Why SMU’s Law Dean Is Getting the Boot

In two paywalled Morning News stories about the ouster of John Attanasio as dean of SMU’s Dedman College of Law, you’ll search in vain for an explanation about why SMU has moved to boot Attanasio after 15 years in the post. He ain’t talking, and the school won’t comment. A lot of high-profile people are quoted in the DMN as rushing to Attanasio’s defense, but why was his head put on the chopping block in the first place? Obviously there’s more to this messy shakeup.

According to people familiar with the school, the long-serving dean had his pluses: he was a good fundraiser, student scores and grades were going up, etc. But in a time of sharply heightened competition among law schools nationally, Attanasio simply didn’t “move the needle” to take Dedman to the next level, the sources say. And, he’d had plenty of time to do it. U.S. News & World Report ranks SMU at No. 51 among the top law colleges, tied with Baylor–and well behind No. 16 UT.

The situation with Attanasio, one source says, can be likened to a football coach who makes the playoffs every year but can never win the “big one.” So, it’s time to bring in a new coach. The good news is that there’s plenty of churn among law school deans these days, so the talent pool may be deep.