David Yassky, dean of Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law, is relinquishing the position at the end of the semester after clashing repeatedly with the faculty.
Horace Anderson Jr., associate dean for academic affairs and a professor of law at the school, will take over as interim dean while the law school seeks to fill the vacancy.
In an exclusive interview with the New York Law Journal, Yassky said he has been discussing the transition back to teaching with university president Marvin Krislov for the past several months. But he evaded questions on whether the move was voluntary.
He did say that a new dean is good for the law school “because for the next phase it would be good to have someone who doesn’t have all the baggage.”
“Dean Yassky came to Pace in 2014 to see the Law School through the post-recession period of transition and challenges in legal education, and he has done so admirably,” Krislov said. “Pace’s Law School is stronger, it is serving our students better and it is positioned for further initiatives to enhance our program and build upon its strong relationship with the legal community.”
Two faculty members at Pace, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Yassky was pushed out of the deanship after losing the confidence of campus constituencies.
The faculty did not take a formal vote of no confidence in Yassky, according to one professor, but Pace University leaders were made aware that he would not have the faculty’s support should a vote occur.
“There was a lack of trust and a lack of confidence in Dean Yassky,” the professor said. “There was a lot of dishonesty and a lot of hiding the ball.”
Yassky began clashing with the faculty almost immediately after assuming the deanship, they said. He ruffled feathers by cutting faculty salaries and removing several staff members early in his tenure. Yassky acknowledged cutting faculty but said it was done by attrition.
The law school’s community was not pleased with Yassky’s short-lived bid last fall for a seat in the New York Senate, fearing it would divert attention from the law school.
“There’s been debate and kind of disagreement every step of the way because if you have smart people who care deeply there are going to be different perspectives about what’s the right way to go,” Yassky said.
But he added, “I’m pretty confident that my colleagues and I have logged more hours in faculty meetings over the last four years than is advisable.”
Yassky said the cost cutting was good for students because it allowed the school to increase scholarship dollars by 10 percentage points during his tenure.
As evidence of his success, Yassky pointed to rising bar passage rates, improving U.S. News and World Report rankings, better student employment prospects and more applications for admission. “I think students are certainly happy with where we are,” he said.
“David is being sort of humble in talking about his accomplishments,” said Anderson, the interim dean. He said that the school will be able to innovate, such as coming up with new ways of offering a J.D. because of the decisions Yassky made. “Those things are possible now because we are now on steady footing,” Anderson said.
Before coming to Pace, Yassky was chair of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. Yassky also served for eight years in the New York City Council, representing Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
In the 1990s, Yassky served under then-Rep. Chuck Schumer as chief counsel to the House Subcommittee on Crime, helping to enact the Brady Law, the Assault Weapons Ban and the Violence Against Women Act.
In 1998, Yassky joined the faculty of Brooklyn Law School, specializing in administrative law and constitutional law. His scholarship on the Bill of Rights has been published in leading law reviews and has been cited widely in academic journals and judicial opinions. He has also taught at NYU Law School.
Yassky earned his A.B. at Princeton University, and his J.D. at Yale Law School, where he served as articles editor of the Yale Law Journal and was awarded the Potter Stewart Prize for best moot court argument.