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Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Meta-Post on Tenure

When posts disappear, people notice and wonder why. We had a post up the other day with some sound advice on getting tenure in the legal academy. This is a group blog, and not all decisions are made collectively, so I was personally surprised when it disappeared. My general understanding is that the reasons for taking it down were specific to the institution of the writer, which I can understand. It was not taken down because it raised sensitive issues in general, or because some people felt it revealed some kind of dangerous truth about law teaching. But I also understand the issues some readers had with it. This is, after all, a pretty sweet job, and certainly a much sweeter one than having no legal job at all. But it obviously ought to be possible to talk candidly about getting tenure, and give realistic advice about it, without being (or being accused of being) insensitive. So let me take another, somewhat repetitive, crack at it, because I'd feel bad if there were no record at all of our having weighed in on it, or if it were assumed that we were backing off of the issue generally. Also, it gives me a chance to add some of my own thoughts on getting tenure, and on the meta-issue of whether it is somehow improper to write about this subject at all.

To summarize the previous post, some of the following advice was given: 1) Don't get to your scholarship too late in the tenure clock. 2) Don't co-author too much pre-tenure. 3) Be sufficiently social with your colleagues locally and in your field. 4) For tenure purposes, be aware that tenure will depend mostly on scholarship, not teaching or service. There are thus dangers in "overinvesting" in teaching before tenure. The author made quite clear that he personally "over"-invested in teaching and was happy that he did so, and that his advice was meant to be realistic, not approving. This wsa the point that arounsed the most negative responses elsewhere. 5) Make sure your projects, including books, are compatible with your tenure clock. 

My thoughts follow after the jump.

The first thing I'd say is that most of this advice strikes me as sound given the current set of norms. Like others--like most of us in law teaching, I suspect--I worry about many of those norms. But given general norms in the legal academy, the advice seems reasonable.

I would still say, and have said here before, that for the most part, as the post noted, tenure is not a huge concern in American law schools, either in absolute terms or in comparison to other sectors of the academy. Getting a law teaching job is much tougher than getting tenure itself. And, I think, some tenure denials in the law schools end up being easy cases in which, by the time the tenure decision comes around, it's evident to everyone that the individual just can't get things written, or is generally ill-suited for the job, or what have you. There are definitely exceptions; there are cases of people who clearly would merit tenure at some or most law schools and yet still didn't get it, for local institutional reasons. I don't mean to ignore such cases or be insensitive to those individuals. But they do not represent the common run of cases. And my anecdotal sense is that fewer institutions these days end up making highly contentious and politicized tenure grants or denials than they did at the height of the factionalization of the legal academy.

I think this matters. Of course, even those who seem to be doing all the right things, at an institution that appreciates them, may feel insecure about tenure and may welcome sound advice about how to get it. But just as we have to be realistic about the present norms surrounding tenure, so we have to be realistic about the fact that tenure is, for better or worse, hardly an extraordinary challenge in the legal academy. Consider the bar exam. I tell students that they ought to take it seriously, budget their study time carefully, take plenty of practice exams, not let it all wait till the last minute, and so on. But I also tell them that for most students who are capable of graduating from my law school, if they do all those things there's no reason to get into a state of panic about it. I would say roughly the same thing about law school tenure. The amount of energy many pre-tenured profs expend worrying about tenure still seems to me disproportionate to the actual grounds for concern. Law professors should worry about tenure enough, but not way too much.

A broader point I have made about tenure here before is that this is supposed to be a profession and a vocation, not just a sweet job. (Although it surely is that.) For all the talk one hears from (some) law professors about speaking truth to power, speaking independently and courageously, and so on, I don't hear half as much talk about how professors seeking tenure should worry first and foremost about those things, and not about securing tenure. I don't buy the view--which I see much less of these days, although there are still vocal proponents of it--that anyone capable of getting a job in law teaching could easily switch over into a lucrative job in private practice. That might have been true when one started law teaching, but not by the time one has invested several years in teaching and out of practice. But I doubt the choice is generally between teaching or nothing for most. In any event, to the extent that one believes that law teaching ought to be a vocation and a profession, that shouldn't be the deciding factor in your choices as a teacher and scholar pre-tenure.

