Friday, January 24, 2014

The Conventional Wisdom for Tenure Track Faculty . . . A Tool for Picking the Land Use Profs Fantasy League?

I was intrigued by Jessie Owley’s post earlier this week suggesting that we start a Land Use Profs Fantasy League.  I especially liked the idea because it implied that there were enough land use profs out there to form any sort of league at all.  I’d thought we’d have to settle for a bridge club. 

But presuming Jessie is right, and we have a quorum to start a league, I began to think about what we would use as our “stats.”  That led me to reflect on the ten or so young profs events I have been to in my two-and-a-half year career as a law prof in which I have received the conventional wisdom on how to succeed in legal academics.  Let’s call it the “Wisdom.”  Now, I have not followed the Wisdom to the tee, nor do I fully endorse it, but here is how I would distill the Wisdom as I have received it at these events and as applied to the young land use prof.  Note:  I have heard each of the following “pearls” of the Wisdom at least three times, so they must be true, or at least widely believed:

  1. Write long law review articles and place them in Top 50 (or higher) journals.  It seems that at most schools, highly-placed, long law review articles are still what counts towards tenure, as well as for anyone wanting to go on the lateral market.  Yes, law review articles suffer from poor distribution; are not peer-reviewed; are not blindly-reviewed except at a few schools; are pilloried by U.S. Supreme Court justices; and have virtually no effect on legal practice.  Still, long law review articles are, as they invariably say at the young profs events, the “coin of the realm.”
  2. Don’t place in specialty journals.  According to the Wisdom, no coins of the realm are given to those profs placing in specialty journals.  In the land use context, I suppose this means that the Wisdom would be that articles placed in journals like Harvard Environmental Law Review, Urban Lawyer, Ecology Law Quarterly, Environmental Law, the Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law, and the Fordham Urban Law Journal are at best “meh” come tenure time. 
  3. Citations, citations, citations!  Another way to acquire coins of the realm is to get cited a lot.  The only way to get cited a lot before tenure given the turn-around time for law review publications is to write about what everyone else is writing about.  So, in the land use context, that means young profs who want to teach at major schools should only write about takings, fracking, and maybe climate change and avoid other subjects that may be cutting edge but that don’t have a legal academic following yet.
  4. Don’t write casebooks.  This is purely after-tenure material, the Wisdom says, if even that.  No coins of the realm allocated for casebooks in the tenure process.
  5. Don’t write symposium articles.  According to the Wisdom, these are a waste of time.  Not enough intellectual rigor.  No coins of the realm allocated for symposium articles.
  6. Don’t write book chapters.  Waste of time, Wisdom says.  No rigor.  No coins of the realm allocated.
  7. Don’t attend symposia unless you know someone more important than you will be in attendance.  I think you get the idea here.
  8. Blogging isn’t a bad idea.  Although reluctantly admitted, the Wisdom acknowledges that blogging might be a way to reach a lot of people and get your name out there.  However, the Wisdom is that such blogging only matters if it can enhance other coin-of-the-realm-acquiring activities, such as citation acquisition.  Blogging in itself is not a coin-of-the-realm producing activity. 
  9. Contact leaders in your field you wouldn’t otherwise expect to know who you are.  I find this interesting advice.  Any eminent land use professor who has made it this far in this blog post can expect to hear from me very soon.  
  10. Court influence.  The Wisdom is that you are supposed to have an effect on the world beyond citation counts and long law review articles.  No one knows exactly how to get it, but you should make it happen somehow.

On a personal level, I have violated virtually every rule the Wisdom pronounces while also trying to follow it.  I juggle long law review articles with symposium pieces, book chapters, and heck, I even write op-eds for the Idaho Statesman and do community outreach!  What am I thinking?!  Plenty of other awesome land use profs do much the same and far more than me. 

But back to Jessie’s point:  how do we choose the Land Use Prof Fantasy League?  Do we want to use the Wisdom?  If not, how would we, as a land use prof community, alter the Wisdom to our own land use ends?

Maybe in our Land Use Prof Fantasy League we can choose to prioritize other things?  Vehicle miles traveled our scholarship or outreach has reduced?  Affordable housing units our scholarship or outreach has produced?  Acres of pristine wilderness our scholarship or outreach has preserved through conservation easements or TDRs?  I don’t know.  The problem our fantasy league faces, I think, is that while the Wisdom for getting tenure has its failings, when you try to go beyond the Wisdom, the alternatives have failings of their own.

And so, I am back to the drawing board on how to put together the fantasy land use prof squad.  What I know is that the old rules—the Wisdom—of success in the legal academy are still strong.  While I do a lot of things that the Wisdom tells me not to do, I still make sure I write those long law review articles to make sure the tenure gods smile favorably upon me.  I want the coins of the realm, too, I admit, almost as much as I want to be on the Land Use Prof Fantasy Team. 

I’d love to hear any thoughts on the Wisdom, its alternatives for land use profs, even a fantasy league.  Anyone else out there want to take a stab at it?

Stephen R. Miller

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