Wednesday, October 11, 2006
A Month in the Life
For those of us who weren't born into academic families and don't live in neighborhoods made up solely of other academics, one of the hardest things about being a law professor is explaining what I do for a living to family and neighbors. Everybody understands that professors teach classes. With a bit of prodding, they can be made to remember that professors write articles. Beyond that, however, their knowledge trails off quickly. And even with regard to teaching and scholarship, they have little idea what we do on a day-to-day and a minute-to-minute basis.
With an eye towards, bridging that knowledge gap, I thought it would be useful to reconstruct my professional life for the month of September. To make this post interesting for those in the academy, I have two sets of questions: (1) Is my mix of activities particularly different than yours? If so, why? Does it have to do with my subject matter? The fact that I teach at the flagship public law school in my state in a building two blocks from the capital? Some quirk of my personality?; (2) Is the mix of our duties (rather than their volume or the difficulty) the real explanation for why--if this is the best profession in the world--we are always so stressed?
In September 2006, I prepared and taught five classes per week--three sessions of a required Constitutional Law II course and two sessions of a seminar on the United States Supreme Court. I read and researched for three ongoing article projects--a constitutional theory/legal history article on the development of a distinction between substantive and procedural due process, a companion piece on the emergence of Law Review commentary as a distinctive genre of scholarship in the early 20th century, and a co-written piece on African-American civil rights lawyering in the pre-Brown South. I spent much of my scholarship time rethinking and reworking the already partially written due process piece in response to a pair of recently published articles.
In addition, I testified before a State Senate Task Force on a criminal justice reform about a proposal suggested in one of my articles, participated in two panels on Supreme Court cases in a series we have for our students, organized an exciting constitutional theory panel for next year's Southeastern Association of Law Schools conference, wrote handwritten comments on several hundred cover letters for article reprints I sent out to other academics, negotiated with the school's athletic department for early access to next year's football schedule so that I could start planning a conference we will be holding next year (more on that later), spoke on the telephone with two local lawyers attempting to draft their first petitions for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, spoke on the phone with four reporters from local newspapers interested in background on constitutional or criminal matters, participated in a number of strategy sessions with opponents of a proposed state constitutional amendment limiting the rights of gays and lesbians, attended six academic presentations (including several by faculty candidates), made several phone calls to potential job candidates on behalf of our selection committee (from which I blissfully have a respite this year), attended two meetings of the five-member faculty executive committee I somehow got myself elected to last spring, and graded a half dozen moot court briefs. And those are just the highlights.
The point is neither to complain or to brag. After all, I'm sure (1) that I only worked half as many hours as many of my former classmates who are currently toiling away at BigLaw firms and (2) that a number of those activities are things any qualified therapist would tell me I am only doing to avoid my "real" work. Nonetheless, I think my month was fairly representative of my life and those of my colleagues. And I thought my Mom and Bill down the street might like to know what it is I do for a living.
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Tracked on Oct 12, 2006 8:00:55 AM
I know the feeling! Not just family members and neighbors, but students too, seem generally to assume that we teach class, and that's pretty much it. ("Did you enjoy your summer off"?) Of course, for many academics, I suspect that *is* pretty much it. I think your description of how you spent your September is a good reminder of how much of our vocation involves timeconsuming service -- service to the profession, to the political debate, and to our institutions.
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 11, 2006 1:26:51 PM
I think it's a good exercise for anyone to sit down and do this; write out what they have done in a period of time. Reading your post made me hyperventilate a little, and in true insecure fashion, question why I'm such a slacker, but then I took a minute to list what I've done in the last month. None of my stuff sounds nearly this impressive, but it's still a lot of work, nonetheless.
The thing, though, that's missing from your description, that is touched on by Rick is that you don't explain what it means to teach a class. That doesn't mean simply standing up for 50 minutes or even an hour and a half. Being "on" for that time is both extremely taxing and requires substantial preparation. There is so much work outside of that class time devoted to choosing the materials, reading as much in the area as possible, drawing connections, thinking of analogies, determining what will be difficult for students and figuring out how to overcome those difficulties, etc. On a new class, I spend, sometimes 8 hours or more preparing for each hour of class I'll teach. For a repeat class, I have it down to 3 hours most of the time, but that's at a minimum and still is a major chunk of time.
My friends and relatives understand the public service aspects the best. What most of them don't understand are the scholarship and teaching aspects because they don't have similar things to compare them to.
Posted by: Marcia McCormick | Oct 11, 2006 8:34:34 PM
I somehow feel left out, as I did not receive a reprint with a handwritten note. :(
Now you have a new item for your list...
Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Oct 12, 2006 2:36:45 AM
Marcia's absolutely right--I left out the promised description of what goes into teaching a class. Frankly, once I started to type it I became afraid that I wouldn't do it justice. Thanks to her for filling in the gap.
As per Miriam's comments, a general apology to my soon-to-be friends who have not received reprints. Your overweighted office shelves thank me.
Posted by: Andrew Siegel | Oct 12, 2006 7:24:26 AM