Thus, my best advice for entering law professors is still: Decide what kind of teacher and scholar you want to be, and--with due humility and willingness to take advice from others--be that kind of scholar and teacher. If that means you feel compelled to write a book before tenure, maybe you should. If it means you want to co-author some pieces, perhaps you should. If it means you feel compelled as a scholar to write about a controversial issue, then by all means do so; there's no guarantee that the courage you lack now will suddenly appear after you've been tenured. I'm not saying to ignore the realities of the tenure process under current norms, or to refuse to accept prudent advice from older and wiser colleagues. There is a difference between being intrepid and being ignorant or blind. Still, it is important to cultivate a sense of yourself as a scholar and teacher from the outset, to have a sense of self and integrity, to focus on your vocation rather than on job security, to care about the work rather than the job, to do what you believe you must. If that involves risks, those risks are quite acceptable, and fall under the category of "first world problems"; and the percentage of tenure grants at law school suggests they're usually not huge risks anyway.

That said, the advice given in the earlier post and summarized above is generally sound and should be kept in mind. But I do have some questions about it. In particular, some of the advice about getting pieces out, co-authoring, and book writing seems a little behind the times. The hiring model has increasingly moved away from one in which the entrant has little experience teaching and writing before entering the legal academy. Most schools insist on prior publications, and in many cases the entrants are given partial tenure credit for at least one of those pieces. And many people entering the legal academy come from fellowships, in which they've already demonstrated an ability to write and publish (and, in some cases, already started up working up their teaching notes). For someone who already has a couple of pieces out and one or more in the pipeline, the advice not to co-author yet or to wait on a book seems less apt. We should consider whether the changing way in which we hire is changing, or should change, the advice we give (and the norms and standards we apply) to those seeking tenure. That's double-edged, perhaps; maybe we should expect more of the writing of junior scholars who already have substantial writing and teaching experience. But it may also mean that there's more room for flexibility in the choices those individuals make in their pre-tenure years.

Let's talk about the "don't overinvest in teaching or practice" point--which, again, was made in a spirit of realism, not commendation. Some responses, here and elsewhere, suggested that this revealed everything we need to know about law schools and law teaching. I get the reaction, but I think it's wrong. First, I could imagine similar advice being given across the academy. Second, whatever "overinvesting" in teaching means, the original post suggested--correctly--that most junior law professors do it; and I think he was right that most of us are happy we did so. Your colleagues are not the ones standing in front of a room of students, who have reasonable expectations that you'll know how to do your job; you are. And you do have an obligation to them. Third, he didn't recommend underinvesting in teaching, or define what an appropriate investment in teaching is. As I understand it, what he said, in effect, was: you ought to teach well, but you ought to be aware that your colleagues will judge you more for your scholarship than for your teaching, for better and worse. That is accurate--again, for better or worse. The best advice I can give is that the way to resolve this is not to invest less in teaching, but to be willing to invest more in late nights and foregone personal time so you can also get your scholarship done. That's not too much to ask, given the terrific job you have.

I am more interested in a different question: not whether law teachers overinvest in teaching pre-tenure, but whether they underinvest in it later. I don't have a sense of how much this happens. My own experience, over ten years of teaching, was that I invested heavily in teaching in the first few years, went through a period where I invested less than I should, and for the past few years have tried to retool and increase my investment in teaching. I confess I still have more to do on this front; I've changed my evaluation approach a lot, and altered chunks of all my courses, but I would like to increase my class prep time and ought to think about switching casebooks again. I'm pretty confident I'll get there, and then go through the cycle again. I suspect other teachers go through similar cycles over the course of their careers, and that this isn't different from the up-and-down waves that all people experience in their careers. But the incentives to invest in teaching do go down after tenure. It's important for law teachers, including those just starting out, to remind themselves that every few years, the best thing to do with a really good set of class notes may be to throw them out and start over, to reinvest in one's professional training as a lawyer, to rethink what works and doesn't pedagogically, and so on. 

