be critical to the Law Center’s future development.”
However, regardless of what factors should influence the selection committee’s decision, the majority of the LSU Law community seems to agree that transparency will be crucial for the success of future administrations.
“It will always be difficult to achieve consensus among a group of highly educated people from various backgrounds,” Hairston said. “However, by fostering spaces in which open dialogues can be conducted, the Law Center can avoid some of the contentious exchanges that characterized the past year. It may take time, but it certainly can be accomplished.”
Click here to see the Faculty Petition.
Click here to see Professor X’s full interview.