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June 06, 2011


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I am about to start a tenure track position and being told not to worry about publishing but also to expect 12-15 hrs of class prep per hour of class. I'm teaching 6 hrs first semester so am looking at a minimum of 72 hrs of class prep per week, plus general faculty work. I'm starting to wonder if I will ever publish again!!

Lee Harris

This seems to me to be very strange (read, bad) advice. The first year is typically light-loaded for most junior folks, so it may be an ideal time to write (and I would even say send something out). The longer you wait, the harder it will be to build up the type of discipline and muscles to constantly produce. There are lots of balls to juggle for first-years, but this will always be the case.

Bill Turnier

As the above two comments imply, it has much to do with the normal teaching load at a school and whether it lightens the teaching load of a first year teacher. If the school expects a new teacher to jump in and teach 6 hours each semester, then it is pretty close to do much more than prepare one's classes. If, on the other hand, you have a 10 hour normal teaching load and the school gives you a course off in the first year then the new teacher will have the time to get started on scholarship. Moreover, in such situations one should get started because next year you will be teaching what for that school is a full load and while doing so you will be picking up another new course. So your second year will be pretty tight and if you did not get a start in your first year, you will find it hard getting scholarship started. As the two paradigms would imply, there are different expectations for teaching and scholarship at different schools and the bottom line is that one is best served by determining what are the expectations at the new teacher's school and doing your best to fit in and measure up.


Although most institutions require some proficiency in both teaching and scholarship for tenure, all politics are local. Many institutions care far more about scholarship; if you are at one of those, the advice about not writing at all your first year seems risky. If you are at a school that highly values teaching and relatively deemphasizes scholarship, then the advice may be worthwhile. The best advice will likely come from people at your home institution (or who recently left your home institution).

Orin Kerr

There are a bunch of issues here, but here are some thoughts.

First, the best answer depends not only on local norms but on what kind of professor you want to be. Tenure standards at most law schools are low. If you write three articles in five years, you will very likely get tenure at most schools. That really isn't that much work for a half-decade of time. (Imagine a litigator who made partner by writing three briefs in five years....) So it's quite true that, if you like, you can focus on teaching in your first year and not do any (or at least very much) writing that year. It all depends on what kind of professor you want to be.

Second, in my view, sending out an article in your first year is a very good idea because it sends an important signal of scholarly seriousness. It shows that you're dedicated to scholarship, and it signals to colleagues that you were a smart hire who won't disappoint in the productivity department. Life is complicated, and both teaching loads and ambitions vary, so it may not be possible to send out an article in your first year. But if you can swing it, it's a very good idea.

Third, the advice of senior professors may seem puzzling in part because scholarly standards have changed. In the not-so-distant past, relatively few professors did substantial amounts of scholarship. As a result, today's senior professors were more likely to be of a generation that didn't write at all in their first year: They may just be telling you what they were told back when they were junior professors. Plus, at the risk of painting with a broad brush, senior colleagues are less likely to be active in the scholarship market than are junior colleagues. Some senior colleagues are still active writers, of course, but more senior professors are more likely to be writing less than are junior scholars. So if anyone is likely to say that you should focus on things other than scholarship in the first year, it's more likely to be a senior colleague than a junior one.

Colin Miller

I don't know whether this is common, but when I started, my school gave entering faculty members research stipends for the summer before we started. Based upon that stipend, I had no problem leaving my prior job early and spending a good part of the summer writing an article and preparing to teach 2 classes in the fall. Then, in the spring, I only had to teach 1 class, which was one of the classes that I taught in the fall (the light load). This allowed me to get some writing done in the spring as well.


Following Orin's comment, one of the things a new prof has to figure out is how to listen to senior faculty. Often, more senior folks make flat statements that mask where they are in the politics of that particular school, and over the past decade or so those politics have often involved the so-called teaching vs. scholarship debate. If the person who says focus on teaching is the associate dean or the head of the P&T committee, then that is advice worth taking into account. If it is the most senior faculty member who never published much (but who may have done yeoman's work for the school in other ways), then I recommend a few grains of salt with that advice.

Any in any event, it makes sense to start finding time to write. There is no need to rush something out -- that can backfire. But definitely get in the habit of writing . . . .


I think of this kind of advice as similar to how we tell students not to worry too much about studying for the bar exam, or not to worry to much about their grades. We don't really expect students to follow that advice, and the smart ones won't.

Marc DeGirolami

I don't get the "don't worry" advice. The advice ought to be neither to worry nor not to worry, but to write away without worrying about whether or not to worry. A lot of this seems to me to be about taking advantage of a great job opportunity -- we get to write about things that interest us. "Worrying" puts the cart before the horse -- the horse being the intrinsic pleasure of writing that is this job's privilege, the cart being instrumental and secondary rewards like tenure.


If you are, indeed, hired to teach students about the law, shouldn't your first concern be teaching and not writing?

Not really a professor

"If you are, indeed, hired to teach students about the law . . ."

At very few schools are law professors "hired to teach students about the law." Research and writing is a core part of the job description.

Your point could be better expressed this way:
"If your salary is largely paid by the tuition dollars of students who just want to learn the law, shouldn't your first concern be teaching and not writing?"

Even this overstates the case for teaching, as most students care about the prestige of the school, which is significantly impacted by faculty research and publication.


At tenure time an important thing in your file will be whether you show "improvement" in teaching over the past five or six years. Your first-year evaluations will probably not be stellar in any event (first-time teaching is very difficult), but it doesn't really matter if they are stellar. The tenure committee isn't going to care if you got all "fives" the first year. They will care about whether you are showing a trajectory, moving from adequate teaching to very good teaching (as measured by the evals). Given that reality, you should *definitely* spend part of your first year writing--sure, it will hurt your teaching a little, but you don't want or need to do your best teaching your first year. It will take significant pressure off you in later years to have a good start on a first publication (and to be able to "improve" your teaching from a base that allows for easy improvements).

Michael Helfand

Having just finished my first year, I sympathize with the dilemma. Part of my approach was to spend a lot of time during the summer before my first year working on articles and pushing them as close as possible towards the finish line. That way I was able to spend most of the year on teaching (and I found I needed a lot of prep time), but still managed to publish a couple of articles by submitting in the Spring cycle.


I worked extremely hard at teaching my first year -- despite much advice to the contrary from my senior colleagues, who sound like "anon" two posts above. My first year evals were outstanding. I won a teaching award. It gave me great confidence, as I had never set foot in a classroom before. I did not publish that spring. The very careful work I had done preparing for one of my classes led to a publication in a top 15 law review the next year. When I lateraled away from the 50ish ranked school to a top school, my outstanding teaching was noted repeatedly (along with my scholarship, of course). It worked for me, although it helped that one of my classes was in my core area of scholarship. I still use some of those first year teaching notes, ten years later. My advice: try to find your own way. You must publish. But think hard about what works best for you.

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