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Dean of Labor?


After the failure of Andrew Puzder to be confirmed as Labor Secretary — tremendous failure, everyone’s saying it’s the biggest and best failure ever — we’ve got a law school dean as the new nominee. So, is this a good choice? Will Alexander Acosta’s role as a dean translate at all into his new role?

Before we get to those questions, it is important to understand Acosta’s career background. Before he became a dean, he was a member of the National Labor Relations Board, an Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Acosta was confirmed by the Senate to serve in each of these positions. In other words, he is a qualified man and his confirmation (unlike the confirmations of many other cabinet members in the current administration) should go relatively smoothly.

Given Acosta’s prior experience, his role as a law school dean may seem unimportant to the process. But his time at Florida International University should not be overlooked for a few reasons. First, he went through a rather rigorous vetting process while seeking a position as a law school dean. His writings were scrutinized, as was his prior testimony to congress. His experience there should assist him during the hostilely partisan confirmation process.

Second, he demonstrated strong leadership and creativity while serving as a dean. As has been discussed in a variety of posts, the law school industry isn’t exactly booming. Nevertheless, F.I.U. has risen in the U.S. News and World Report rankings for four consecutive years. With many law schools facing declining enrollment and worsening rankings, this is a testament to Acosta’s track record of success.

Finally, serving as a dean requires an individual to work with a variety of different groups, ranging from students to alumni to faculty, each of whom might have competing goals. Acosta’s experience in this position will, hopefully, enable him to reach across the aisle in an increasingly combative political climate.

There are certainly concerns over this appointment — some reports have raised flags about race relations under Acosta in his various roles — butthere is also reason to hope. He is a far more experienced choice than Andrew Puzder, and his resume checks the boxes. In a sea of tumultuous picks, there is some degree of calm with this one. Let’s hope it keeps up.