The Importance of the Secret Ballot in Law Faculty Personnel Decisions: Promoting Candor and Collegiality in the Academy


Law school faculty personnel decisions are often controversial. Debates may be heated, votes may be close, and ill will may be incurred. One way to avoid this enmity and to promote or maintain a collegial atmosphere is to vote by secret ballot on hiring, retention, promotion, and tenure questions. The use of secret ballots, however, allows for the possibility of voting for the wrong reasons (e.g., bias, discrimination). But open voting allows for the same possibility (e.g., political correctness, fear of reprisals).

This Article discusses the evolution and significance of the secret ballot and considers the arguments for and against their use on law school faculties. It also presents the results of an original survey (with a 97% response rate) on the use of secret ballots in faculty personnel decisions at all law schools in the United States. Comments from the survey and conversations and email exchanges between the author and faculty and administrators across the country reveal a subtext that involves, among other things, candor, openness, fairness, and sensitivity, on the one hand, as well as politics, frustration, anger, power, dominance, and control, on the other hand.

The Article concludes that, with secret ballots -- or, at the very least, with an open and honest debate about whether to conduct secret ballots -- may come not only candor, but also greater harmony and collegiality.


Labor and Employment Law | Legal Education

Date of this Version

May 2006