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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Aspiring Law Profs: Listing Teaching Interests

Like Kim, I'd also love to provide unsolicited teaching market advice this month!

A friend getting ready to go on the market asked me this question the other day, so I thought now might be a good time to discuss issues surrounding what teaching interests to list on one's CV and FAR form, and what prominence (primary, secondary) to give those interests.

I'll specifically identify two questions, but welcome many more: 1. Should one downplay one's interest in teaching a class such as Constitutional Law, which is deemed especially competitive? 2. Should one downplay one's interest in teaching classes such as Critical Race Theory, Feminist Legal Theory, Asian Americans and the Law, or other classes which may be perceived as "fluffy" by certain segments of the legal academy? (And are they in fact perceived this way?)

My experience with these questions follows, but I'd love to hear more perspectives.

I went on the market in fall 2005, when I received very variable advice about the first question.  I chose to be very up front about my primary teaching interests, which included Con Law and Employment Discrimination, despite the big hurdle I was told that would present.

I believe that being a very genuine person, in all aspects, leads to good interviews and good conversations.  Having watched the other side of the teaching market through one cycle now, I believe this even more.  It is truly refreshing to meet sincere candidates. 

Moreover, getting to teach "oversubscribed" courses at many schools requires some attention on the part of someone with the power to help you, but why would anyone help you if they don't know how much you want those courses? My choice seems to have paid off for me, as I ended up with a school and location I love, where I am teaching pretty much my first choices--Constitutional Law and Employment Law. 

But I also wasn't operating at any known disadvantage otherwise.  If anything, the rest of my CV put me at a relative advantage--fancy law school, ninth circuit clerkship, fellowship, blah blah. And I was also just lucky to some extent. So it would be good to hear other views on this.

As to the second question, I received little advice of any sort. Having been a student at Yale Law School, I had the  impression that these subjects were widely considered "fluffy."  I was especially wary because I felt that as a left leaning woman of color, I would be subject to a stereotype that I am not a rigorous thinker. 

Thus, while I didn't hide my secondary interest (and it was secondary) in courses such as Feminist Legal Theory, my terror at giving such courses too much prominence did, I realize in retrospect, underlie my failure to fully explore the options in these supposedly "less respected" areas.  A friendly interviewer, late in the process, pointed out to me that I might very much enjoy developing a seminar such as Asian Americans and the Law.  He was right, and I had failed to even think about such a course, much less decide whether to list it.  Now I hope to teach it one day.

I do think the stereotype about women and about people of color is out there and significant, and I do not want any aspiring woman and/or person of color professor to be unaware.  However, I think I seriously overestimated the strength of the stereotype about particular fields associated with the left, such as Critical Race Theory. The quiet and sometimes not so quiet disparagement of such subjects I heard while at Yale is not nearly as widespread or entrenched elsewhere, and is even non-existent at some schools.

Perhaps even more importantly, I had failed to consider that someone who considers Critical Race Theory to be on the fluffy side might still very much want to hire someone who can teach it well, simply because the students are expressing interest.  This attitude is far more common than I had realized.

But perhaps I am again being naive.

Posted by Gowri Ramachandran on July 5, 2007 at 10:25 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink

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» Gowri Ramachandran on Prawfsblawg from Law and Letters
I'm not sure I'll list CRT on my FAR. Not out of a fear of "fluffiness"--I still have plenty of that with my sociology of law stuff, and my willingness to teach feminist legal topics (like Sexual Harassment Law). It's just that, I don't write in the ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 6, 2007 6:44:21 AM

» FAR Forms from Legal Theory Blog
It is that time of year when aspiring legal academics begin to think about how to fill out the Association of American Law School's FAR (Faculty Appointments Register) form. These one page forms are distributed to every member school are [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 6, 2007 10:12:03 AM

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Gowri writes:1. Should one downplay one's interest in teaching a class such as Constitutional Law, which is deemed especially competitive? 2. Should one downplay one's interest in teaching classes such as Critical Race Theory, Feminist Legal Theory, Asian Americans and the Law, or other classes which may be perceived as "fluffy" by certain segments of the legal academy? (And [3.] are they in fact perceived this way?)I think the answer depends a bit on what you mean by "should." If you mean would it generally increase a candidate's chances of getting a teaching job, I tend to think the answers are:

1) Yes, for two reasons. First, supply and demand. Second, some profs assume that entry-level applicants who express interest in the sexy topics do so because they really haven't thought particularly hard about what they want to teach. Con law can come off as a default choice.

