Lessons from Dean for a Day (and a Half)

Educators continue to teach us even when they’re outside the classroom. That’s true for deans, too.

Tran Le Abraham ’24 shadowed Texas Law Dean Bobby Chesney on Nov. 9-10, accompanying the dean in Austin for meetings with school leaders, students, and even a faculty job candidate. She also joined him in Fort Worth where they co-hosted an alumni happy hour.

Tran Le Abraham ’24 and Dean Bobby Chesney pose for a photo.
Dean Bobby Chesney and Tran Le Abraham ’24

Abraham’s opportunity to serve as a co-dean was thanks to her successful live bid at the Texas Law Fellowships fall auction, which raises money for public interest internship summer stipends. “My husband remembered that when I had applied to college, my dream was to be in higher education administration,” says Abraham, who will work in the in the legal services division at the Texas Association of School Boards in Austin following graduation. “He bid on my behalf, and I was really happy when he did it.”

As a result of her husband’s initiative, Abraham won the chance to be “dean for a day”—which stretched into a day and a half. Chesney offered the 3L, who grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the chance to add co-hosting duties for the alumni gathering in Fort Worth. “That just goes to how much he loves engaging with students,” she says. “It was a great opportunity, and I felt fortunate to have gotten the one-on-one time and have learned from him. The overall impression that I got from the experience, but also his insights, I will carry with me as I move on to higher leadership positions in my field,” Abraham says.

Those insights include the dean’s approach to long-term goals, public speaking, and accomplishing day-to-day tasks. Here’s what she learned from the experience.

Focus on long-term goals—and share them. To accomplish big things, take a long-term view. “My biggest takeaway is that it’s important to have a clear vision and to take steps towards that vision. I could see that for Dean Chesney, with every decision he made, that’s what he did,” Abraham says. “It was like, ‘How will this benefit or harm the students? And does this go towards my 10-year strategic plan?’”

And it’s important to be patient. “All this takes time,” Abraham says. “It can’t just happen overnight, but for students, we’re only here for three years.”

Dean Bobby Chesney introduces Tran Le Abraham ’24 at a Fort Worth alumni happy hour event.
Dean Bobby Chesney introduces Tran Le Abraham ’24 at a Fort Worth alumni happy hour event

The dean also made sure to communicate his vision to others, including in Fort Worth. His welcoming remarks at the alumni event, were “really about letting everybody hear the plan that he has for the law school,” Abraham says. “I think that a reason why he does that is so that the alumni can stay engaged and want to give back, whether that be monetarily, with potential job connections, or mentorship.”

Communicate with personality. Knowing your plans inside and out means you can communicate them clearly and with spontaneously, too. Abraham saw that on display when the dean spoke to alumni.

“Public speaking-wise, it was clear that he was prepared to share the vision and plan that he has for the school,” she says. “He sounded very confident and smooth as he was communicating, but at the same time, he was able to showcase his personality through his jokes and introduction to me, for example.” That comfort takes practice, with Abraham says noting the dean made more than 20 alumni visits during the prior year. “He’s able to balance the formality with the informality very well.”

Tackle the day-to-day. While focusing on big goals, we still need to address daily responsibilities. Just make sure they don’t consume too much time.

The dean told Abraham about the volume of messages he receives. “You could spend your whole job just maintaining the day-to-day and answering emails, for example,” she says. “But if you want to do more than just maintain the status quo, you really have to schedule time when you’re trying to do new stuff versus just staying afloat with the regular things that need to occur for a law school to operate.”

That requires setting aside time to focus on daily tasks. The dean “just gives himself chunks of the day he dedicates to doing whatever he needs to do, and he has a running to-do list,” she says. It’s about “having dedicated time slots for particular endeavors because, otherwise, it is easy to just have the emails overflow and spend a lot of time answering them and not be able to get anything else done.”

Tran Le Abraham ’24 shadows Dean Bobby Chesney.

Trust your team. As a leader, give your team the confidence and trust to direct their own areas. “That’s where the delegation comes in,” Abraham says. She saw other Texas Law leadership from areas including career services, student affairs, and academic affairs bring selected school-wide issues to the dean’s attention. “From what I could see, it seemed like the job boundaries were very clear, but he was very involved in standardizing the law school culture and also the future that he wants the law school to get to,” she says.

During the job candidate interview, Abraham says the dean relied on various faculty who also took part in the process to ask questions about specific topics related to the candidate’s research. “Different professors have different approaches they bring to their questioning of the candidate. That’s a well-rounded way to see how deeply the candidate has thought about his own research,” she says.

Abraham will look back fondly on the time she had to learn from the dean.

“I was really inspired by him and how committed and dedicated he is to making Texas Law the No. 1 public school law school in the country and seeing the actual initiatives he believes will get us there,” she says.

“I found him to be really passionate and student-focused, and I found that to be really inspiring,” she says. “And I felt lucky, honestly, to have a day-and-a-half with him.”

Category: Student Life