Another question the earlier post didn't address much head-on is how we should feel about the current norms. I'll just say I think it was evident that the post was at least ambivalent, if not critical, about some of those norms. I would add that I think junior professors, even if they take the earlier advice on board, are not excused from rethinking those norms and speaking out about them. And part of the reason I feel this way is that I think it's easy, once one takes those norms for granted, to start imposing them thoughtlessly once one is tenured and voting on tenure decisions. I worry that pre-tenured professors who do things a particular way because "that's the way it is," while saying that of course they don't agree with the way things are, will end up imposing the same norms once they're entrenched in the academy: that they'll turn an is into an ought without thinking much about it. 

Leaving aside institution-specific questions, is it or should it be impolitic or impermissible to talk about an "appropriate" investment in teaching given prevailing norms, or to talk about the burden of grading exams, or in general to talk about the ups and downs of being a law professor? My general answer is: God, I hope not. But I would add two things about that.

First, it is accurate to say that these are not huge concerns and that they in no way outweigh the many, many privileges and advantages of the job. Complaining about grading exams can seem like complaining that your other car is in the shop or that it's hard to find good help these days. I worry that what this means in practice is that any such post will have some obligatory, boilerplate preface or caveat, that this will have little to do with real candor or sensitivity, and that some readers will draw wildly oversensitive conclusions about the callousness of the writer if the standard formula is skipped. And I worry that people will just stop writing about those matters altogether. But I agree that there is room for recognition that these are not the biggest or most challenging problems in the world, even for the law teachers who write about them.

Second, I think there is room for a recognition that any job also involves mechanics and personal considerations; that some people--law teachers, obviously, and would-be teachers, and other academics, and even law students--may be interested in those mechanics; and that it's not per se unreasonable or insensitive to write about them, even in an era of "law school crisis." There must surely be people out there who take their jobs--or their nice cars or nannies or what have you--for granted. But writing about the mechanics of one's life or job does not automatically mean that one takes these things for granted or lacks any perspective about them.

I imagine there are surgeons out there who discuss what music they like to play in the operating theater, and may even do so publicly. In a one-on-one conversation with my own surgeon, I'd probably prefer she not bring it up unless I raised the question first. But I might indeed be curious about that question, and I wouldn't assume that because she's interested in it herself, she doesn't care about the patient or the surgery. Nor do I think all surgeons should be obliged to pretend they don't care about it, that every minute they spend in the OR is taken up thinking about their patients' hopes and dreams, that it never crosses their minds that their feet are tired or that some particular procedure is routine or a pain in the ass. In talking about the mechanics of our job, we should be sensitive. But that's not the same thing as concluding that it's always insensitive to talk about them. That's not reasonable sensitivity.

If I may offer an example closer to home, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article--under a pseudonym, alas--titled: "I Don't Like Teaching. There, I Said It." The author's point was not that he or she hates the job altogether, or that anyone should pity him or her. Nor was it that he or she would phone it in from now on. It was a simple human admission that, even in plum jobs, there are times in one's career when one gets more or less personal rewards or has more or less warm and fuzzy feelings toward that job or some aspects of it. The author concluded (my emphasis): "Too often we look at whether a colleague or a prospective colleague seems to like teaching, and then use that as a proxy for whether they are good teachers. We should look at whether they engage in the right behaviors.

