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October 11, 2011

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Tung Yin

When I was pretenured, I found that there was quite striking variance between how timely my senior faculty colleagues would read and respond to drafts of articles. There was no correlation between the "prestige" or productivity, either. Some very well-known colleagues would turn around the draft within a week and sit down with me. Sometimes, other very well-known colleagues would (sheepishly) return the draft with comments when the article was already in page proofs.

One thing I've wondered about is whether a school should have an informal -- or even formal -- norm for senior faculty members that, apart from teaching (of course), giving junior faculty feedback should take priority over one's own scholarship. I got this idea from one of my clerkships, where the judge's chambers rule was that when he received a draft opinion from another judge, responding to that draft opinion was to take priority over anything else.

I'm not sure how a faculty candidate could ask questions to discern whether such a policy exists, but I suppose it could be thrown out there.

Josh Tate

I am not sure what the point is of asking a faculty candidate at AALS what questions s/he has for the interviewers, since the sort of questions that are considered appropriate to ask usually can be answered by going to the school's website, and the sort of questions that the candidate really wants to have answered are not considered appropriate to ask. Why not just have the hiring chair say, "Thanks for meeting with us. We'll be in touch. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me."

As for not bothering to read materials, the better candidates get flooded with so many brochures, etc., that I wouldn't take failing to read them as an indication of a lack of serious interest.

TJ

I think you are missing the point of the "What Support Does Your School Offer for Scholarship?" question as a response to the "What Questions Do You Have For Us" question. Both questions are Code for other questions. A rough translation for this interchange is:

School: "Do you have any special interest in our school so that you won't take a higher ranked school over us if you got an offer there?"
Candidate: "None whatsoever. I'm looking to get into the highest ranked school I can."

Apparently appointment committees have such fragile egos (or a in such denial) that they cannot bring themselves to ask the question straight, so they ask the question in a language known as Code. And the English answer "I have no questions" is considered offensive and automatically disqualifying. So candidates learn the Code answer -- not great, but non-disqualifying -- is to ask about support for scholarship.

Sending the memo ahead of time is not helping the candidate, since the candidate is not really seeking to learn about your support for scholarship. It is simply making communication even harder since we now have to speak in even more elaborate Code. You still might want to do this as a school -- if you really want to weed out candidates who are looking to land the highest rank school (with minor adjustments for geography and the like), which is 95% of candidates -- but don't pretend that you are doing the candidates a favor by "answering their question" ahead of time.

Josh Tate

I think TJ has it right. A strong candidate will have turned down multiple offers for AALS interviews due to a limited number of slots in the candidate's schedule, so merely showing up for an AALS interview with your school is an indication of interest by itself. If a candidate gets a callback interview and comes to campus, then I think it is reasonable to expect that candidate to learn more about the school and read any materials sent to the candidate.

Don't forget how stressful it is to be a candidate at the meat market, with all that shuttling back and forth between towers.

Harry

I think that TJ is absolutely right. But to support his (her) point further, let's also think about this from the candidate's perspective. By showing up, she has implicitly asked: "Do you have any questions for me?" Under Bridget's reasoning, the committee better not ask about which courses the candidate wants to teach. It's in the FAR that the candidate submitted. The committee better not ask about the candidate's research ideas. It's in the (likely) attached research agenda. The committee better not ask general questions about legal practice. It's in the resume. The committee better not ask about my paper if the answers are in the paper, including the footnotes. After all, the committee wouldn't want the candidate to think that it is not interested either.

Josh Tate

I would add to this that I've seen multiple candidates come down for callback interviews who seem to know everything about the history of our school and have memorized the names of all our faculty members, end up getting an offer, and then use it as leverage to try and get a job at another school.

Paul Horwitz

Interesting discussion. I would second the point that, even if this is a silly question for candidates to ask, any such view should be leavened in practice with a little mercy: it's a stressful time and a standard question, so I would not be inclined to think of this as a negative, so much as a null set. Second, as I've written before, I'm all about thinking in terms of the *mutual* duties of both hiring committees AND candidates, and perhaps we should place a greater burden here on the committees. It may be a silly question for candidates to ask, but they're given an opening to ask it. Perhaps the committees, who strike me as the least cost avoiders, should be asking something better than "Do you have any questions for us?" From my own experience, rather than ask them what questions they have, I try to tell candidates at the end of the interview some of the facts I think are most salient about the school--not least, what it's like to live and make a home in that particular place. Perhaps they'll then have some questions about what I've told them, or they'll have a question that what I've told them hasn't answered. In any event, GIGO, as the saying goes; if committees don't want to get silly questions, they should try to have better prompts.

Paul Horwitz

Sorry, one very important addendum. I should be fair to Bridget and her school and note that the memo she discusses ought to fill something like the function of the little spiel I give. Kudos, then, to her and her school. Perhaps it's just that, as everyone has noted, candidates are juggling a lot of information in a short time-span. I think the memo is a great idea, so rather than be critical in general, I'll say that perhaps if she's still getting silly questions in response, it means the memo should be improved, or that it should be used in tandem with some kind of closing spiel from the committee, ie. "We sent you a memo. The most important things we say there, and the ones that make us most distinct as a school, are A, B, and C. Do you have questions about those? Particular interests by way of support? Other questions?"

Dan Hunter

I'm pleased to say that I'm not likely to have to go back on the market any time soon (luckily the indictment has been sealed) but if I had to I'd like to think that the question I would ask would be:

"If you described your faculty as a car, what car would it be? And why."

You could change the "car" reference to many other things of course (milkshakes, geological formations, skyscrapers, famous novels, etc) but I remember thinking about these sorts of questions a lot when I did my PhD (which was on analogy, of course) and I was always struck by how much they revealed about the person answering the question. And occasionally about the target of the analogy.

anongirl

It seems kind of silly to fault candidates for asking about research support given that there is so much variation among schools as to what kinds of support they offer. Furthermore, typically that information is not available in websites and the like. Some schools provide regular access to RAs, some don't. Some guarantee junior faculty one pre-tenure "conference" that they can host, some allow junior faculty to invite speakers, some give large versus small annual research stipends, some have automatic summer salary support while some require competition for a limited pool, some have policies of paying faculty travel to any conference at which the faculty member is invited to speak/present, others have very limited conference budgets, and so on.
If every member of the committee has a different answer to the "research support" question, that itself is useful info, as it suggests--proves--that the law school hasn't actually bothered to think much about what it would officially like to be known to do to support faculty research. It suggests that research support is "ad hoc" and unsystematic. In any event, I would disagree with the original post and argue that this question is not just fair, but an essential one for candidates to ask.

Cinderella

I think all of this just goes to show that the exact same interview may get the candidate a callback from one committee or a resume thrown in the trash can before the exit door fully closes by another committee.

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