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Friday, October 05, 2007

The Future of Fellowships

Thanks again to Dan et al. for letting me squat here for the last few months.  I've enjoyed it very much.  It's time for me to sign off (again).  But before I do I'd like to end with a post about the future of law teaching fellowships.

I started my law teaching career as the Williams Fellow at UCLA School of Law.  The Williams Fellowship is sponsored by UCLA's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy.  The purpose of the fellowship is to train new scholars who teach and write on issues relating to law and sexuality.

The benefits of doing a fellowship have been well documented.  I tend to think that a fellowship is a great experience for someone who is trying to break into the legal academy.  For me, my fellowship was essential; I wouldn't have gotten a tenure-track job if it wasn't for the chance to spend a couple of years with the faculty at UCLA.

And this is, in my mind, one of the best reasons why we should celebrate the rise of fellowships: fellowships can open doors for young scholars who would otherwise not be able to get tenure-track positions.  This was certainly the case for me.  Because my law school does not have a history of producing law professors, it was clear that if I was going to make it as a law professor, I was going to have to "wash" my degree (I hate the term, but it's useful in this context).  My two years at UCLA served this cleansing function.  Of course, the fellowship did more than just that.  During my fellowship, I got time to focus on my teaching, develop a scholarly agenda, attend conferences and workshops, and, perhaps most importantly, learn the social practices of talking and acting like a law professor, skills that no doubt helped me on the teaching market.

But I am worried about the future of fellowships.

In particular, I am worried that fellowships are becoming too professionalized.  By this I mean that many fellowships are going to candidates who will have no trouble landing a tenure-track job.  Many fellows are already on their way to becoming law professor rock stars--they have PhDs in fields related to law; they have Supreme Court clerkships; and they have publications in the Ivy League Law Review.  While I certainly understand why law faculties want these folks to spend some time at their schools, I worry that over time fellowships will stop serving the "boosting" function for folks who don't have these credentials.

Diversity in the academy is important.  This includes a diversity of educational institutions.  In the future, I hope that at least some law teaching fellowships will remain open for faculty candidates who need the added value of a fellowship.

Posted by Zachary Kramer on October 5, 2007 at 09:39 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I also share in your concerns, Zach. Temple's Freedman Fellowship was integral in my ability to land an academic appointment, and it provided a tremendous network of support from former fellows -- a network that my JD institution did not provide. (Though, I too am loath to describe the fellowship as a "washing" of my JD degree - perhaps "grooming" is a slightly better analogy).

Another concern I have is that fellowship programs and entry-level visitorships (which are apparently increasing in number) will be used by institutions to get cheaper classroom teachers, rather than cultivate more thoughtful and productive scholars and teachers. This was not my experience at Temple; quite the opposite. However, it is my impression that not all fellowships/VAPs provide this level of dedicated, institutional support. Ideally, fellows would be paid more. But, as long as they are not paid the equivalent of junior profs who teach the same course load, they should inquire into the level of institutional support they will receive in preparation to go on the job market.

As far as Not a Prawf's comments go, most of the fellowship stipends are not liveable. I managed to make it work by taking on side projects, as did some of my other colleagues. At the same time, I did not have a family to feed. I had colleagues who did have families, and they did not appear to be wealthy. They planned financially for their time as fellows and made serious sacrifices, and I am fairly confident that they would tell you that it worked out for them in the end.

Posted by: Meredith R. Miller | Oct 8, 2007 3:25:46 PM


I share your concern. But I take some comfort in the fact that many fellowships are specifically designed to do what you think they ought to do. (e.g. Harvard's Charles Hamilton Houston Fellowships for Law Teaching). Perhaps the answer is to make the donors and nonprofits aware of the importance of having a "voice" in the legal community such that they will endow more diverse fellowships.

Posted by: Thaddeus Pope | Oct 6, 2007 12:17:01 PM

Another effect of fellowships may be to skew the demographics of law professor faculties: Given that such fellowships usually have a very low stipend, only those people who (1) come from substantial prior wealth, or (2) have no family will tend to apply for them. The more that fellowships become a necessary step toward tenure-track employment, the more those demographic groups will dominate the hiring pool.

Of course, I'm biased. As someone who is not wealthy, and who has to support a family, I concluded that a fellowship was an impossibility to me. The one-year cash flow disruption was insurmountable, at least for the next five or six years. At that point, I'll likely be disqualified for having too much time at a law firm!

Posted by: Not a Prawf | Oct 5, 2007 10:31:26 PM

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