Lawyers Leading Higher Education

Special Guest Post By:

Patricia E. Salkin, Professor of Law and Senior VP, Academic Affairs, and Provost, Graduate and Professional Divisions,
Touro Law Center

A little-studied area about the role of lawyers in the higher education C-Suite has been highlighted in my newly released book, May it Please the Campus: Lawyers Leading Higher Education.  This multi-year examination of lawyer college and university presidents was undertaken as a Ph.D. dissertation in creativity.

Leading an institution of higher education is a demanding responsibility and one that requires a skillset that is comparable to those that successful lawyers must possess. Something significant is happening as the data shows that in each of the last three decades, the number of lawyers who have been appointed as college and university presidents has been doubling. By extrapolating the data from the first two decades of 2022, this trend not only continues, but by the end of the 2020s, it is likely that 10% of the sitting presidents of Carnegie classified institutions will be lawyers.

In addition to highlighting the skills and experiences that lawyers bring to campus leadership, the book explores the history of higher education focused on early lawyer presidents in the 1700s, the development of formal legal education, and the explosion in the number of law schools – leading to more lawyer faculty and more law deans actively engaged in higher education.  For some, creating a pathway to the presidency through a more conventional career path of advancement within the academy.  Yet, as the data reveals, a noticeable number of lawyer presidents are being tapped for these leadership opportunities with little to no prior academic experience – coming from government, the corporate world, and private law practice. 

As the list of law schools providing formal leadership training grows, supported by a fairly new AALS Section on Leadership, the opportunities for lawyers to lead in different sectors outside of the traditional law practice settings are enormous. 

May it Please the Campus, offers readers a treasure trove of data documenting the changing face of the campus presidency, and offering a glimpse into the backgrounds of lawyer leaders in higher education.  A website that hosts a blog provides additional data, stories, and news on lawyer presidents. See, https://lawyersleadinghighered.com  For example, the blog highlights John Mercer Langston, the first African American lawyer president, Frances Tarlton “Sissy” Farenthold, the first woman lawyer president, and lawyer Anthony Appel who reigned his presidency after 6 days on the job.

Please contact me with comments and suggestions for other lawyer presidents to highlight. [email protected]