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February 07, 2013


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Look, I realize that these *are* issues, and things that worry professors. But to say that these are the "biggest issues facing law professors" is tone deaf and, based on what I observe my colleagues worrying about, inaccurate. For most of us, I think the biggest issues facing law professors is how to improve circumstances for our present and future students. All things beings equal, we would prefer to avoid working harder, and doing less pleasant tasks, for less pay. But I'm far more worried about how to change things so our students get jobs at all, for any kind of pay.

I am writing anonymously because this probably sounds like grandstanding. But I think it's actually representative about how most of us feel. More broadly, the reason to avoid questions like those you pose is because they suggest that professors are just passive figures reacting to changes (tastes in scholarship, administrative responsibilities) that are imposed from above -- when we should be engaged in designing and evaluating changes.

Jacqui Lipton

Completely agree with you, Fulltime, and I'm glad you posted that. I honestly was just asking what people *thought* were the big issues. These are extremely important issues and I'm very glad you raised them. I'd like to get a discussion going and I didn't mean to be tone deaf, so apologies if the title of the post juxtaposed with my questions was misleading. I have heard professors' opinions vary about the extent to which faculty can or should help students get jobs, but I personally think we should do whatever we can.

I also very much support your idea that we need to be less passive and more active in designing and evaluating change. I don't know if starting a blog discussion can help with that, but whether or not it can, I do think difficult times raise challenges that intelligent and experienced people should ideally be able to meet creatively and actively.


The biggest issue facing law professors is that there are more of us than are currently needed. While many of my fellow professors work quite hard, most have forgotten the kind of hard work required by life in a large law firm. While my colleagues moan about teaching 2-2, I think 3-3 would be reasonable, especially if you worked to limit the number of new preps. While there are many things law schools can do to cut costs, and cut tuition, eventually schools will start cutting faculty members and/or slashing pay. Law professors have lived a luxurious life, even relative to other academics, and that is going to end. The smart law professors will find ways to make themselves valuable to students and their institutions.

anon prof

You said a big concern would be "potential pressures to teach more practical skills in our classrooms." It's appalling to me that more faculty don't do this already. We're not paid to train law students to be law professors or scholarly legal thinkers. We're paid to teach law students how to be lawyers. We all know those are two related but distinct approaches. I do this already, as do several of my colleagues, but we are in the minority.

To the extent that there are a number of tenured faculty out there who fail to do this (or fail to effectively teach at all), our tenure system should be revised to account for that. Tenure should no longer exist to protect people who fail to adequately perform a third (half?) of their job responsibilities. That wouldn't fly in any other career, and it shouldn't fly in ours.

Another anon

The biggest issues facing law professors are the related problems that, as the professon is currently structured, we are doing harm to the futures/lives of a substantial portion of our student body and that, all solutions for fixing those problems leave a substantial percentage of us jobless.


On a personal level, I'd say plenty of young profs and VAPs are trying to figure out how to manage our own $150k+ debt (now often having to start our careers via an extended series of low-paid fellowships, where the debt balloons if we're on IBR) and hoping we may qualify to get federal public interest loan forgiveness for teaching if we can stay employed for 10 years and PSLF is still around then (unless we teach at a for-profit school). I don't bring this up at faculty meetings.

Shawn Boyne

For faculty at state schools with a limited ability to decrease either staff or faculty size, one of the challenges is to find new programs in areas in which actual employment markets exist. Too often we design programs that reflect our research areas without completing the necessary minimal due diligence. That effort should include looking at empirical data about the the employment market for graduates of these new programs. When those programs, like some Juris Masters degrees, involve mixing JD and JM students in the same classrooms, we owe a duty to our JD students to ensure that the core JD classes are not retooled to involve less law. Our duty is not just to fill the classrooms but to keep our classes meaningful.


"For faculty at state schools with a limited ability to decrease either staff or faculty size..." I''m not sure I get your drift. Are you referring to tenure policy? That it is somehow ironclad? When schools begin experiencing a double-digit decline in enrollments, year after year (and many will), I have my doubts that a whole slew of faculty members will be financially supported for the sake of tenure. Something will give. Vermont Law School is poised to take action regarding faculty. Granted, they are not a state school. But who would have imagined faculty layoffs five years ago? That's the new reality. Some type of state of emergency clause can always be invoked.


ABA journal article, massive faculty layoffs predicted:

Shawn Boyne

Frankly, I don't see the massive layoffs coming. All schools have had problems with some tenured faculty performing at a level lower than their salary level and face litigation with any attempt to cut those faculty. The situation is even stickier with long-term staff. It is almost impossible at a state school to fire a staff member even if they spend the entire day on facebook. Frankly, I wish it was easier to thin faculty and staff ranks, because those types of efforts would help reduce costs. But it is not going to happen at most law schools. What is more likely to happen is that some private law schools in the bottom tier will close. The other "reality" is that the majority of professors that I work with work very, very hard-at least at a level justifying their salary. On our faculty, the majority of the doctrinal faculty have significant work experience. We didn't join the faculty to find a cushy job, we took a pay cut because we enjoy teaching.


It's a matter of economics. Class sizes will keep dropping and merely jacking up tuition each year is no longer an option. A scenario: class size drops from 160 to 120 students. Soon, an institution is losing $2.4 million per year (40 x $20,000 x 3 classes). That's nothing to sneeze at. Nobody is going to spend $2.4mil/ year just to prop up tenure or to keep unnecessary staff around. The recent NYT front-page article quotes Bill Henderson from IN Law (he's no slouch) and he says layoffs are coming. Perhaps you need to have a discrete conversation with your dean of admissions concerning the severity of the situation...

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