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Thursday, December 13, 2012

On teaching loads

I do not write much about the law-school-reform stuff, because I have not thought as deeply about it as Matt, Paul, and others. But commenters in two earlier posts have raised the issue of tenure-track teaching loads, suggesting that moving to a 2/3 (or even 3/2 or 3/3) teaching load would resolve some problems without overburdening professors.

My school's regular teaching load is 2/2 and I have taught 2/3 for the past few years. It is manageable and I have not found that it interferes with scholarship or other writing--although my view on it as a second-year professor may have been different than as a tenured full professor. So I agree that upping the ordinary teaching load would not overwhelm most of faculty and is a change that schools could make.

But beyond appearing to make law profs sing harder for their supper (which some of the angrier birds seem to want), I doubt increased teaching loads will resolve the teaching-resource problem. After all, even with most of our non-administrator professors teaching four classes, we still, by necessity, have many classes taught by adjuncts and other non-TT faculty.

First, upping the teaching load will not necessarily mean more course offerings covered by tenure-track faculty. The need to offer multiple sections of 1L and required or "required" upper-level classes means that several profs already have 1/4 to 1/2 of their loads taken up on one subject. For example, most years, I have had to cover two of the three Evidence sections we offer each year--1/2 of my normal load taken up by Evidence. Next semester, I have to cover two sections of Civ Pro--again, 1/2 of my normal load taken up by Civ Pro. Several of my colleagues are in the same boat. This, by the way, is part of why I started teaching a fifth class--I wanted to make sure I got to teach, and the school offered, Fed Courts and Civil Rights every year.

We have a small faculty (only 24 tenure-earning faculty, one of whom is a clinical professor), which explains the need to double-up. We also have a small class (around 160 each year) and try to keep class sections small--no more than 60 or so (1L) or 80 (upper-level). These are all things that everyone in the reform conversation likes. Smaller faculty means less money spent on faculty, cost savings that can be passed along to the students. Smaller classes are pedagogically beneficial--they allow more students to engage in classroom conversations and allow for more non-lecture activities and more in-semester assignments and projects. But when you put all of that together, it means tenure-track faculty are not available to cover all of the courses a law school needs to offer--even when we up the expected teaching load. This is exacerbated when we throw in the practice-oriented and clinical classes (which, again, reform advocates insist must be a greater part of the law school curriculum), which must be kept especially small, demanding more sections and more profs.

Again, I am not arguing against increasing the typical teaching responsibility (I have always been perfectly happy teaching what I do). It would remove one faculty-recruitment disadvantage we have long fought. It is just to say that it does not actually solve any problems beyond the cosmetic.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 13, 2012 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

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Your point is not clear to me. If profs teach more classes, schools can hirer fewer profs and charge lower tuition. Right? Let's say I leave my current school. If 4 of my fellow faculty members each picked up 1 of my 4 classes, then the school could save a significant amount of money by not filling my seat.

Yes, adjuncts will still have to teach classes, but schools could teach the required courses with fewer tenure track faculty members. And salaries are the major cost for law schools.

Also, I am not sure if many students care if there are "more course offerings covered by tenure-track faculty." They want a lower-priced product. And frankly, many of the upper level electives are better taught by really good adjuncts or clinical profs (at a fraction of the cost).

Posted by: NewProf | Dec 13, 2012 10:22:50 AM

Wherever reform advocates come down on more features versus lower cost, the fact is this: law schools are dealing with a market for their 1L seats that is smaller, more skeptical and more price-sensitive than any seen to date, and that trend seems likely to continue. The smaller and choosier that population gets, the harder it will be for a school to sustain its PC&B, while managing its applicant pool quality and in turn its appeal to the market.

Thus, I cannot agree that generating enough course-hours taught using fewer people and less PC&B is "cosmetic," at least not for the majority of schools which will have smaller classes paying lower effective tuition if they are to survive the next few years.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 13, 2012 11:37:40 AM

See here: http://www.lsac.org/lsacresources/data/three-year-volume.asp

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 13, 2012 11:38:44 AM

Morse: The number of 1L seats is never going to get so low that we are going to be able to return to only one or two sections of 1L classes. Even if a school gets down to 150 1Ls, that's still 75 per section, probably too large to be ideal in 1L courses. You still need that 3d section, meaning 3 profs per class, with the concominant need to hire adjuncts and other profs.

