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Friday, January 15, 2016

The Inifinte Loop (Returning to AALS)

Last Friday, I moderated the panel session Impossible Realities, Infinite Loops and Movable Staircases: The Impact of Institutional Marginalization on the Tricky, Unpredictable, and Inconsistent Trajectory of the Non-Tenured Track Career Professor, on behalf of the AALS Task Force on Professional Development, which sponsored a five-session program on the “Arc of the Career.”

By way of background, the Task Force requested proposals that addressed: How can AALS better help legal education professionals with professional development over the course of their careers? In reviewing the list of topic areas contemplated for in the request for proposals, we noticed that the concept of the professional development of the non-tenure track, non-tenure eligible, contract, and non-contract faculty member was omitted from consideration. Our panel, composed of me, Mel Weresh, Anna Hemingway, Alyson Carrel, and Dean Susan Duncan shared our professional experiences, explained our challenges, and together with the contributions of numerous attendees, offered ideas to the AALS on how to support the non-tenure track professor with professional career development.

Mel set the stage by explaining that law faculty members who are employed on an ABA 405(c) contract have increasingly been subject to requirements for promotion that rival those of a tenured faculty member. In other words, the obligations for teaching, service, and scholarship are relatively equivalent for tenure track and 405(c) track faculty. As a result, ABA accreditation standard 405(c) rewards these faculty members with “tenure-like” security of position.

Notwithstanding the above, many non-tenure track/contract faculty members have found their positions to be unstable. Some faculty members have been released from positions that are defined as “tenure-like,” after receiving a contract that is "presumptively-renewable." Others have had contractual provisions changed or teaching obligations increased significantly with no additional compensation. As a result, faculty members who have served for many years and earned security of position by satisfying tenure-like standards are denied the proposed reassurance of their contractual provisions. Even more disturbingly, the majority of law faculty members who hold these positions are female.

Screenshot 2016-01-15 10.19.02

 The graphic above and following description are borrowed from Podia and Pens: Dismantling the Two-Track System for Legal Research & Writing Faculty, and illustrate the current disparity in status (i.e., rank or security of position) between male and female law faculty. As faculty status decreases, from tenure to 405(c) and then to legal research and writing faculty, most of whom are on short-term contracts, the percentage of women increases from 36% to 71%.
Our discussion shifted to the history of institutional resistance to administrative changes in status for non-tenure and contract faculty, and issues with professional development in an insecure professional environment.
Anna described that she actively engaged in the scholarship and service work of a tenure-track faculty member from the beginning of her non-tenure status; eventually she achieved tenure, but this is not a typical trajectory.
Alyson discussed the non-traditional trajectory of the skills professor, with specialized expertise in practice areas. She noted the vital need for faculty who possess professional practice skills, especially in the constantly changing landscape of "big law," and lightly of the limited availability of certain legal jobs.
From a Dean's perspective, Susan agreed, stating that faculty who teach skills, simulation courses, provide clinic work, or supervise field placements are the most important faculty in the current landscape to comply with the new ABA 302 and 303 standards.
Mel described a "Best Practices" document she drafted, that the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) and the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) adopted, and that (as of last week) the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) is in the process of considering.
Our recommendation is that all law schools be obligated to adhere to best practices for the protection of 405(c) faculty, and that the AALS should support the adoption for best practices. A presumption of renewal and “tenure-like” security should be enforced.
Our related discussion was robust and attendee contributors included non-tenure and contract faculty teaching in all law topic areas. For non-tenure and contract faculty there is no actual Arc of the career, but rather, a straight line -- or as one panelist or attendee said, "a flat-line." The AALS should work to make professional development of contract faculty important to increase morale, create a greater sense of community and collegiality, and to further safeguard faculty governance and academic freedom.
Check back to the AALS website for the podcast of our session and to hear the comments of participants in this well-attended session.


Posted by DBorman on January 15, 2016 at 12:06 PM | Permalink


"Others have had . . . teaching obligations increased significantly with no additional compensation."

That's happening to plenty of tenure-stream faculty as well. Neither tenure nor other security of position prevents that.

Posted by: anon | Jan 19, 2016 1:12:51 PM

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