Paul Berman, who became George Washington's dean in July of last year, is leaving the position in January for a newly created job --" vice provost for online education and academic innovation" -- in GWU's central administration.
Since I've heard little about the back story of this move from my many close friends on the GWU faculty (and indeed it appears to have come as a total surprise to them), I will echo Peggy Noonan's words of wisdom and note that it would be irresponsible not to speculate.
The timing of this move is very peculiar, especially because it's taking place right in the middle of the academic year.My guess is that soon to be ex-Dean Berman is getting out while the getting is good. Times being what they are, any law school dean, and especially one at a trap school, needs to be on the lookout for a soft landing spot. Berman, I suspect, has no particular desire to spend the next few years being the guy who makes the kinds of hard decisions that will need to be made at law schools like GWU to get their operating costs in some sort of rational relationship with the value of the degrees they're conferring.
University administrators get rewarded for successful empire-building, not for ceding Germania to the Visigoths. And while Rome wasn't sacked in a day, legal education's empire is looking a lot shakier than on-line education, which, let's face it, is the face of the future in this business (Alfred North Whitehead's remark a century ago that the university has been obsolete since the invention of the printing press was merely one hundred years and one technological revolution ahead of its time).
Berman's now apparently concluded career in legal academia is a remarkable testament to the structure of the contemporary law school. He managed to become dean of two law schools without, as far as I can determine, ever practicing law for a day in his life (He graduated from law school in 1995, did COA and SCOTUS clerkships for the next two years, then went straight onto the UCONN faculty. The most interesting aspect of his biography is that he ran what apparently is an off-off Broadway theater in NYC for about four years between Princeton undergrad and NYU law -- a job which sounds like it involved more than a few full working days).
He's apparently very good at raising money, which is what both deaning and central administrating is all about these days, so he's likely to continue to flourish in the topsy turvey world of contemporary higher ed. That he's bailing out of legal academia at this particular moment is more than a little suggestive of which way the wind is blowing.