I didn't agree with the whole article, by any means. But I didn't think it was insensitive--especially in a journal that is primarily read by an academic audience (as this blog is). It is true that there are plenty of people who would love to have that person's job. It is also true that there are plenty of humanities students who would like to have better teachers--or less crippling debts, or some kind of job upon graduation. That's true for law schools too, and we should think about, write about, and (the hardest part) act on those concerns. It's also true that on a straight utilitarian measure, if it were insensitive to ever write about anything other than the worst problems, we would all be better off writing about (and moving to) Syria or Haiti rather than anything having to do with American law professors--or American law students. I take Luke 14:26 and Matthew 19:21 very seriously, and I don't care for readings of those verses that domesticate them. Most people fail that standard, of course; certainly I do. It's a good, if brutal, standard for moral self-judgment. It's not a very good standard for judging others. And it's not a very realistic standard for choosing writing subjects either. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on June 8, 2013 at 11:58 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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Thanks Paul. On why I took my prior post down: despite being very clear in the intro to my post that I was not talking about anyone or anything at Harvard specifically (I've not yet been eligible to vote on a tenure case!), some of the commentators read it that way. That was the last thing I wanted, so I erred on the side of caution, and took it down. I am very glad you are taking up these issues in your own post.

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Jun 8, 2013 12:29:44 PM

Not writing about these things doesn't do any good. I'd be much less concerned about hurt feelings and more about poor substantive policy.

The policy of virtually disregarding teaching in employment decisions is acknowledged to be a fairly bad one. Almost no one will defend it straight up (the exceptions being a handful that believe whatever the market produces must be correct.) Changing it isn't simple or pain-free. Simply paying more lip service to teaching during the process isn't enough. Real employment outcomes need to depend on it in order for performance in that area to be taken seriously. That means hiring and tenuring some mediocre scholars because of their fantastic teaching abilities, and letting some fantastic scholars go because their teaching is simply not very good.

Posted by: brad | Jun 8, 2013 1:02:52 PM

Law students pay a lot of money to law schools for a legal education. Law schools owe them a faculty that focuses on teaching not writing articles.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 8, 2013 1:22:06 PM

As to the prior post, I thought it was reasonably accurate and caveated; it was also hubristic given the author's lack of experience, and unrealistic (given that) to think it would have been construed as anything other than a comment on his own institution. But that it was accurate, given what I know, about his own institution, and I don't see why he wasn't (given tenure) willing to own that. This will, I acknowledge, seem hypocritical.

As to the sensitive issue of teaching and tenure . . . I come down on the side that supports screening for it during hiring, despairs of emphasizing it heavily during tenuring (because faculties are not reliable assessors of their own, outside reviewers can't do much with it, and central administrations do not seem good at picking up the slack), and thinks that regardless we need to emphasize training and skill-building, collective shaming of mediocre teachers, and heavy administrative intervention in terms of class assignments, monitoring (including exams and syllabi), and pay. But I would in general support much more stringent tenuring standards across the board.

P.S. One oddity historically has been that lower-tier schools are generally more likely to care about good teaching in assessing faculty, but younger scholars are much more likely to be incentivized to blow that off in favor of publishing a lot so as to enhance the chance to move laterally. (There are well-known admissions to this effect.) I wonder whether the diminished prospect for moving laterally, and the budget issues likely to confront these schools, will change this dynamic.

Posted by: Ani | Jun 8, 2013 1:34:31 PM

It is not entirely clear why law profs cannot do it all, that is, be great teachers and productive writers (and even good colleagues and members of their communities in what we often refer to as service). Paul is right, of course, regarding the prevailing norms, there is no denying that. But be that as it may, there is really no real reason (institutional incentived aside, I did just say "real") why junior (and more senior) colleagues could not invest heavily in their teaching and write a lot. If it was the case that one really could not write 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 quality articles and be a great teacher, talk about prioritizing between teaching and writing would make more sense. But a junior colleague who published a great article a year in her first six years would get tenure in any American school and this is simply not the kind of scholar commitment that warrants any meaning concerns re balancing writing and teaching commitments. Which brings us back to Paul's valid point re the prevailing norms. It is one of our norms to say that investment in writing and teaching, especially early on in one's career, is an either-or proposition. But it is not. Or maybe we are back to Paul's other point that teaching law is a great job and some of the people doing the job do not work very hard? To sum up: law schools should take teaching more seriously. Then, law profs will take it more seriously as well. But this simply should not come at the cost of producing great scholarship. There is real reason to link the two. And this is to say nothing of Brad Wendel's compelling point about the positive impact scholarship has on one's teaching.

