As the story goes, when the agency that accredits law schools reviewed the University of Utah College of Law's self-study, the accreditation team didn't buy it.
The law school faculty had described itself as "collegial." They went on to call the law school atmosphere warm and supportive, yet productive."They just didn't think it sounded very believable. They tried for three days to prove we hadn't been candid," said Dean Lee Teitelbaum, softly laughing.
The college's kinder, gentler atmosphere is what attracted Teitelbaum to Utah in the first place. It's one of the reasons he's served eight years as dean.
"I've had a great time. It is an unusually collegial faculty," said Teitelbaum, who will step down as dean June 30. A search is under way for a successor.
Nationally, the average tenure of a law school dean is 3.2 years.
The quick turnover is due, in part, to the tremendous stress of the position. A law school is a self-contained college, handling everything from admissions to alumni relations.
"Think about it: You're in charge of the budget," law professor Linda Smith said. "You have to make sure that people get hired and that people get paid and feel appreciated. You have to see students are accepted to law school and are graded appropriately. And Lee's a very hands-on administrator."
Teitelbaum, nationally recognized for his work in juvenile and family law, will take a year's sabbatical before returning to the classroom full time. He's taught at least one class each semester since accepting the deanship in 1990. In the midst of it all, he published a legal textbook on family law.
Salt Lake attorney Robert O. Rice, a 1993 law school graduate, said he considers Teitelbaum a master teacher. More impressive is his genteel demeanor, Rice said.
"I had him for family law as I think back. He was a terrific teacher, a master of the Socratic method yet gentle at the same time. I think it's difficult to balance the brutality of the Socratic method with respect for students, but he had a real talent for that. I admire him for it."
Outside the classroom, two of Teitelbaum's greatest accomplishments have been fund-raising and recruiting a faculty that rivals the nation's top law schools, Smith said.
Under Teitelbaum's direction, the law school received a $2.5 million gift from the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation. The gift provides scholarships and funds to improve the college library.
The son of a New Orleans physician, Teitelbaum is a 1966 graduate of Harvard Law School. His classmates included Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
Upon graduation from Harvard, where he also earned his undergraduate degree, Teitelbaum moved to Chicago. He worked for Cook County, representing juvenile offenders.
His academic career has included stops in North Dakota, Buffalo, N.Y., and Albuquerque.
His spouse, Herta, is director of academic advising at the U. The couple met while Teitelbaum was a law student and married in 1965. They have one son.
While Teitelbaum observes his sabbatical, Herta Teitelbaum will have a key role in the U.'s transition to a semester schedule.
Teitelbaum's break will enable him to focus on his first love, teaching, Herta Teitelbaum said.
"He just thinks it's time for a new set of eyes to look at the school. Maybe someone else wants to do something different. Lee's made wonderful friends in the legal community and in Salt Lake City. He's a true academic. He loves his students and that piece will continue," she said.