2) No. In my experience, at least, teaching interests tend to help or hurt to the extent they fit or clash with the particular school's curricular needs.

3) I don't know if the classes are considered fluffy. However, my sense is that at most schools, once you have a bread-and-butter course or two covered you have some freedom to create something as fluffy as you like. (I do think there's a concern that such fields are a bit too narrow to support a lot of new and interesting scholarship; but that's a question of scholarship rather than teaching.)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 5, 2007 10:58:44 PM

As to the second question, I received little advice of any sort. Having been a student at Yale Law School, I had the impression that these subjects were widely considered "fluffy." I was especially wary because I felt that as a left leaning woman of color, I would be subject to a stereotype that I am not a rigorous thinker.
I'm interested in teaching Critical Race Theory as well, but I am a White male. How does this impact the above-stereotype?

Posted by: David Schraub | Jul 5, 2007 11:35:27 PM

So which are the oversubscribed, "sexy" topics?

Among required/near-required/common big lecture classes, the ones that jump out at me as matching my expertise and interests are civil procedure, federal courts, and administrative law. Are these in that category?

What about the other first-year subjects--contracts, crim, torts, property, etc.?

Posted by: Wannabe Lawprof | Jul 6, 2007 12:02:35 AM

Wannabe,

The first-year courses are always in demand. Every student takes every one of them, and more senior profs often want to teach courses more closely related to their research and less demanding as a time commitment.

My sense is that administrative law is often in demand, as is civil procedure (1L course). On the other hand, fed courts is more a "sexy" course; a lot of former law clerks want to teach it as a sort of advanced con law course.

That's my experience, at least. Actual mileage may vary.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 6, 2007 12:10:42 AM

David, My cynical view is that to whatever extent CRT could hurt a candidate, it would hurt a white male candidate slightly less, and certainly no more. (Assuming you weren't planning on presenting yourself and your interest in CRT in some obviously offensive way, which I'm sure you weren't.)

Some students at Georgetown Law School were apparently overheard a few years ago by a professor saying something to the following effect, about Gary Peller, a wonderful white male professor who teaches and writes in the field of CRT. "I like learning CRT from Prof. Peller because I know that he's not self-interested, since he's white. He's objective."

As upsetting as that notion is in my view, I do think there are some professors who would think along these lines, though I doubt any would admit it openly the way the students did. So that's why I think there would, if anything, be some mitigating effect stemming from your race and gender.

Of course, people don't wear "I'm racially discriminating" signs on their foreheads, so this is all based on subtle cues, reading between the lines, and that sort of thing, for what it's worth.

Posted by: Gowri Ramachandran | Jul 6, 2007 4:32:38 AM

Wannabe:

I agree with Orin as to Fed Courts. I would add the following as to all three of your courses: There frequently is an overlap between con law and all three of your courses, which fall under the overbroad rubric of "public law" and which people (especially non-public-law types) lump together. There is a tendency among members of some faculties to assume, especially as to civ pro, that a candidate is *really* a con law teacher, is just listing civ pro as a way to get a job, and will demand to switch once she gets tenure. The perception depends on somewhat on what you have written and what is on your research agenda, as well as how you sell yourself.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 6, 2007 7:35:10 AM

Having just gone through the hiring process, I'll add my two cents:

I listed my primary interest (IP) and my secondary primary interest (commercial transactions). I got a lot of interest/interviews in commercial transactions, but in every interview I had it became pretty clear that I am an IP guy and in a perfect world would rather teach IP than commercial transactions. Thus, my callback interest was at schools that needed IP teachers, not at schools that needed commercial transactions teachers.

