Sunday, January 22, 2006
Over the past few years, the American Bar Association (which is the organization recognized by the United States Department of Education as the body responsible for accrediting law schools) has adopted new standards and interpretations which encourage law schools to enhance the status of legal writing professionals to more closely approximate the protections afforded to tenure-track faculty. Probably at least in partial response to this, an increasing number of schools are now in the process of adopting a system of presumptively-renewable long-term contracts, or outright tenure-track, for legal writing professors who were previously hired only for successive short-term contracts. The Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville and Western New England College of Law are just two of the schools now going through that process.
While it is fantastic to see these schools finally recognizing the worth of LRW professors and elevating them to the status they all deserve, the process of elevating professors is not without risk. For example, many schools which move to tenure-track or long-term-contract-track require professors now teaching in those programs to go through a national search and basically re-apply for their job. One could argue that it is unfair not only to the current incumbents but also to potential applicants, who have to compete against one or more “insider” candidates. Are the “national” applicants just window dressing? Is all the effort that goes into the national search really worth it?
Next, assuming that the incumbents are re-hired (which is often the case), they typically are hired with zero credit towards tenure even though they may have been teaching for many years. Many of them may have published extensively before they are hired onto the new “secure” tracks, but the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” nature of the tenure review process may be blind to all of that work. And many schools may enforce a six-year or so “waiting period” before they are even allowed to apply for tenure, despite their long records of excellent prior teaching, scholarship and service.
I’d be interested to see what others may think about these issues. What are the pros and cons of engaging in a national search? What “credit” should be given for teaching under the prior short-term contracts? Please append your comments to this post.
(kdc) (contributing editor Kenneth D. Chestek, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University School of Law---Indianapolis, 530 W. New York St., Indianapolis, IN 46202, (317) 278-8574, mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)