Now, if the goal is to entirely change the law school model all the way away from research faculty, that may be OK.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 13, 2012 2:32:30 PM

"You still need that 3d section, meaning 3 profs per class." That is not true if the sections are taught at different times, as they are at my school. In fact, you could have one professor teach all three sections, if the classes were offered at different times. Also, my school only has two sections for 150 1L students. Probably not ideal, but not that uncommon either. I even know schools that have 90 or 100 students in 1L classes.

Posted by: NewProf | Dec 13, 2012 3:14:40 PM

90 or 100 students *in each section* of the 1L classes.

Posted by: NewProf | Dec 13, 2012 3:15:38 PM

But one of the big criticisms of law school pedagogy, even before all of this, is that lecturing to huge classes is not the best way to do it and the move to "small sections" has been going on for two decades.

For the point I'm trying to make, there is no difference between one person covering three sections and three people each covering a section of that class. One section is taking up time from a prof, limiting the number of course offerings. If you put me on a 3/2 schedule and three of those are sections of Civ Pro, that doesn't leave me a whole lot else to teach.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 13, 2012 3:27:46 PM

Right, but we don't need you or other tenure track profs to teach non-required classes. I think we could cover the required classes with fewer tenure track profs by requiring them to teach more, and farm the other classes out to adjuncts or full-time non-tenure track profs.

The main issue here is the cost of legal education. To bring the cost down we can either cut tenure track faculty members (and make those who remain teach more) and/or we can cut professor salaries.

I think professor salary cuts are coming next year, if they are not already here. The vast majority of my colleagues could not get six-figure jobs elsewhere. Some of them could, and maybe we will have to continue paying them well, but I think you could cut the pay of most of them down to $75,000 or so without losing many of them. At least this is probably true at the lower ranked schools where the chances of lateraling, especially in this market, are low.

Posted by: NewProf | Dec 13, 2012 3:59:17 PM

If you compare law professors to those in the humanities and social sciences, the former teach a lot less (3/4 courses a year compared with 6/8 a year), get paid a lot more (most humanities and social sciences profs start in the $60-$70K range), and both are expected to produce a similar amount of scholarship although the latter have to get published in peer reviewed journals, which is a lot harder to do than publish in a law review.

So, law professors should easily be able to teach an extra one or two classes a year without research suffering.

Posted by: anon | Dec 13, 2012 6:13:01 PM

@Howard:

I have no idea how this new pressure will change what law professors do with their time, but the point I was making was that the money coming in from enrollees is shrinking, possibly below a level where a law school can continue paying its employees what they are currently making and still remain solvent.

It would seem to me that law schools would thus try to manage their revenue issues by asking tenured employees to pick up more work while cutting their pay and positions as little as possible, but maybe there is another solution that is more viable than raising effective tuition right now.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 13, 2012 7:18:09 PM

What about more cross-enrollment in cities that have several law schools, so that rather than omit courses or rely on adjuncts, schools can give students more options without expanding the faculty or increasing teaching loads?

Posted by: nutmegger | Dec 13, 2012 10:41:19 PM

"This is exacerbated when we throw in the practice-oriented and clinical classes (which, again, reform advocates insist must be a greater part of the law school curriculum), which must be kept especially small, demanding more sections and more profs."

It is possibly to add small, practice-oriented classes without increasing teaching loads. You just have to cut classes that are of less value. What class do you think it is more important to offer, Contract Drafting or Law and Literature? I'd say Contract Drafting, yet Law and Literature is much more widely offered. Why not can the lit class in favor of a more useful practical class?

Next semester FIU will be offered Sports Law, Entertainment Law, and Aviation and Space Law. Do you think it is more important for FIU to offer a class in Sports Law or Federal Courts?

"it does not actually solve any problems beyond the cosmetic."

If the typical tenured professor teaches 3 classes, and that load is increased to 4, then a school could offer the exact same selection but with 25% fewer tenured faculty. I don't know what percentage of a school's budget has to go to tenured faculty compensation, benefits, and overhead, but I'm guessing it's a very large chunk. If a 25% reduction in tenured faculty translated to only a 10% reduction in tuition, I'd have a hard time calling that cosmetic.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 15, 2012 2:27:09 PM

Well, FIU is offering both Sports Law and Fed Courts--I know, because I'm teaching Fed Courts. The basic point of my post is that FIU is already there--our standard load is four classes. And we *still* need adjuncts to cover classes (including Aviation and Space).