I'm not sure how that translates into advice, but I would sum it up this way:
1. List what you really want to teach in the first tier, even if it is combined with things that are secondary
2. If you list secondary items first, really be interested in those items

Posted by: Michael Risch | Jul 6, 2007 7:50:58 AM

Great post Gowri!

I have a post on this topic up:
http://lsolum.typepad.com/legaltheory/2007/07/far-forms-the-c.html

Posted by: Lawrence Solum | Jul 6, 2007 10:40:08 AM

In addition to the good advice above, a couple of thoughts.

First, schools vary in whether they are trying to hire somebody to fill a particular niche/field (because, e.g., somebody left or because the school wants to strengthen itself in an area) and schools that are trying to hire "best atheletes," regardless of subject matter strengths. If school X feels it needs a Crim law person, and you don't list Crim law as something you want to teach, that will be a minus. But if School Y is looking for best atheletes, what you say you want to teach probably won't matter much.

Thus, some schools won't care a lot, and of the schools that do, candidates typically don't know which schools are looking for what in a given year. So I don't know if candidates should spend a lot of time trying to strategize about this. The conventional wisdom is, as Gowri says, that Con law isn't a great one to list because it's a popular one to teach, but, as also mentioned above, putting down some other first year class can be a hook, sometimes.

As to "fluffy" classes, while I'm sure the types of reactions described above about courses on race and feminism exist, I think it's good if a candidate identifies some fairly specialized upper level class (along with some required/mainstream classes). That shows, I think, the candidate has thought about how s/he can carve out a specialty in teaching and scholarship.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jul 6, 2007 11:02:31 AM

Another vote in favor of candor. If you list something seemingly quotidian from the first year curriculum as a #1 preference but then follow it up with a majority of classes that clearly show an interest in something else, it risks the double sin of trying to obscure a true preference while also demonstrating where the preference actually lies. If you think you really want to be a full-bore whatever [HR, coin law, IP, etc.] then put that in the top three.

But for those who are just going on the job market, let me disclose one of the secrets of this racket: teaching basic courses in the first year is an absolute blast and is frequently much more rewarding than teaching "fluffy" subjects in third-year seminars, where student energy and curiosity are beginning to lag. (This makes law teaching the opposite of undergraduate teaching, where teaching in the freshman year is a burden given to graduate students and untenured faculty and the really great teaching and courses go in the upper division.) Embrace a first year class, and try to know something about it for the meat market, and try to make a case for how it fits into your more advanced substantive and theoretical and methodological interests. And if you really are concerned about the availability of slots for con. law or another subject (which may or may not be well-placed), add another first year course or highly subscribed upper division course (the aforementioned fed courts and ad law for con law teachers) into the mix. Sometimes a school has a secondary need in con law, but will only hire in that area if a candidate can readily and happily fill a primary need in another area.

The worst you can do is look like you're trying to snooker an appointments committee. They'll bring you in for an interview and it'll be clear to the faculty that you really aren't what they thought you were; or, worse from the faculty's perspective, they'll hire you to teach first year course [x] where there's a great need, and as soon as you can, you'll try to get out from teaching course [x] while there's still a great need on the faculty.

There is the risk that your true preferences will knock you out of the running at some schools. I'll spare the homilies here, but if you're really sold on your desire and ability to teach in a particular area, perhaps it's best to run that risk for the greater reward of greater job satisfaction . . . and probably performance as well.

Posted by: Mark Fenster | Jul 6, 2007 11:20:22 AM

One question I have is how much do you "bend" your developing scholarship to touch on other topics that you would like to teach as a part of your package? E.g., if you want to teach employment discrimination and your scholarship is centered around this, how much should you "reach" for other areas within this scholarship for the sole purpose of evidencing that you would be qualified to teach in those other areas (like contracts, torts, civil procedure, etc.). Is it enough to just write in the specialized area(s) you are passionate about and (assuming that scholarship is quite good) trust you will not need your scholarship to directly provide indicia that you can teach every class set out as a teaching interest? I hope these questions make sense.

