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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Feds Know What [I] Did Last Summer

I am excited to join the Prawfs this month. I’ll kick off with a “what you did last summer post,” which is slightly atypical of most law-oriented academics.  This past summer, I applied for a grant through the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Sciences Program.  Though I will not know whether the grant proposal was a success until December, there are a number of insights to be gained from the experience. 

For someone that is accustomed to spending a good percentage of his time writing, grant writing still presented several significant challenges: time management, logistical organization, administrative, and even actual writing. This process was the most challenging of my career (possibly even more so than the FRC!).  Over the next several weeks I will post some of the insights we gained into the process and other resources that are available.

Perhaps the first question to ask is “why I decided to try grant writing?”  I have been fortunate in my career.   My former institution supported me lavishly, even in the face of down economic times. I was a young faculty member at a struggling law school that was anxious to put its young talent into the world.  In fact, I can think of only one instance in which I was denied anything from that institution, and that involved a trip to Beijing, for three weeks, before finals, while the ABA was on campus.  (I’m still bitter about being told "no,"  Allen!). Even now, my new institution Savannah Law School remains supportive of the work I am doing, sending me to conferences and other schools to talk about my research.

The fact is that law schools support research differently than other academic departments.  In most institutions summer research funding is a given, presentation travel is a near given (unless you're going to Beijing) and other travel is often available on a near regular basis.  Talking with colleagues in other departments, it is safe to say this has not been their experience. The soft money/ hard money funding dichotomy that so infiltrates so many disciplines has been avoided in law schools due to the overall pressures of the law school academic market and the lack of soft-money funding for the types of research which law school academics engage.  In its stead, law schools have taken a variety of approaches: guaranteed summer funding; quasi guaranteed funding conditioned on producing an article (i.e., no more funding until the funded article leaves the barn); guaranteed summer funding with incentives for greater production); pay for play; etc...  What is most important is that law schools continue to fund this part of the academic work.  And this does not even touch the conference budget allocations most of us are accustomed to having.   

A second difference that has to be raised is the amount of money represented.   For law schools, summer funding and conference travel, per professor amounts to little more than a modest salary increase -- amounting to less than $20,000 per professor.   At this amount, it represents a very modest investment for what the University gets in return. That is, Universities and Law Schools get to promote their faculty's academic achievements, tout their appearances at academic conferences, and produce glossy colored "academic porn" for alumni, prospective students, and U.S. News voters, all for a rather paltry investment per faculty member.  That to me seems like a bargain.  On the soft money side, frankly, the numbers are larger.   For example, the grant I have proposed is for a budget amount exceeding $200,000.  In disciplines that require this type of investment to garner research the effort by the University or department actually requires choices that interfere with other aspects of the University's operations.  At the law school level, the choice is largely a symbolic one -- representing whether the law school stands behind the academic work of its faculty or not. 

It seems to me, talking with colleagues in different institutions spanning the U.S. News Ranking tiers that spending decisions are far more labored (even in law schools) now than they have experienced in the past.   From a faculty perspective, I am wondering where the symbolic meaning of law school decisions lie.  I will talk more about my motivations as the month continues -- many of which are tied to the direct project that I am pursuing -- which is to consider how homeless identities are shaped by the spaces homeless persons occupy, which in turn is shaped by municipal decisions to alter the landscape.   I’ll also spend some time talking about my interests in Law and Literature, Property, Commercial and Consumer Protection Law, and other minutia like college football and the academic market (Geaux Tigers!)

Posted by Marc Roark on September 4, 2013 at 09:38 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Maybe I'm way off base, but I'm reminded a bit about the distinction between the R&D at the old Ma Bell or a company like Google today and the R&D at more typical companies. When you have a wildly profitable company there is simply more room to lavishly spend on long shots without fear of criticism or negative consequences. Likewise since law schools have historically been a large net revenue contributor to their home institutions, it would be difficult for the larger administration or faculty to criticize or reign in what would be seen as lavish and/or inefficient spending in other parts of the university.

Posted by: brad | Sep 4, 2013 2:34:32 PM

Brad -- interesting analogy.

Posted by: Marc | Sep 4, 2013 2:54:02 PM

Quotes:
"I have been fortunate in my career. My former institution supported me lavishly, even in the face of down economic times. I was a young faculty member at a struggling law school that was anxious to put its young talent into the world. In fact, I can think of only one instance in which I was denied anything from that institution, and that involved a trip to Beijing, for three weeks, before finals, while the ABA was on campus."
"$20,000 per professor ... represents a very modest investment for what the University gets in return. That is, Universities and Law Schools get to promote their faculty's academic achievements, tout their appearances at academic conferences, and produce glossy colored "academic porn" for alumni, prospective students, and U.S. News voters, all for a rather paltry investment per faculty member"
"From a faculty perspective, I am wondering where the symbolic meaning of law school decisions lie."

Given passages like the above and the contrast to the rigors imposed on other parts of the university, this is shaping up like an exposé -- including of your former institution's mistaken investment. I hope that is your intent.

Posted by: Ani | Sep 9, 2013 8:47:05 AM

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