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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sustainability and the future: Managing teaching resources

I echo Matt Bodie's call for candid scrutiny of our educational strategies.  As a dean, I think daily about building a better product.  Most of our dean colleagues do likewise.  We know the objectives -- maintaining top-quality legal education (which, not incidentally, still remains the envy of the world -- this despite frequent calls for replacing our model with the European alternative) and reducing costs.

So leave the hyperbole to others.  Let us the rest of us get to work on constructive solutions.

Here's a big cost driver, perhaps the biggest:  resources for full-time, tenure-line faculty.  Much of this is about building respective armies of able scholars.  The incentives, internal and external, for most law schools, especially those high up the food chain or aspiring to move up, have been noted frequently.  But a central question looms, that is, how best to deploy teaching resources to staff an electic, modern curriculum?  This question becomes ever more pertinent as the demands of the marketplace drive law schools to more imaginative and, yes, more practical strategies for preparation.

Law schools have long looked to adjuncts and the occasional recurring lecturer for teaching.  Yet, the wheelhouse for such teaching has more often been clinics and skills-training.  Good sense here; after all, experienced lawyers are wisely deployed to train would-be lawyers and the beat goes on.  However, non-tenure line faculty -- more specifically, lecturers/senior lecturers on long-term contracts with compensation and resources befitting the commitment to regular teaching and a durable investment in student well-being -- is an efficient way to strengthen teaching at law schools which cherish deep connections to practice and, as well, to save costs.

Let me focus on the latter:  Even the well-remunerated residential faculty member requires less direct financial investment than a research faculty member.  Leave aside the matter of base salary.  Law school support for research endeavors of faculty requires serious money, both to provide an adequate base for the research cohort and to deal with the imperative of recruitment and retention.

None of this is strikingly novel, of course.  Northwestern and many other law schools have been relying for the past several years on large numbers of residential faculty members.  We are very proud of our lecturers and senior lecturers and, indeed, have just added another step in this latter -- the Professor of Practice -- to acknowledge the special role these distinguished lawyer-teachers make to the curriculum and programming of the law school.  We aspire to treat these members of the community well, with respect to pay, job security, and governance.  Anything less defeats, frankly, the purpose of creating a separate faculty track in a comprehensive teaching community.

In addition to the merits of this device, trust me when I say that the cost savings are considerable.  As we think about maintaining high-performing faculties, we need to think creatively about managing the general teaching budget.  The days of supersize tenure line faculties may be waning, to be replaced with leaner research cohorts alongside an efficient number of valuable, less expensive residential faculty. 

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on December 12, 2012 at 11:33 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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I am a bit skeptical of this move, in part because it feels like rebuilding the barrier between clinical and non-clinical faculty that many schools have worked to bring down (not always successfully). It also might convey the impression, mistaken in my judgment and I assume not intended, that the research law professors conduct is unrelated to teaching. I have also never understood where this cadre of residential faculty are coming from -- are there really a large number of highly successful lawyers who want to opt out of law practice at the height of their career? Isn't it more likely to be people who are retiring into academia, and is there any reason to think they are going to be strong teachers? Maybe but as I noted at the outset, I am skeptical (and from what I have seen getting a well-regarded person can be quite expensive so the cost savings does not seem so high). This is also one reason the adjunct model has always been attractive, you get people who are active in practice to teach a class or two but have little connection otherwise to the life of the law school. I would also add if there really is a need for law faculty to teach more classes then I have never understood the resistance to those who do not do research to teaching more. The only reason we have such light loads is for research purposes and at many schools there are a large number of faculty who use what is supposed to be research time for other purposes and these are usually the same folks who criticize the emphasis on research, so why not teach more, they should at least do something.

Posted by: MS | Dec 12, 2012 2:14:28 PM

I think the better move would be to say that research faculty should just teach more, even those who are producing scholarship. Things really have gotten out of whack with respect to the light teaching loads. There would be plenty of time for scholarship even if everyone taught 2/2. We do have very long summers, after all. And once a professor has already taught a course the time needed for class prep is not inordinate.

We really need to get back to the norms from a generation ago with respect to the teaching/scholarship balance.

Posted by: Anon First Year Prof | Dec 12, 2012 3:00:31 PM

In addition to moving to an entirely reasonable 2/2 or even 3/2 norm, there should be some expectations about total students taught. No member of the faculty (however defined) should be cloistered away in tiny 3L lectures; everyone should participate in the core law school classes - including if not especially 1L lectures.

