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Monday, January 21, 2019

Life After Tenure

Several years ago, I attended a panel at SEALS about life after tenure.  I went to the panel because I was almost tenured myself, and I realized that I hadn’t given much thought to how I would conduct my professional life once I’d cleared the hurdle of tenure.  I forget the precise name of the panel and the people who were speaking.  But the panel nonetheless stands out in my memory for two reasons:  First, there was a very big audience for this panel.  And second, I walked out of that room thinking that no one had a particularly good answer to the question “what should you do once you get tenure.”

To be clear, people on the panel and in the audience all had different answers for the question—both about what professors should do, and what they personally had done.  Some people at the panel talked about taking on more administrative responsibility, like serving as associate dean and trying to become a dean somewhere.  One person recommended learning a new language.  Some others recommended that professors “slow down.”

In recent weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about that panel again.  One reason I’ve been thinking about this topic is that I’ve been invited to speak at a conference on March 30th called “Tenure! Now What?” (There are a lot of fancy people speaking at the conference, and so I feel pressure to say something thoughtful.) 

Another reason that I’ve been thinking about this is more personal:  Someone recently asked me where I wanted my career to be in 5 years.  I didn’t have a response other than to say I haven’t thought about my life in those terms since I got tenure.  The question made me think about the fact that I probably only 20 or 25 years left in the academy.  And so I’ve started to take stock and think about what I want to accomplish in those years.

In any event, I am still looking for answers about what people ought to do once they get tenure.  After all, I need to sound smart at the conference.  That led me to pose the question on Twitter.  Some of the answers were very good --- I recommend that you read the replies to the tweet here. In particular, I recommend Barry Friedman’s standalone thread on the topic, and Orin Kerr's tweets about how asking the question about what to do after tenure raises serious questions about what we are doing before tenure.  Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments to this post.  And if you are interested in attending the conference, registration is still open.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on January 21, 2019 at 10:02 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


I'm pretty sure I was on that panel, Carissa. I couldn't even begin to remember what I said and whether it was at all useful. I do know I got way more involved in moot court coaching and advocacy programs after tenure. I enjoyed feeling free to work more with students than on projects that would not directly impact students.

Posted by: David Case | Jan 22, 2019 2:18:44 PM

I would second what Orin said on Twitter. Pre-tenure, I felt free to write what I wanted in whatever format I wanted to write it, so nothing changed with tenure. The one possible exception was interest in writing books--and I might have done that earlier had I been ready to engage the topics on which I have written books.

The biggest effect might have come not in scholarship but in teaching. I did not ban laptops until after my tenure vote, out of fear of negative evals. I also changed books and teaching formats, making the classes more "mine" and less tied to the chosen materials.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jan 22, 2019 12:14:25 AM

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