Monday, August 4, 2014

Law Faculty Summer Research Stipends: Why and How?

Many of us are in the process of (perhaps frantically) wrapping up our summer scholarly activity and re-focusing our primary professional attention on teaching.  As always, I am using the annual conference sponsored by the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) to help me make this transition.  Yesterday, I attended a discussion session led by law school associate deans and faculty who focus on faculty development--scholarship and teaching.  It was an incredibly interesting and wide-ranging discussion.

Part of the conversation centered around summer research stipends, a topic that has been in the national news a bit over the past few years.  Various participants in the discussion session addressed, each from his or her individual institution's vantage point, the reasons for/purposes of summer research stipends (which not every school represented at the session currently has) and how summer stipends actually work or should/could optimally work.  I was surprised by the variations in approaches and ideas from school to school.  While the individual models are too numerous to capture here, I summarize below the fold some of the top-level points made and thoughts shared during the discussion.

Why Law Schools Provide or Should Provide Summer Research Stipends

  • To supplement inadequate (below-market) salary
  • To incentivize publication of any kind
  • To motivate publication in "top tier" (whatever that means) academic journals
  • To encourage publication in excess of one law review article per year (or in excess of another assumed minimum required amount of scholarship production for nine-month faculty)
  • To enhance the visibility or reputation of the law school in relevant communities--ranging from scholarly communities to the public at-large

How Law Schools Award or Should Award Summer Research Stipends

  • Award a specific amount to successful applicants or award differing amounts (typically tiered) for successful applicants
  • Base grants on the [relative] quality of the proposal, level of past productivity, or both
  • Pay in a lump sum or make multiple payments across the summer months based on an accepted abstract or research proposal, pay in tiers (e.g., at proposal acceptance, publication acceptance, and publication), or pay only on publication acceptance
  • Make awards on the same basis for all or treat, e.g., pre-tenure scholars differently from post-tenure scholars
  • Provide funding for all work included in the law school's definition of "scholarship" (which varies from school to school) or only for certain types of work

These funding purposes and methods were raised and discussed in various ways.  Some schools have enough financial wherewithal to be able to fund all individuals with worthy projects; others have to make difficult choices.

What, if anything, is a compelling reason for awarding summer research stipends to law faculty?  What types of work should be funded?  How?  If your law school grants stipends for summer research, what is the process?  Have summer research stipends served their purpose(s) well at your institution?  I would be interested in knowing . . . .

Conferences, Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching | Permalink


At some state schools, you can't use private (e.g., endowment) funds to finance salary but you can fund research grants out of private money. So it's a way of using two different pots of money to compensate the faculty.

Posted by: Stephen Bainbridge | Aug 4, 2014 1:37:53 PM

As for how to dole it out, I think you make a lump sum payment and base the yea/nay decision on past productivity and the credibility of the new project. Doling it out over the course of a summer would disadvantage those folks who are working on, say, a book or other multi-year project.

Posted by: Stephen Bainbridge | Aug 4, 2014 1:40:01 PM

Thanks, Steve, for these ideas.

I did think about the effects of the staged payment plans on longer-term projects, and I agree with your assessment. My sense from the conversation was that the schools who just wanted to incentivize a faculty member to publish something--anything--might use the staged method to ensure that the faculty member actually did produce something that is, in fact, published. But I may be wrong about that.

And your observation on state restrictions on the use of funds by public schools is an important one. I appreciate you adding that to the mix. It may have been mentioned yesterday. (I was typing as I listened, and we all know what that can do to the learning experience . . . .) Regardless, it's a great contribution.

Posted by: joanheminway | Aug 4, 2014 2:11:13 PM

Anecdotally, I heard from a faculty member today who has been awarded summer stipends under two different regimes--(1) a lump sum for either class preparation or research, with the obligation of presenting any resulting paper to the faculty, and (2) a staged payment system in which the first portion was paid for the promise to fulfill a submitted research proposal, the second portion was paid for a manuscript completed by the end of the summer, and the third portion was paid for the publication offer. This faculty member identified the same issue that Steve Bainbridge notes in his earlier comment: that certain desirable projects may not be easily completed during the summer, making a staged payment system problematic as an incentive. More specifically, the faculty member noted that some research projects are delayed by book publishers/editors and law reviews--players in the law publishing game that are outside the scholar-author's control.

Posted by: joanheminway | Aug 4, 2014 8:15:00 PM

I'll add Belmont's practices. Belmont is a private, teaching-focused school with an increasing focus on research. Generally, there are more applicants for summer research stipends (SRS) than there are SRS. If you teach during the summer, you are usually not eligible for a SRS. Preference is given to pre-tenure faculty and if you failed to complete a SRS on time, you are usually put at the back of the line and are not eligible at all until you publish the previous article. At a minimum the application has to include development of a major journal article. The stipend is paid in two equal installments - 1. At award of the SRS and 2. At submission to a journal. The submission must be made on or before Oct. 1 after the summer of the SRS. You can strengthen a SRS by adding work on a longer project but you must have one journal article that will be submitted, at a minimum. I think they make the second payment at submission instead of on publication because they realize much of the publication schedule is out of your control and better journals (ESP for business profs) may have long processes (revise and resubmitt). Applications for SRS are reviewed by a faculty committee, but the dean makes the final decision.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Aug 5, 2014 6:36:14 AM

Thanks for sharing this model with us, Haskell. This sounds like a thoughtful approach for the environment in which the stipends are given. I appreciate your note at the end of your comment on the way that decisions on stipends are made. I left that factor out of the original post. At Tennessee, we have a similar decision-making process to the one you describe. Perhaps others also will share their practices on that point in response to your comment.

Posted by: joanheminway | Aug 5, 2014 7:53:27 AM

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