Posted by: Eli Wald | Jun 8, 2013 5:58:14 PM

I wish that more law professors would be honest about the fact that law schools have very little to do with teaching law. Professor write scholarship that no one, including most judges, cares about in order to compete in the prestige-race. The scholarship itself has little to do with education and more to do with keeping the revenue stream flowing by keeping a school high in the rankings.

It was refreshing to see a professor from a top institution talk about this honestly -- but I guess that is far too risque, even for a professor who is supposedly granted tenure for the purpose of dissenting and speaking against the system.

The hypocrisy demonstrated by removing the post could not be clearer. A professor spoke directly, yet reasonably, about the truths of legal academia, something that interests all of us in these uneasy times when enrollment is free-falling due to the inefficiencies of legal academia (to put it delicately). Yet, he believes that simply speaking about this may be construed as talking out of turn and thus he removes it out of fears about faculty politics and hurt feelings!

The priorities of the law school professoriate could not be demonstrated more clearly!

Posted by: AdamB | Jun 8, 2013 6:48:04 PM

AdamB: you are both obviously and completely wrong about why the post was removed. It had everything to do with recent tenure denials at HLS.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 8, 2013 7:05:20 PM

Professor Wald writes that "a junior colleague who published a great article a year in her first six years would get tenure in any American school and this is simply not the kind of scholar commitment that warrants any meaning concerns re balancing writing and teaching commitments."

This seems like it should be true in theory, and I know you're fairly junior yourself, so it must reflect your experience. But I just taught for the first time and it took me a full 6 days a week to prep and teach one 3-credit course as a VAP, and teach it very well. Most of us new law teachers find the prospect of teaching 2-and-1 or 2-and-2 and writing simultaneously very daunting. Do others really agree there are no concerns about balancing or trade-offs for junior scholars doing new preps? Is it possible those who have been teaching longer forget what juggling multiple new preps is actually like in practice?

Posted by: justonevap | Jun 8, 2013 9:31:19 PM

My inner economist (stunted and oppressed though he may be) is screaming to enter this discussion. So:

There are two major undiscussed issues here.

The first is that the issue should be the allocation to teaching/research on the margins. Suppose one can write an additional article at the cost of, say, half a standard deviation in teaching evaluations. Is that worth it, in a purely self-interested sense? It might be if one has only written one article this year. It probably isn't if one has written four, I imagine (being in the land of pre-tenure, I can't really claim knowledge.) Assuming there is a diminishing marginal return to each activity (plausibly), if we could graph returns to percentage of time spent on teaching and research as two curves, the point at which those curves intersected would be the optimal allocation; all that is left for the purely selfish person is to fight about where that point is.

Second, is that the person who wishes to do good in addition to doing well must confront a measurement problem. If one can allocate one's teaching time to something that produces better teaching evaluations or something that produces better learning, which should one do? If one can allocate one's research time to something that contributes more to knowledge or something that will get a better journal placement (or lead more efficiently to cv lines), which should one do? It so happens that the main measures of both teaching and research are really, really noisy. Accordingly the moral question isn't just "should one invest more in teaching than is strictly optimal from the perspective of self-interest," as previous commenters seem to have supposed, but also "should I invest in less visible but more productive activities in both domains?" And, of course, this affects the previous point: the optimal self-interested allocation of time between teaching and scholarship, if time expended on one is more visible than time expended on the other. Not coincidentally, one's senior colleagues can much more efficiently look underneath the noisy journal signal than they can the noisy evaluation signal...

