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Monday, December 12, 2011

Two Easy Ways to Make Junior Faculty Happy

Talking to entry level candidates this hiring season, I spend a lot of time explaining why I think Arizona State is such a great school for junior faculty.  Our former associate dean (and now interim dean), Doug Sylvester, instituted a number of policies that help promote junior faculty and to foster a great culture of intellectual collaboration.  It recently occurred to me that there are at least two things we do here at ASU that an associate dean (or even just an enterprising junior faculty member) could institute at any law school.

First, before every big submission window, the junior faculty pick one day each weekend to meet and complete our articles.  We call this arrangement "misery loves company," and the concept is simple:  Juniors arrive at the law school at 9:00am and sit in their offices to work on their drafts (no socializing or other administrative/email tasks—and no internet surfing permitted).  The law school orders a simple lunch for everyone (usually pizza and drinks), and we convene in the faculty center at noon to eat, socialize, and often vent frustrations/air questions about the current status of our drafts.  At 1:00pm, we go back to our offices and continue to work on our drafts.  After 5 we are free to do as we please; some stay and keep working, though many of us often decide to get dinner or drinks.

Second, we have a semi-annual internal "retreat" for junior people to workshop their papers or half-baked ideas.  Our workshop is similar in model to Prawfsfest --- presenters need to circulate their drafts in advance, and the sessions are driven by comments and suggestions (presenters, in other words, don't really present their drafts).  We call these workshop retreats, because we always hold them off campus --- sometimes at a local resort or restaurant, and sometimes even out of town.  Like misery loves company, these retreats don't cost the school much money (basically the cost of lunch).  And both have the benefit of reinforcing the importance of scholarship, keeping the junior faculty informed about what all of us are working on, and providing moral support during what can be a difficult process.

I'm a big fan of both misery loves company and internal retreats, and if your school doesn't already do something similar, I suggest you try to get one or both started.  Does anyone want to share similar ideas from their schools --- that is simple and inexpensive ways to make junior faculty happy, while at the same time promote scholarship, teaching, or service?

Posted by Carissa Hessick on December 12, 2011 at 06:02 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Just to clarify, I think that faculty can enjoy producing scholarship without enjoying every single step in the process. For example, I love the initial stages of writing an article --- doing the research, forming my thesis, and figuring out the best way to organize and present my analysis. I also like the later stages --- writing the first draft, workshopping that draft several times, and revising the draft to incorporate the comments and insights of others.

"Misery loves company" day falls at the very end of the scholarship process --- just before the submission window opens --- when I have to fill in tertiary footnotes, proofread my introduction for the 15th or so time, and fix my supra and infra citations. I'm sure that there are people out there who enjoy these tasks, but I'm not one of them. I not only find them tedious, but I feel a bit cranky when I have to spend an 8+ hour chunk of time on these tasks in order to meet the submission window. The moral support of my colleagues (and the free pizza) of misery loves company makes that process far more bearable.

I know that law professors have fantastic jobs. My worst day as a law professor is still more fulfilling and enjoyable than most days I spent in practice. The point of the post isn't to garner sympathy for law professors who sometimes (really not all that often) have to do work that they don't find fulfilling or enjoyable --- it was simply to point out that there are a couple of simple things that schools can do to make their junior faculty happier.

Posted by: carissa | Dec 14, 2011 9:43:38 PM

I second the comment from Junior Faculty Member above. If producing scholarship is a form of misery for you guys, you are in the wrong profession. An academic is supposed to find joy and fulfillment in scholarly work.

Posted by: observer | Dec 14, 2011 8:36:04 PM

Just to answer a couple of questions from the comments thread ---

(a) Participation isn't mandatory at the internal retreats. (We invariably have couple of faculty members who can't make it for some reason.) That said, I think that there is a strong informal norm of attendance.

(b) As to whether these programs can come from on high or have to originate with junior faculty, I think it probably depends on the school. But if the senior faculty/administrator informally floats the suggestions to a few junior folks, that might take care of any sense that these programs are being imposed on the junior faculty.

One final note in closing --- whether the retreats and misery loves company days ought to be restricted (formally or informally) to faculty who have been in teaching only a certain amount of time is another question that schools will need to grapple with.

Posted by: carissa | Dec 14, 2011 8:35:09 PM

I think the retreat/workshop idea is a fantastic one, in part just from my experience at PrawfsFest and what a great workshop format that is. Our associate dean and I were just talking about trying to set something like this up. One benefit is that it helps junior faculty learn to talk one another's scholarly language, even when they write in very, very different areas.

Here is a question for Carissa or Chris or anyone else who has thoughts on the matter: Can these program scome from on high from senior faculty/administration? Or do they have to begin organically with the junior faculty? How will junior faculty react if the administration tells them they are going to do this program?

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 14, 2011 11:39:43 AM

I don't understand why misery must impose on those who are not miserable.

Posted by: Junior Faculty Member | Dec 14, 2011 8:58:30 AM

I like the Misery Loves Company idea (who doesn't like free pizza?), except I also subscribe to the Hell is Other People maxim, whereby I often like to avoid my friends when I am flustered and trying to finish something in advance of a pending deadline. So even though I like the idea in theory, I would want to make sure my colleagues knew they were in no way obligated to partake of the free food and drink.

Posted by: Miriam Baer | Dec 13, 2011 11:38:19 AM

This is really smart.

Posted by: David Schleicher | Dec 13, 2011 11:26:55 AM

Thanks, Carissa. I just circulated this to our junior faculty. We've been moving toward having a stronger, more cohesive, and more loving junior faculty; your post will help to accelerate that. The second idea is classic but in all the right ways--easy, inexpensive, and fruitful both professionally and personally. Thanks! Hope all is well!

Posted by: Chris Lund | Dec 13, 2011 11:16:20 AM

(That was supposed to be "legal academy" - apologies)

Posted by: Future junior faculty | Dec 13, 2011 11:06:38 AM

As someone who will be joining the legal faculty next fall, I also think these sound like great ideas. One question, though (and this may be what the first commentator was getting at)--what is the culture like as far as mandatory participation in these events? Are junior faculty required to participate, regardless of whether these processes are helpful to them? Or is it voluntary (and perhaps strongly encouraged to "try" the first time around)?

Posted by: Future junior faculty | Dec 13, 2011 11:03:18 AM

Carissa, it's too bad that some blog commenters are jerks -- I like these ideas, would like to try them, and am grateful you shared. They also are similar to some of the things good behavioral scientists would recommend -- e.g., "work on your draft" day reminds me of some of Ian Ayres' proposals in his "Carrots & Sticks" book.

Posted by: BDG | Dec 13, 2011 10:27:51 AM

Thanks for the interesting ideas.

Posted by: kal | Dec 13, 2011 9:56:28 AM

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