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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Self-Promotion" and Institutional Promotion

Paul Secunda's posts on self-promotion are very useful and I hope ambitious scholars, whether junior or senior, are taking a look at them.  One point I want to emphasize, by way of friendly amendment rather than suggesting any tension with Paul's own posts, is that a focus on "self-promotion" should not obscure the value and necessity of institutional promotion.  It seems to me that, done right, promotion of oneself should go hand in glove with promotion of one's institution -- even if the purpose of that promotion is (in part) to position yourself for the possibility of moving elsewhere.  I'm not suggesting that if your institution is genuinely lousy, you should pretend otherwise, although I imagine most institutional change will be effected by people who are working more or less within the institution rather than just bad-mouthing their institution around town.  But most of us are more or less happy with our institution, even if we have thought about eventually going elsewhere, and most of us have reason to be grateful for the support our institution has shown us -- say, by hiring us in the first place!  So, when you are promoting yourself, you should not neglect the obligation to dance with the one that brung you, even if you're also thinking about a future dance partner. 

What does that mean?  For one thing, as I've said before, it means not "hiding your nametag."  Anyone who has been to an AALS conference knows what I mean here.  Take some pride in your institution, regardless of where it stands on the food chain, and don't act as if you're ashamed of it or as if you have one foot out the door.  For another, as long as you're talking about yourself and your work on social networking sites and elsewhere, it means taking public note of the good work being done by your colleagues and your institution.  It also means recognizing that even as you're spreading your name around in various public circles, there is much you can do to build your institution at home -- championing workshops, hosting symposia, supporting junior colleagues, and so on.  Be a good citizen of your institution, even if you're digging out your passport for future travels.  

Institutional promotion is not only an obligation in itself, it is also complementary to rather than in tension with promotion of oneself.  Although you may travel far on your own merits, you will travel further if you come from an institution that people think is doing good things and hiring good people.  The more prominent your institution is, the more prominent you will be too.  And, when the phone calls start coming around from people who want to know from your colleagues whether you would be a good addition to some other school's faculty, it will help (duh) if you have not alienated your own colleagues by acting as if you're too good for them, and if they can say cheerfully that you have been a good institutional citizen and a good colleague and are likely to contribute in a similar fashion to the next institution.  You will leave friends behind, who will continue spreading your good name, rather than people who grumble about you.  You will also have a happier experience at your home institution and make it a better place to be, so that if your lateral move doesn't happen at all or takes longer than you thought, you are still making the most of your time there rather than becoming embittered.  I think institution-building is an obligation of every faculty member, whether they want to move or not, just as I think self-promotion is a perfectly reasonable and, if done right, entirely ethical aspect of one's professional work.  But it is nice to be reminded that institution-building can also be a healthy and effective part of self-promotion.   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on November 11, 2009 at 09:48 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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Paul Horowitz's post on promoting your institution while promoting yourself is truly a wise comment.

First, remember that if a student comes to your school because of something you've done or written, that can only help. Although law schools are not like other graduate schools or departments, where students come to work with specific faculty members, it can't hurt one's status at one's place of work when a student tells the admissions' staff "I came because I read or heard of Prof. so and so."

Also, if you don't push your institution potential employers and colleagues may look askance at you, for future opportunities. Employers want to see employees, especially potential or future employees, excited about where they are. We can all make lemonade from lemons. I am willing to bet that many if not all of us have done so.

Finally, whether one wants to admit it one is tethered to one's institution. This is particularly true in academe. So be proud of where you are, especially if your looking to move up. For example, Yale's Jack Balkin began his academic life at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, moved to the University of Texas and finally to Yale. Jack will be the first one to tell you that he was proud of and happy about each place he worked at. Similarly, Robin West of Georgetown went from Cleveland-Marshall to Maryland to Georgetown. Wendy too was both happy and proud at each of these institutions. She like Jack moved for better opportunities.

Warmest regards,

Itzchak Kornfeld
Hebrew University

Posted by: Itzchak Kornfeld | Nov 11, 2009 7:56:34 PM

Well said! Go Irish!

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 11, 2009 7:49:50 PM

Agreed. Have I mentioned lately how great FSU is?

Posted by: Dan Markel | Nov 11, 2009 12:48:58 PM


Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 11, 2009 12:11:08 PM

Agreed. And if you are hoping to lateral, one of the things your target schools will be interested in is how effectively you will promote them institutionally. What better proxy for that than the way you are promoting your current institution?

Posted by: Rick Bales | Nov 11, 2009 11:00:37 AM

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