And here my inner economist starts saying things like "the solution isn't to scold individual actors, the solution is to rearrange institutions to give actors an incentive to behave the desired way." Which might mean doing hard things like trying to find a better way of measuring teaching quality (third-party review of exam responses to measure student learning objectively? Why not?), and then increase the extent to which institutions base tenure (and lateral hiring) decisions on that. But then the much larger inner political scientist starts sadly shaking his head...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 8, 2013 9:32:23 PM

Speaking only for myself, obtaining tenure was only one of many incentives that came into play as I tried to figure out how to allocate my time pretenure. Among the many other factors: doing a good job at various tasks that were presented to me, including teaching; figuring out how to have a positive effect on the world from day to day, including being a good teacher to my students; and avoiding the truly horrible feeling that results from standing in front of a large group of people and making an ass of myself. Indeed, many people perform well at their jobs every day with no prospect of tenure, for all these reasons and more. I knew my teaching didn't count for tenure. And frankly, I didn't care. Being a good teacher was, and remains, tremendously important to me. All that is to say: there are many incentives, and not all of them come from institutions.

I should also add that in order to do the kind of teaching prep I need to do to be a good teacher, all the service (committee work) I need to do, and to write one article (one!) a year, I work 8-10 hours a day, six days a week, and three hours on the seventh day. I also go into the office every single day, except for the key religious holidays I observe (which do not include, for example, Memorial Day). But maybe I'm just unusually slow.

And I suppose it is also worth adding that I am not at a top law school; my school ranks in the 35-ish range. So maybe if I were more ambitious I would have to allocate my time differently. But for me personally, minutely increasing the tiny chance of landing at a super fantastic law school is not an incentive that plays into my calculus.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 9, 2013 12:52:46 AM

I appreciate many of the comments, both critical and positive. VAP, I would have only partially comforting news for you, I think, although others might have more helpful words. Part of my answer is that your experience as a VAP ought to enable you to hit the ground running better if you enter the tenure-track, with teaching notes and a paper or two under your belt (negotiate status for them!). And on the other end, we who vote on tenure should keep that in mind. Part of the answer is that some of us indeed remember how busy the first couple of years are. (Add other responsibilities, like a newborn in the NICU for four months, and it gets tougher.) We do know it's tough. I think the lengthening tenure track partly responds to it. And although consistency in writing is a good thing, I still think a first-year focus on prep over research is no kiss of death. But yes, I think it realistic that the first couple of years will be very busy--and are for those I know in other fields too. But we know it's doable, we know the pay increases when you go tenure-track, and we know that the overall quantity demanded for tenure is not huge. You can do it.

I like Paul's comment, agree that we would ideally think institutionally rather than individually, and hope junior profs will be a part of that as they negotiate contracts and then become senior, which happens startlingly quickly, rather than just deify the current norms. Especially re teaching. I'm still mulling the rest of his comment. Although I understand the response to Eli's comment, I am fine with most of it, except I think teaching is better for one's scholarship than the other way around.

Some of the most dramatic comments here and elsewhere, I think, mix reasonable and less reasonable points. Arguing about the role and importance of reaching vs. scholarship vs. training, and about what scholarship is for, is a valid thing to discuss. But it's neither hidden nor new; it's been going on in legal academia since Harry Edwards was still in short pants. It does not lay bare anything new or secret. It is silly to suggest that anyone concluded we should not care about teaching. At most it was suggested that as long as teaching is only one of three criteria for tenure, and a smaller one at that (too small, I think, but taken seriously most places), you will have to balance it with other things. The bottom line in both posts was that it's still better to invest seriously in teaching and that conscientious academics will do it regardless. And while people may reasonably debate whether Glenn ought to have taken down the prior post, I think "unwise" or "unnecessary" (or positive words like "respectful of immediate colleagues" would be apter words than "hypocrisy." Certainly Glenn's weighing in on this post didn't lead me to think that was the fairest conclusion to draw..

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 9, 2013 1:02:52 AM

I would add to Anon's comment that even with the hard work up front, I felt little reason to complain. I still had a lot of flexibility in terms of choices, my research agenda was my own and not my boss's, and the work was and is rewarding.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 9, 2013 1:07:22 AM

Having taught at law schools in the US, New Zealand and Australia, I have a simple solution for the de-emphasis on teaching in tenure decisions: emphasise it. At both of my non-US law schools, demonstrated teaching ability (through assessment) was a formal requirement for promotion and confirmation (tenure) decisions -- along with scholarship, knowledge transfer (communicating ideas to the non-legal world), and leadership (administration). Bad teachers don't get promoted at Melbourne, and they certainly don't get confirmed. So lo and behold lecturers take the obligation to be good teachers seriously.

