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Saturday, October 27, 2007

What makes for a good VAP program?

I am on my way back -- having a beer in the airport -- from the AALS hiring conference.  It was great seeing so many colleagues, friends, fellow law-bloggers, Prawfs readers, and (intimidatingly interesting and accomplished) faculty candidates.  I was struck, more so than in the past, by the number of candidates with whom I spoke who were in, or coming off, VAP appointments.

Obviously, it's nothing new to observe that these programs are proliferating quickly, and that this proliferation has striking effects on the scholarly accomplishments and teaching experience of candidates.  My conversations with VAP-veterans got me thinking . . . what are the marks or characteristics of a really good VAP program?  Sure, it's easy to imagine a law school saying, "hey, it looks like good schools have VAP programs.  So, we should too", but not thinking through the program's aims and features.  So, what are, or should be, these aims and features?  Should they be more about teaching experience, or time for writing?  Are they for the benefit of the hosting school (they provide new blood, lower-cost curriculum diversification, etc.), for the benefit of the VAP herself, for (somehow) the legal academy as a whole?  Or, for something else?

Posted by Rick Garnett on October 27, 2007 at 06:28 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Thanks for the informative post here. Is anyone aware of a comprehensive listing of schools that have VAP or fellowship programs designed to prepare participants for tenure track positions?

Posted by: Charlie Martel | Oct 31, 2007 10:37:59 PM


That doesn't seem right. Or at least it isn't obviously right. If the school thought the VAP had what it took to be a tenure-track professor, equality of pay makes sense. But since the entire theory of the VAP position rests on the VAP holders' not being quite ripe for the entry-level market, it seems odd to demand that they be paid the same. More, many who take VAPs are precisely those who either struck out on the market in a given year or those who didn't feel as competitive as they want to be when they try the market for the first time. I hardly think that paying half, say, counts as exploitation. In any case, most of the better VAP programs have quite light teaching loads. Although many of the best schools with the best VAPs have loads about as light as entry-level professors, most of the graduates of these VAPs will go on to jobs at schools with much tougher teaching loads. So even though these grads may double their VAP salaries, they will also be teaching a lot more too.

Posted by: anon | Oct 29, 2007 5:07:20 PM

On the nuts-and-bolts dimension, a VAP program should pay its Visitors the starting salary for entry level junior faculty (or very close to that level). VAP programs should not exploit the teaching aspirations of candidates to fill curricular needs (for which the schools would otherwise likely have to hire a far more expensive visiting professor).

Posted by: Geoff | Oct 29, 2007 11:50:26 AM

I cannot say enough good things about the VAP program at Minnesota.

There are a number of things that set it apart. In the first place, they are in it with you through the long hall. The people at Minnesota were supportive to me when I was first on the market and have continued to be there throughout my professional development. That, to me, is the hallmark of a great program: namely that people will mentor and support you through your career. Beyond that, Minnesota offered an exceptionally supportive scholarly environment. They provided enough time and space to write as well as making sure that you had all of the necessary support (whether it was from the library or other colleagues to kick ideas around with) to push your writing forward. Beyond that, they offered a teaching package to support my research agenda and did not overload me with course work (but still gave me enough to keep my feet wet).

Ultimately, I think that the key components of a good VAP program are: (1) mentoring during and after the program, (2) scholarly support, (3) an opportunity to get your feet wet in a teaching area that supports your scholarship, and (4) provides you with good colleagues in the meantiime.

But that is just my two cents.

Posted by: Susan Franck | Oct 27, 2007 7:19:06 PM

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