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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beyond the Double T-Squared Class Schedule

As part of a series meant to help faculty understand their associate deans better, today I'll talk about negotiations over class schedules.  After you and the associate dean negotiate the courses you will teach for the next academic year, you will need to reach some agreement about the timing of courses.  Different schools allow different amounts of faculty input.  Some places allow little or no input on the schedule, while some in effect allow the faculty member to choose her own schedule or to veto any proposal from the dean. Most places, the schedule flows from a negotiation, with input from both parties.

Judging from the comments I hear at associate dean conferences (yes, these things do happen!), the deans really hate the scheduling process. They talk about the "double T-squared" schedule that virtually all of their faculty insist upon:  everyone wants to teach between Tuesday and Thursday and between Ten and Two. And everyone also wants a time slot with little competition from other teachers, allowing full access to the best classrooms and students. Students have their own preferences in schedules, but that is another story. 

This is where you can do something memorable in conversation with your associate dean. You could just announce, "Put my classes this semester (and this semester only!) anywhere in the schedule that best suits the students and you." How bad could it be for one semester? If you choose wisely, you can offer this bargaining chip during a semester when it does not cost you much. On the plus side, this will really strengthen your hand during future bargaining sessions with the associate dean, whether it be on this topic or a different one. 

Here is a second-best plan. If your personal circumstances don't allow you to pursue the "Schedule Me Anywhere" strategy, you could pursue the "Just One Request" strategy.  Select one schedule parameter that is a priority for you (e.g. "I need to pick up my daughter by 3:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays").  Then tell the dean that you will only ask for one schedule accommodation. You will likely get partial credit for this move in future negotiations, because many of your colleagues will present a longer list of schedule requests.  

Where do you spend the credits that you've earned from the dean in this way? Blog posts are not necessary on this question.    

Posted by Ronald Wright on May 25, 2010 at 10:38 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Pretend you aren't a law professor- pretend you are accountable to the students- and do what's best for them. They in large part pay your salary. Are we all so elevated that we'd be more concerned with the Dean's scheduling issues than with accessibility to students?

"How bad could it be for one semester?" Well it could be horrible, couldn't it? I mean you could be required to work 40 hour weeks like the rest of the country.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2010 7:08:19 AM

I can't really speak to your observations, but I'll just make two points:

1. If you've made the Associate Dean's life easier, he/she is willing to make yours easier. Ronald's post isn't about being the platonic ideal faculty member. It is about making it easy on the Associate Dean, which in turn works to make your life easier.

2. For my own part, there is a great deal more blurring between personal and professional lives as a faculty member than when I was in practice. And the blurring occurs on both ends. I leave work earlier now, but I also spend a lot more of my evenings and weekends on professional activities than I ever did as a lawyer. I often find myself preparing for class, responding to student emails, preparing for a presentation, reading a colloquium paper, reviewing CVs of potential recruits, researching a paper, writing when the spirit moves me, jotting down notes, playing with ideas in my head, surfing ssrn, and so forth. It may be like this non-stop for weeks or more, and then I may not do any of it for a few weeks, or anything in between. Neither my personal life nor my professional life has an off switch now, whereas that switch was very active when I was a practicing attorney.

(Sometimes it is such that my spouse and children would prefer that I were in a job where I got home later, but turned off my work-brain when I came home.)

I don't dismiss your points, and agree with plenty of them (as well as Harrison's--they are related but different); but I think the story is somewhat more complicated.

Posted by: anon | May 25, 2010 8:17:32 PM

I get the point about flexibility, but I've also been a law professor and a parent long enough to know that if you have to leave to pick up your kid at 2:30 three times a week you are less productive, less accessible, do less service, are less visible in the academic and larger world than other professors, and generally are unaware of the costs you impose on your colleagues and students. What happens is that this kind of professor (who can't or won't hire a nanny or get fuller daycare) doesn't actually write from 7 to 10 most nights. They also don't get to work at 7:30, because few day care services require you to pick the kid up at 3, but also allow you to drop off at 7 am. This kind of professor typically refuses to be available for a committee meeting when others can make it, don't come to faculty colloquia (since they are trying to cram more into their shortened day), and don't take "turns" teaching at disfavored times. I know several faculty who fall into this pattern, not because of daycare but because of the distance they live from the school and their need to catch planes or trains to be at home. They also don't come in when they aren't teaching, which is also true of the primary care giver who needs the three day early leave dispensation because the other two days they don't have day care at all, except the primary care giver has a tough time working at home while caring for their kids. So, they really work three partial days a week, plus some evenings and weekends. And this is not a temporary situation because it becomes their normal routine. It would be nice if the schedule you outlined was the reality in most law schools and I don't think most deans complain as long as there is productivity, but it is not common as you imply.

The more important point is that it's kind of crazy to think, as Wright seems to suggest, that this is a minor request that should be held up as exemplary behavior, earning you credits with your associate dean. As a regular arrangement, this is considered a major request at even top schools that would and should get you on the list of difficult faculty members.

Posted by: anon | May 25, 2010 6:23:26 PM


One of the benefits of a law teaching job is flexibility in scheduling.
In the absence of a contractual commitment as to which hours must be worked, this seems acceptable, and even desirable, to all parties involved.

If one can pick up one's child at 2:30 three days of the week; work on an article from 7 until 10 at night on those nights and during several weekend hours; come to work at 7:30 (or earlier) some days during the week; teach in subjects and hours that are disfavored by other faculty members but useful to the school; and have plenty availability to students and for whatever service requests are made by the law school, then why is this shirking?

I experience much more blurring between my professional and personal identities as a faculty member than I ever did in law practice. My hours are more fluid, but the fluidity works in both directions: I often leave work earlier than a practicing lawyer would, and I may not even come into the office on others; but I do much more thinking, writing, researching, preparing, and other work-related activities on what would traditionally be non-working hours than I ever did as a lawyer.

Harrison's points are well-taken, and law schools should be vigilant, but I think that he sometimes oversimplifies the costs and benefits that are associated with some of the behaviors that he condemns.

Posted by: anon | May 25, 2010 4:03:18 PM

You're letting a professor concede that they need to leave at 2:30 (I assume) to pick up their kid by 3 on three days of the week!? Are they planning to come to any faculty or committee meetings? Could they be troubled to hold office hours on their part-time schedule? It's one thing to say that you need an hour of prep time and that makes it hard to start classes before 9:30 or 10:00 given drop-off at 8:30 (although they could prep the night before just like a lawyer would prep the night before a trial or client meeting). At least that implies they will be at the school and working early, but just can't teach quite that early. But to admit that they are simply unavailable after 2:30 three days of the week effectively cuts out most of the afternoon teaching slots and means they are part-timers most of the week. Paging Jeff Harrison and his soapbox about faculty shirking!

Posted by: anon | May 25, 2010 12:22:28 PM

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