Posted by: brad | Dec 12, 2012 3:41:22 PM

I agree with First Year Prof. Many on my faculty have gotten way too comfortable in the Ivory Tower (a/k/a lazy). I run circles around the older prof, working a fraction of the hours I worked in BigLaw. While I also get a fraction of BigLaw pay, my hours teaching/researching are much more enjoyable. I think teaching 3/2 or even 3/3 would be very doable if the administration made sure that you had no more than 1 new prep a semester.

Posted by: Second Year Prof | Dec 12, 2012 6:08:50 PM

I agree with First Year Prof. Many on my faculty have gotten way too comfortable in the Ivory Tower (a/k/a lazy). I run circles around the older prof, working a fraction of the hours I worked in BigLaw. While I also get a fraction of BigLaw pay, my hours teaching/researching are much more enjoyable. I think teaching 3/2 or even 3/3 would be very doable if the administration made sure that you had no more than 1 new prep a semester.

Posted by: Second Year Prof | Dec 12, 2012 6:09:14 PM

I agree with First Year Prof. Many on my faculty have gotten way too comfortable in the Ivory Tower (a/k/a lazy). I run circles around the older prof, working a fraction of the hours I worked in BigLaw. While I also get a fraction of BigLaw pay, my hours teaching/researching are much more enjoyable. I think teaching 3/2 or even 3/3 would be very doable if the administration made sure that you had no more than 1 new prep a semester.

Posted by: Second Year Prof | Dec 12, 2012 6:09:15 PM

Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering whether the anonymous "Prof"s who have popped up in this and the related threads in the last day are actually law professors?

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 12, 2012 7:06:51 PM

Well, I can't speak for others, and of course have no way to prove it without outing myself, but I am indeed a professor. Why do you doubt it? Is it really so inconceivable that a newly minted prof would be concerned about the current state of affairs and interested in supporting a sustainable model of legal education? I truly do not understand the defensive posture that some people seem to take to any suggestion that we rethink the status quo. It is disheartening.

Posted by: Anon First Year Prof | Dec 12, 2012 7:30:18 PM

Let me respond to Mike Selmi's valuable comments/questions. I understand his skepticism, but let me try to convince y'all that it is unwarranted.

(1) The message that research faculty should not be centrally concerned with teaching. This is not a trivial risk, but, to the extent that this is not the intended result -- and, to be clear, it is no part of my strategy -- then the solution is to message this in unequivocal terms. Tenure-line faculty are expected to teach and to teach well. This is in addition to their research responsibilities;

(2)"are there really a large number of highly successful lawyers who want to opt out of law practice at the height of their career?" Yes, indeed there are. Law firm partnerships are, as is well known, are not always what they are cracked up to be. We are fortunate to have some truly terrific lawyers, at the height of their careers, who have made the choice to move into full-time law teaching. I suspect you might find an equally rich pool in (at least) major urban areas of the U.S.

(3) "Isn't it more likely to be people who are retiring into academia, and is there any reason to think they are going to be strong teachers?" Leading question, counsel. It is not about a reason to think they will be strong. It is about evaluating their skills, looking closely are their teaching, and making an educated judgment about their contributions. This is not random selection; it is finding the best teachers in a cohort of top lawyers and bringing their abilities to the law school;

(4) Says Mike: It's expensive to hire top lecturers. Yes, it costs money, much more than adjuncts. But not as much as tenure-line faculty, not even close.

A number of posters have emphasized, not wrongly, that a key problem is the teaching commitments of research faculty. I don't disagree that this is a problem that ought to be addressed. But this is not at all inconsistent with my "teaching resources" comments above.

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Dec 12, 2012 8:34:28 PM

It's not the substance, although it's interesting that you think it is. Numerous law professors share your concerns, including regular posters and commenters here.

No, it's the style. You write like someone trying to sound like an academic; Second Year Prof writes like someone not trying hard enough. And Pre-Tenured Prawf referred to a "TTT," an acronym that does not trip lightly off the professorial tongue, not when one remembers what it stands for. Of course, I'd be happy to be proven wrong about one or all of you.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 12, 2012 8:34:59 PM

Well, I am not sure how to respond to that. Feel free to disbelieve me if you like. I suppose there are people who have time on their hands to anonymously impersonate law professors, but what is the point of that?

Posted by: Anon First Year Prof | Dec 13, 2012 2:18:47 AM

"And Pre-Tenured Prawf referred to a "TTT," an acronym that does not trip lightly off the professorial tongue, not when one remembers what it stands for."