Posted by: aspiringlawprof | Jul 6, 2007 12:26:08 PM

I'll post again just to echo Mark Fenster's point that teaching a first year class, even assuming it's outside your pre-existing areas of expertise, is a lot more fun than entrants to the field usually think it will be. I was hired to be a labor/employment law prof. (my areas of practice, interest, and writing), and was also assigned to teach torts. I was skeptical at first, but I honestly enjoy teaching torts as much as any of my upper level classes, for all the reasons Mark mentions.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jul 6, 2007 12:26:34 PM

I think Larry Solum is totally right about this: Honesty is the best policy. I think this is always true in job interviews, in part because I believe it is a virtue to be true to yourself, but in part because one who gets a job on false pretenses will have trouble on the job once the pretenses are inevitably discovered to be false. Be honest: You'll help yourself with some places and hurt yourself with others, but you'll increase your probability of finding a good match.

As a person who teaches and writes in and around the edges of these fields, I do have a few thoughts about con law/ad law/fed courts. First, lots of schools (including us!) are looking to hire in public law. It's not a field that's in as much demand as, say, commercial law, but there are plenty of jobs out there. Second, my sense is that some of the skepticism of entry-level public law candidates is not skepticism about the field so much as it is something different: A number of people who clerk, do an appellate practice, then put con law/ad law/fed courts on their FAR form have ambitions that are a bit antiquated -- scholarship as high-level doctrine-crunching. Many public law scholars -- and all of the most prominent public law scholars -- do much more sophisticated work than that, but public law is one of the few areas in which one can still attain a decent degree of success and recognition doing nothing more than high-level doctrine-crunching. A faculty that is skeptical of that sort of work may use the listing of con law/ad law/fed courts by a former clerk as a bit of a proxy. If you are on the market as a public law person, then, I think it's important to be able to combat the perception that you just want to do doctrine-crunching -- even if the kind of work you want to do is doctrinal in the broad sense that most (even really good) work still is. It's okay to go on the market as someone whose discipline is law, but it's much harder to go on the market as someone who does nothing more than deriving and applying principles from cases. In my observations, public law folks have to be especially conscious of that concern.

Posted by: Sam Bagenstos | Jul 6, 2007 12:27:45 PM

Here's another reason for honesty: teaching is hard work. It's a pretty big time-suck even when you know and like the subject; I think it would become downright torturous if you didn't. So I would say if your research interests are Con Law, and you think about nothing but Con Law all day, and when you daydream about being a professor you see yourself leading a discussion on INS v. Chadha, then Con Law should probably be in the first line of your FAR.

That said, I think you can and should monkey around the edges of your preferences; if the first line of the FAR is all "fluff" seminar classes, you might want to throw your top first-year preference in the #3 position, even if it displaces something that you'd technically prefer to teach. But I agree with those who warn it's hard to fake enthusiasm; being genuinely enthusiastic also makes a subject easier to teach, which (I suspect) will help make your life easier in the long run.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Jul 6, 2007 12:55:47 PM

One more vote for honesty, because in addition to the reasons listed above and at Larry Solum's blog, law profs are gossipy as anything and if you tell one school you most want to teach Subject A, and another school you most want to teach Subject B, and this gets discovered, you look kind of, ahem, opportunistic.

BTW, South Carolina is probably looking for at least one Con Law teacher this fall!

Posted by: Ann Bartow | Jul 6, 2007 1:14:33 PM

Aspiringlawprof, to directly answer your question, I don't think research and teaching interests need to completely overlap; at least, they didn't in my case. I went through the process more than once, one year listing Civ Pro on the top line and one year listing Contracts -- not because I intend to do much scholarship in those areas, but because I have practice experience and believed I would enjoy teaching those classes. It was clear that my research interests are in other fields and no one ever asked me what Civ Pro or Contracts research I was planning on doing (although I did get asked how I would teach the class, so get ready for that one).