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Jun 9, 2013 2:43:18 AM

Anon @ 12:52 - Working 51-63 hour weeks is plenty of work, but I would respectfully submit that this is hardly killing yourself. In fact, I can't imagine that any junior person at any new and very challenging job would have to put in at least as much time. I certainly put in as many hours during my busiest moments as a law professor as I put in during my business times as a big firm associate.

My first year teaching a subject that I practiced and write about took me 7-15 hours of prep for each hour of class. The first time I taught a class that I did not practice or write about, I spent 10-15 hours prepping for each hour even though I had fantastic notes and slides from some colleagues. (21-45 hours plus actual class). This left me with enough time to do research and think about ideas, which I then wrote up over the summer.

I haven't taught undergraduate classes, but why is it that undergrad professors can teach a 4/4 load, publish, and make due with half a law professor's salary? If they can teach 4/4, then I guess my own amount of prep is just a matter of allowing tasks to expand to fill the time allotted.

Posted by: VAP | Jun 9, 2013 10:23:57 AM

I wonder if part of the problem is that there is a false binary between teaching and research. After all, if you are in a fast-moving area of the law, and you want to keep your students current, then you need to research to stay current. And if you want to get the nuances of the current thinking, then you need to read some secondary articles by good commentators, so as to keep up with the debates.

On the other hand, it is sometimes the case that the teachers most respected by the students at an institution are the ones recycling old (sometimes very old) lecture notes. There is, I think, little public recognition or discussion of this (if it is indeed the case).

So what do we want: folks that students like (that is, in part, a function of reputation and affection); folks that deliver good, up-to-date information; folks who are unlovable but pedagogically sound, etc.? I am less inclined than Paul to be ambivalent about liking teaching versus being good at teaching. Plenty of teachers at all levels of education like students or like teaching—just as many people like driving. But if you are a terrible driver, no matter how much you like it, or a terrible teacher, no matter how much you like it, so much the worse for those in your path.

My impression is that every law professor I have had a conversation about teaching with, whether they like it or not, takes teaching seriously. We recognize that it's the most important interaction we have with our students. That being said, there are a bunch of really terrible proxies for being a good teacher (including simply number of hours spent in the classroom, a stick with which senior faculty can beat junior ones. Post-tenure, senior faculty are invisible as to teaching performance in institutions without post-tenure review, perhaps to the detriment of their junior colleagues). Academia across the board does a poor job of evaluating teaching prowess; depending upon student evaluations is a poor proxy itself (better looking, better fed students, better evaluation).

Then again, if you were a student and had the opportunity of sitting Professor X's class, where Professor X was the acknowledged world leader in her field, would you discount their lack of teaching prowess just to hear it from the master? And how would you know that Professor X was the world expert except by publication record and peer esteem? I think there is a bunch of really tangled stuff that goes on in determining who is a good teacher, and what we want out of the classroom, and while it is useful to ask: teaching versus scholarship for tenure? we should not make the mistake of treating this as a false binary in which scholarship plays no role in our development as teachers, and vice versa.

Posted by: Eric | Jun 10, 2013 12:44:59 PM

I know a dozen undergraduate academics at non-prestigious schools. Perhaps there are undergrad schools that have a 4/4 load, but many have a 3/3, 3/2, or even 2/2 and 2/1 loads. In addition, undergrad professors frequently teach many sections of the same course. At a school I interviewed (had a 2/2 load) 3 of the 4 courses were going to be the same. That sort of repetition is very rare in law schools where a 2/2 or 2/1 load means teaching 3 or 4 different classes.

Finally, pay. Many of the undergraduate disciplines pay quite well - business, economics, engineering - and some better than law.

