FIU Makes a High-Stakes Bet on Alex Acosta

Controversial Alexander Acosta has been named Dean at neighboring FIU Law. See the AP story and the FIU statement. He'll be stepping down as US Attorney in a few days, and starts soon after.

FIU President Modesto A. Maidique said, “His connections at the national and local level and his proven leadership here at home will inspire the next generation of law students at FIU.''

I've never met Mr. Acosta, but I hear from those who have that he's a genuinely impressive human; smart, confident, very articulate. These are good qualities for a Dean. He'll need all those qualities, because jumping into academe is much harder than it looks. There have been some fine practitioner law Deans, but they are in the minority (cf. Why A Practitioner Dean Sounds Like A Better Idea Than It Usually Is). One thing to look forward to: a visit by Justice Alito, for whom Mr. Acosta clerked while he was on the Court of Appeals.

In addition to his extensive local ties, Mr. Acosta also has a sterling c.v., including praisworthy work on language-access issues, but there are also some question marks. Before becoming the local US Attorney, Mr. Acosta served in a leadership role in the Bush Justice Department as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. That means he was responsible for among other things:

By some accounts Mr. Acosta did much better at the US Attorney's office than I would have predicted from his resume, or from his initial statement that his chief law enforcement priority would be porn rather than terrorism, narcotics trafficking or, say, public corruption. But there are also reasons to doubt whether things were as great as some local lawyers have liked to suggest: his office tried the Liberty City Six (Seven, Five, whatever) three times, at the cost of millions that surely could have been better spent. It was on Mr. Acosta's watch that prosecutors in the US Attorney's office made recordings of defense lawyer (and blogger) David O. Markus in violation of internal policies of the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal evidentiary rules. This lead U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold, only a few weeks ago, to issue a strongly worded, 50-page opinion, reprimanding prosecutors from the US Attorney's office, and requiring the government to pay $600,000 in sanctions for Mr. Acosta's subordinates' misdeeds.

Although the gracious Prof. Wasserman says at Prawfsblog that the public nature of the FIU Dean search did not affect the outcome, one can't help wondering. Once a local reporter mistakenly identified Mr. Acosta as a leading candidate (when he was in fact at the top of a very long alphabetical list), that made it much more difficult for him not to be shortlisted. The faculty may or may not have wanted him. Then again, we don't know whether the other top candidates kept their hats in the ring, or whether this is something FIU law faculty member and irascible columnist Stanley Fish lobbied for, or FIU President Mitch Maidique just wanted.

I hope FIU Law prospers under Dean Acosta — their students and faculty deserve it, and it's certainly good for us intellectually to have another thriving faculty so near by.

Meanwhile, I'm happy about our new Dean. (See Patricia D. White to Be Dean of University of Miami School of Law.)

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6 Responses to FIU Makes a High-Stakes Bet on Alex Acosta

  1. soulgeek says:

    Well, to tell you the fact, even i was under impression that Mr. Acosta may no perform as expected at US Attorney’s office , i too presumed it having browed through his resume, but may be i was wrong.

    [MF: comment edited to remove advertisement]

  2. Law2010 says:

    The students at the law school are incredibly excited about Dean Acosta! He brings a wealth of connections, a sterling c.v., and a refreshing lack of arrogance (unlike other candidates). Thank goodness the President and Provost of FIU had the good sense to recommend him and put the interests of the institution (and students) over petty politics. By all accounts he is an open-minded, fair, transparent manager and we really need that around here after all those years with Dean Strickman (who did a great job getting our accreditation but was a miserable manager of people). We are lucky to have Acosta– what a great catch, and what an exciting time to be at FIU law school!

  3. turnabout says:

    “I would hope that a wise Latin[o] [man] with the richness of [his] experiences would more often than not [be a better Dean] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

    Now who would say a [racist?] thing like this? Yes, michael, by the logic of Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee, FIU has a better law dean than UM. He is latin and she is not, and therefore the richness of his experiences makes him more qualified. Yet another reason why UM Law’s USNWR ranking is so low.

    I am a good liberal, and I love Obama. So I now believe that for any position, the scoring system is: Hispanic=5pts., Female=3pts., African-American=1pt., Male=0pt., White=-1pt. So FIU scores 5 points and UM Law only scored 2pts. Please be a good liberal and get a new Hispanic dean. Please don’t waste time with replying about substance and qualifications.

  4. Soya's Ghost says:

    The past deans of the University of Miami could not even enforce a $100.00 fine against professors for failing to grade papers. Let alone getting professors to publish, or go into the legal community without being laughed at. Tompkins tried and was forced out. Yet you seem to think that the problems mentioned above, like making hiring and firing decisions at the largest and most prestigious legal institution in the world, disqualify any practitioner law dean.

    I thought the main consideration for being Dean of the Law School or joining the Faculty was being completely ineffectual, you have just confirmed it.

    “and it’s certainly good for us intellectually to have another thriving faculty so near by.” – No, it absolutely is not. Not a single student or alumni wants the competition. The only thing Miami has going for it is that it is the top school in a large metro area. If FIU becomes comparable Miami is done. Unfortunately the Professors that are running the school into the ground can go somewhere else, whereas the students are stuck.

  5. michael says:

    I think competition makes you stronger (or you die). Lack of competition makes you complacent. So I think a strong FIU is – on balance – good for us.

    I don’t know Dean White, having only met her briefly a few times, but from her reputation the word “ineffectual” has nothing to do with her.

  6. jack says:

    Students are excited about acosta? Yippee, for them. Now they can continue to believe that the only “qualification” needed for a job is “connections” — attorneys shouldn’t have to be bothered with things like ethics or rights, instead, they just need to know the right people. Nice lesson there.

    I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I need to sell. Maybe I should see if the students at FIU might be interested in buying it. Get a grip, kidlets, you’re still going to have work your asses off, get good grades (Even if Acosta can even deliver on one job for a student, do you really think it’s going to any student below the top 5? Quit being delusional!), and get your acts together.

    If things at FIU continue as they’ve been, UM may have to worry about complacency, as FIU will not be any kind of competition.

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