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Jul 6, 2007 1:15:19 PM

I have some really cursory thoughts here: http://lawandletters.blogspot.com/2007/07/gowri-ramachandran-on-prawfsblawg.html

Great post, Gowri. Perhaps in a follow up you could address aspiringlawprof's ("how much do you "bend" your developing scholarship to touch on other topics that you would like to teach as a part of your package? E.g., if you want to teach employment discrimination and your scholarship is centered around this, how much should you "reach" for other areas within this scholarship for the sole purpose of evidencing that you would be qualified to teach in those other areas (like contracts, torts, civil procedure, etc."

And also this: I am qualified to teach CRT, but no longer have as strong an interest in theory as I used to. But my transcript and diploma definitely say "with a concentration in CRT." Is it disingenuous _not_ to list CRT and Asian American Jurisprudence as classes I _can_ teach (but feel reluctant to)? Is it just being foolish not to list them, just because I no longer write in the areas and don't do much current reading in either?

Then again, to echo aspiringlawprofs, listing torts and contracts for my first year courses is more gaming than actual active scholarly interest. My work in contracts is more employer-employee bargaining; so if I were totally honest I would list: employment discrimination law, constitutional law, contracts, sociology of law. And upon reconsideration, I think CRT and Asian American Jurisprudence should be on there as well.

Posted by: Belle Lettre | Jul 6, 2007 1:34:09 PM

Belle,

I really like the post over at your blog. I would say, if you're not that interested in CRT or teaching CRT anymore, don't list it. You can simply list different teaching and scholarly interests if that's what it takes to reflect your current wishes.

I had a very similar issue when it came to my scholarly interests because I have a Master's in Statistics, but am pretty uninterested in doing data analysis or other systematic empirical work right now, as well as not well read in the latest methods and their benefits/downsides.

And just like you, I have some conflict about it. I have no beef with those methods per se. It's just that when I went on the teaching market, I was not really inspired to use them in the near future.

The good news is that because you have this CRT thing on your resume, people will likely ask you why you didn't list it, which is what they did with me re: Statistics. At that point you can explain what you've explained on your blog, including the fact that of course, if there is a teaching need, you'll happily meet it.

I may have gotten a lot of questions to clear up the Stats issue in part because empiricism is so "hot" right now, but if the item on your resume is substantial enough and the school is seriously looking for CRT teaching, hopefully the chances are high they'll interview you and ask you about it.

Posted by: Gowri Ramachandran | Jul 6, 2007 2:55:35 PM

Don't bend the scholarship.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jul 6, 2007 3:35:51 PM

Sam's point seems right to me. I would put a stronger spin on it. I have seen entry-level candidates doing compelling, exciting, cutting-edge work in constitutional law. If it were up to me, I would hire all of them. The problem is, these candidates are the exception. I have seen many more candidates in constitutional law who are just not very good. This seems to be a particular problem with respect to candidates who come from practice (rather than a fellowship or advanced degree program), perhaps because they don't have time to get up to speed on the relevant literature, or because they are not in the right setting to get early feedback to shape their topics. They tend to write about the First Amendment, or privacy, or abortion, or equal protection--topics about which it is very hard, especially as a beginner, to say something truly original and compelling. The real trouble arises because every member of a law school faculty has some familiarity with constitutional law, most have sat through lots of presentations on constitutional law topics, and constitutional law often involves hot-button social and political issues (about which the entire audience already has an opinion). Everyone in the room, then, is a critic--more so, I think, than in some more specialized fields. It's easy to fail to impress. Candidates should not avoid constitutional law for these reasons. But I think it is really important for constitutional law candidiates to be very strategic about the selection of topics--and to get feedback as far in advance as possible.

Posted by: Jason Mazzone | Jul 8, 2007 2:24:33 PM

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