This has little to do with the point of the post, but I wanted to set the record straight given how often anonymous commenters complain about law professors' high pay and low teaching responsibilities.

Thank you, Paul, for reposting Glenn's post.

Posted by: Re: VAP | Jun 10, 2013 5:43:55 PM

Apropos the last, my spouse is a literature professor at a reasonably well-regarded (but non-flagship) regional school. S/he teaches six courses a year and makes $60k. Most of his/her similarly-situated colleagues (within a couple of years on either side of tenure) make low-to-mid $50s. I'm pretty sure no one makes more. (S/he was deemed to be a flight risk so they gave him/her a big retention raise last year.) It's rare that s/he teaches the same course in a given academic year, though be this point in his/her career, most courses are repeats from prior year, so no need to create the materials and lesson plans from scratch.

Posted by: Anecdata | Jun 10, 2013 6:04:40 PM

This is very much an aside from the OP but, Re: VAP - your anecdotes aside, you aren't seriously arguing that law teaching pays less than most undergraduate teaching jobs while generally requiring a heavier teaching load, are you?

Law professors (myself included for the time being) seem to be enormously privileged vis-a-vis undergraduate professors in that they get paid more money for less work. I've never met anyone who has argued differently.

Posted by: VAP | Jun 10, 2013 9:10:15 PM

Obviously just one data point (and I cannot vouch for that data), but at UVA law professors seem to make an average of $177,185 (see http://abovethelaw.com/2013/04/how-much-does-your-law-professor-make-uva-law-edition/), whereas all other professors seem to make an average of $99,600 (http://www.nbc29.com/story/21962916/uva-faculty-and-staff-salaries-posted).

I understand that public schools in Virginia disclose their faculty salaries as a matter of law and so you could certainly double check these numbers...

Posted by: VAP | Jun 10, 2013 9:17:40 PM

Re: Re: VAP: The highest paid undergraduate discipline is aerospace engineering with a median mid-career salary of $109,000. Hat tip TaxProf: http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2009/09/best-and-worst-.html

In the latest SALT survey, 18% of schools reported paying assistant law professors more than that amount (another 3% were tied). 41% reported paying pre-tenure associate professors more. 100% reported paying tenured law professors more.

As to the question of comparing workloads, many of my current professors (I've gone back for an MFA -- hoorah trade school!) teach a 2/1 or 2/2 load, so they're roughly on par with law professors. However, these classes (even the literature classes) are writing intensive and the professors give very thorough feedback. Each class has at least 2 (3 is more common) writing assignments, and a minimum of 30 written pages. I was going to say "30 written pages to be graded," but in the graduate writing classes professors don't grade the work -- they do sentence-by-sentence close readings, typically reading each work 2-3 times, if not more.

And yes, they do have administrative duties as well. The professors double as the admissions staff, and rather than filtering students primarily on GPA and test scores, they have to read through 20+ page writing samples to figure out who they want.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Jun 11, 2013 8:30:42 AM

Paul G.,

My inner economist disagrees with your inner economist. I suspect a key piece of the puzzle when professors allocate their time is risk management. Once you've allocated enough time to teaching to be a minimally competent teacher, you're more or less guaranteed a passing evaluation. Unlikely to be glowing, but with near-zero risk of failure. On the other hand, writing a minimally competent paper comes with a significant risk of not being publishing anywhere (or only accepted in a journal that won't particularly help your career), and a very small chance of being published in a top journal. Spending more time on publishing can reduce the chance of not being published anywhere, and increase the odds of placing in a top journal.

Scenario 1: Guaranteed A in teaching, 10% chance A in publishing, 70% B, 15% C, 5% F.

Scenario 2: Guaranteed B in teaching, 25% chance A in publishing, 70% B, 5% C, 0% F.

Assuming teaching and publishing are weighted evenly, the expected GPA in Scenario 1 is a 3.4. and the expected GPA in Scenario 2 is 3.1. A risk-neutral professor would choose to focus on teaching, but a risk-adverse professor will pour more time into publishing.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Jun 11, 2013 9:18:40 AM

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