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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Co-authorship & Tenure Regs

Hastings has what I take to be an antiquated regulation about co-authorship in its tenure standards:

"Co-authored works will be considered to the extent that the candidate's contribution can be separately evaluated."

I can only guess that this kind of thinking came out of an age where casebook authors assigned one another separate chapters that could be sent out for review individually.  But this regulation is clearly out of date, in my humble opinion.  Thankfully, we're about to revisit the issue and I would be very curious about what modern standards look like on the question of co-authorship.  And if you were writing tenure standards anew, how would you  handle the issue? 

Posted by Ethan Leib on August 27, 2008 at 09:30 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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The reason that you want to have actual standards is that you want the young scholar to be able to predict a priori whether co-authoring the piece will help her to achieve tenure.

Are we indeed all realists now?

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Aug 29, 2008 12:32:32 PM

Why not just leave it up to each individual faculty voter's discretion (as individual faculty voters are wont to do, regardless of the standard) by using some vague language?

"Co-authored works will be considered, taking into appropriate consideration the contribution of each author to the work."

Posted by: anon | Aug 29, 2008 1:33:30 AM

Assuming the parts aren't severable (as they shouldn't be if the work is truly a collaborative project), one way of addressing these concerns is to require the tenure candidate to submit a memorandum, co-written with co-authors, explaining the joint nature of the work involved in the project and evaluating the approximate percentage of the work each author contributed, and providing a narrative of the contribution of each author in the collaborative process. The "to the extent" clause is what I would find troubling. The effort to separately evaluate seems integral to the tenure process, but not the implicit requirement that something "can" (in this context, *must*) "be separately evaluated."

This suggests another issue, though, which is quantity: How "much" does a co-authored work count? A fraction based on the number of co-authors? While quick and easy, this suggests that collaborative work takes less time than single authored work, and therefore more of it should be expected of the candidate. While that's sometimes true, especially when parts of the work are delegated among co-authors, truly collaborative work can actually take *more* time and that too should be recognized in individual cases. The Hastings reg assumes, and in fact requires, delegated collaboration, while it actively discourages a more intensive collaboration, which is in fact more difficult and time-consuming.

Posted by: Mark Fenster | Aug 28, 2008 2:57:02 PM


Even if one had a minimum quantity requirement for solo-authored works (a question not asked here), the question remains whether regs should be discouraging people from collaborative work and essentially discounting it. Having been a co-author many times over, my experience tells me that there is little to "separately evaluate[]." From idea generation to execution, the product is generally joint. That type of work -- seemingly the ideal of collaboration -- is completely discounted, whereas write and paste jobs might more easily come within the reg. I think that is pathological. I appreciate the concerns, of course. But there must be a better solution.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Aug 28, 2008 10:20:17 AM

Re: Jack's comment: This begs the question of how other departments (e.g., economics where tenure standards in other respects are generally higher) seem to get by without substantially discounting co-authored work. To take just one example, Kevin Murphy, who's won both the John Bates Clark medal and a MacArthur Fellowship, has only 2 things on his CV that aren't co-authored (one a short non-refereed AER papers & proceedings paper and the other a book chapter). I suppose it's possible that he didn't contribute much value to the other papers, but then one wonders why people like Gary Becker, Finis Welch, Adrei Shleifer, Sherwin Rosen, etc wanted to write with him over and over again. The very fact that others want to write with someone is itself generally a signal of the value provided by that person.

Posted by: Jon Klick | Aug 28, 2008 9:37:39 AM


The work can be great, but all of what's good about it might have been contributed by the co-author. How can an evaluator tell that someone is tenure-worthy without a substantial amount of sole-authored work that is itself tenure-worthy? I think Hastings has it right.


Posted by: Jack | Aug 28, 2008 12:29:30 AM

Coauthorship is easy: forget about it. Is the work good? Is there a balance of single- and co-authored work in a (tenure or job) candidate's file? Is the work good? Is it the sort of work that clearly benefits from having more than one author involved? Finally: Is. The. Work. Good?

The social sciences figured this one out a long time ago. Legal academy, do us all a favor: for once, take a lesson from someone else, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Posted by: prison rodeo | Aug 27, 2008 11:16:11 PM

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