Plus, your statement that Law and Literature is of less value is a value judgment that is not necessarily shared.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 15, 2012 2:36:09 PM

Fed Courts is only being offered because you've chosen to take on an extra class above the normal 4 class load. Sports Law would have been offered either way (indeed, the professor teaching it only has 3 classes this year, 10 credits total).

Do you agree with FIU's prioritization of Sports Law over Fed Courts?

This year FIU is not offering International Business Transactions or Corporate Finance. It has deemed Space Law, Sports Law, and Entertainment Law to be a higher priority.

Replacing low value classes with higher value classes is a way that a school can increase the value of what it offers without increasing its costs. People will disagree about which classes are more valuable, but it would be silly to make all currently offered courses non-negotiable.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 15, 2012 4:49:12 PM

I don't want to get into a debate over the curriculum at FIU. I'll just say:

1) We have offered a host of business and corporate courses this year, so I don't think we're short-shrifting our students in that area.

2) Space Law and Entertainment Law are being taught by an adjunct.

3) A lot of students want to take Sports Law; they've been lobbying the dean for it for several years. There is some value to making course offerings, and thus teaching assignments, correspond to student interests.

4) FIU is not prioritizing Fed Courts over Sports Law. They are not fungible, nor are the teachers covering them. By the way, the teacher covering the class is a first-year professor (where the load is 3 courses to allow for the longer prep time--the 2/2 begins in the second year).

5) The reason I have to overload to take Fed Courts is that I am covering two sections of Civ Pro. The reason I'm doing that gets back to the original point of my post--2 of my four courses are taken up by one course, given the need to offer multiple sections while maintaining a small faculty.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 15, 2012 6:35:18 PM

for students at fourth tier law schools, there is no doubt that contract drafting is far more important than law and literature. it's a closer question perhaps at the top 20 schools.

Posted by: Hemingway | Dec 16, 2012 3:02:08 AM

FIU lets Sports Law be taught as one of a professor's normal class load. But, to get Fed Courts on the schedule, a professor has to teach an additional course beyond his normal load.

If you told your dean that you think 5 courses is too much and you need to drop down to 4, which of these scenarios is more likely:

A) Sports Law is dropped and that professor is told to pick up a section of Civ Pro, so now you only teach 1 Civ Pro section and are able to fit Fed Courts into your normal teaching load, or

B) Fed Courts is dropped

The class FIU holds on to is the one it is prioritizing. And yes, professors are not fungible. Maybe the professor teaching Sports Law would not have been competent to teach Civ Pro, but there's likely some other shifting of classes that would make it work. After all, isn't one of the key skills you learn in law school supposed to be creative problem solving? It's pretty easy to figure out another workable arrangement:

C) Entertainment Law is dropped and an adjunct is hired to teach Fed Courts

Focusing on FIU is perhaps distracting from the point though, that law schools could offer greater value for the same price by changing what courses they offer.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 16, 2012 9:13:00 AM

Derek: I've suggested to students that they create their own websites where they identify which courses they wish to take over the next 1-4 semesters. (Who knows, maybe there is a huge demand for Sports Law, but my sense is that students have gotten very good at knowing what they need to be useful as lawyers and what you'd see are gaps in the more useful courses.)

Once the data is in, the students can request a sit-down with the key deans and push for the right course mix. The "carrot" is the happiness of the students who will soon be alums and the growing attractiveness of the school to applicants. The stick is the threat that if the curricular needs aren't reasonably met, the students will sign a petition promising not to donate to the school for X years. (Many schools have a campaign where 3Ls are asked to promise to donate. That can be turned around. If a school did not meet the curricular needs of the students and, say, 55% of the 1L-2L-3L students promised not to donate for three years, it would put enormous pressure on the school.) I don't think students should sit back and offer reasoned arguments for curricular reform, given how conservative law faculties are about change.

Posted by: John Steele | Dec 16, 2012 3:44:57 PM

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