Oh, I think you would be surprised at just how lightly that trips off the tongue of professors that don't teach at a TTT. Please allow me to disabuse you of the notion that all of academia is on one side of this issue and the "scambloggers" are on the other. There are plenty of profs that don't look charitably on schools that charge Yale prices despite their 'Hollywood Downstairs School of Law' placement stats.

Posted by: Dean | Dec 13, 2012 6:15:26 AM

From context, I am guessing I do teach at a TTT. But can someone tell me what that means, because I've never heard it.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 13, 2012 9:48:35 AM

LOL (but with fondness) @Howard. TTT=Third tier toilet.

Posted by: anon | Dec 13, 2012 10:34:21 AM

Frankly, nobody should ever use that acronym. Not out of some tenderness toward those who teach at schools thus labeled, but because it's disgustingly disrespectful toward the students at those schools. Students, mind, who critics of law faculties are supposedly sticking up for. You don't stick up for people by insulting them.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Dec 13, 2012 11:31:33 AM

Grimmelman's observation seems right on the money. I would not be so quick to deny that there's evidence in the substance, too. Not that it matters. And, to be fair, there's a been some lack of substance in posts and comments on this subject latetly (Dean Rodriguez's work cheerfully excepted of course). It's of no help to post a shouting match that consists essentially of "Profs should teach more" counterd by "That won't solve the problem," to which the only replies are "Yes it will" with no warrant or some version of "who cares -- they should work harder anyway." A better use of space might be to explore whether there are actually any persuasive reasons for increasing teaching obligations that are germane to the concerns of the reform advocates? Let's assume that the "singing for supper" rationale that Howard mentioned is not good enough as a general ratoinale, if only because it's unclear what form of culpability triggers an obligation to do more, how generally that culpability is shared (if at all), and which party bears the burden of proof. Let's also ignore the "people just aren't working hard enough, and I could easily teach twice as many courses because I'm a metahuman" line offered in the comments, if only because it's not generalizable. Howard's counterargument -- that increasing teaching loads, even substantially, won't make a significant economic difference for students and might have adverse consequences in terms of curricular diversity, etc. -- seems intuitively right. So what, then, is the sound, general warrant for increasing teaching loads?

Posted by: anon | Dec 13, 2012 1:53:25 PM

Albert, see post "Posted by: anon | Dec 13, 2012 12:22:42 PM" here: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2012/12/law-school-sustainability.html

Posted by: anon | Dec 13, 2012 4:11:10 PM

I certainly do not think that law professors should teach more because they "just aren't working hard enough" or out of some sort of shared culpability. In my experience, most professors work very hard (of course, there are some bad apples -- I imagine that every school carries its share of dead weight in the form of tenured profs who no longer produce scholarship and are just going through the motions in their teaching). I just think that the norm should be for professors to allocate more time for teaching than they currently do. This would probably lead to a somewhat lower output of scholarship at the margins, but I don't think that would be so terrible.

I do not buy the argument that increased teaching loads cannot translate into lower operating costs, which can then be passed onto students in some form or another (e.g., a lower sticker price for tution or increased amounts of scholarship funds).

Posted by: Anon First Year Prof | Dec 13, 2012 6:57:16 PM

On the "TTT" label - it is, as far as I know, only an acronym since that angry young blogger "Nando" turned it into one on his grotesque website.

I agree with comments above that use as an acronym is disrespectful and, frankly, gives attention to that "Nando" character. I very much disagree with the contrary example of Albert Ross - K-Mart customers do not identify themselves professionally as K-Mart customers, whereas "I am a proud graduate of XYZ Law" is a personal, internalized status.

But my original exposure and the majority of my exposure to "TTT" has been in the context of "T", "TT", "TTT" and "TTTT" meaning respectively the 1st - 2nd - 3rd - 4th tiers of law schools as rated in USNWR. Simple identification, not acronyms.

In that context, then, yes NYLS and FIU are "TTT" schools.

Grimmelman brings up a commenter called "Pre-Tenured Prawf" and the fact that this commenter used "TTT" as some sort of evidence of faux profs proliferating here. (An act of "prawflitteration"?)

I don't see how this is relevant, given that "Pre-Tenured Prawf" argues against changes to law school education (in particular this commenter seems protective of more elite schools - see for example comments on Matt Bodie's "Law School Sustainability" post).

Disclaimer: I am not a law prof, nor do I play one on teevee, nor do I play one on the intertubes.

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen | Dec 14, 2012 12:46:55 PM

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