Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Social Loafing on Law Faculties


At the 2019 AALS Conference, I had the pleasure of participating in a Discussion Group entitled Building Bridges Across Curricular and Status Lines: Gender Inequity throughout the Legal Academy.


One of the participants suggested attendees read the article Addressing Social Loafing on Faculty Committees published in the Journal of Legal Education by Professors Mary Lynch and Andrea Curcio, as part of the broader conversation about gender inequity in the legal academy.  The article offers some important insights and recommendations that affect academic freedom and career development.  


The introduction, in part, reads as follows:


"Law faculty self-governance occurs largely through faculty committees, and that self-governance plays an integral role in academic freedom. While most law faculty members vigorously defend their right to academic freedom and self-governance, for some that defense fails to translate into a willingness to fully engage in the committee work necessary to ensure meaningful self-governance. This is problematic on two fronts. First, by withdrawing from governance activities, we participate in the demise of academic freedom— freedom sustained by faculty activism, agreement and disagreement over institutional policies, initiative, and directions. Second, the failure of some to do their fair share of committee work creates workload equity and social responsibility problems. 


Because faculty self-governance is integral to the effective functioning of law schools, and because that self-governance requires productive committees, the “reward” for efficient and strong faculty service work performance is often more service work. The opposite is also true. Faculty members who demonstrate lack of competence or responsibility when engaging in committee work are not called upon to serve. How this plays out in our experience, and that of our colleagues at other law schools, is that some faculty members do significantly more than others when it comes to the labor necessary to sustain and build their institutions.


The tendency of some to sit back and let others do the work when working in groups such as committees has a name: “social loafing.” Often called the “free-rider” problem, social loafing can lead to inequitable workloads, and, according to social cognition theorists, unchecked social loafing can have a spillover effect on those who do carry their fair share of the workload, as well as on those who traditionally pick up the slack for the loafers. We suspect that social loafing is a well-recognized, if unnamed, phenomenon at many law schools. This phenomenon is particularly vexing because it has tangible career consequences.

While the institution benefits from both committee workers and productive scholars, financial, institutional, and career rewards rest largely on scholarly productivity. Socially responsible faculty members who fully engage in committee work help sustain a robust system of faculty governance. However, they do so at the expense of time available for their own scholarly pursuits. By ensuring the work gets done, they also provide some colleagues the freedom to disengage and focus on individual career enhancing scholarly endeavors with no penalty and potentially significant individual rewards. This can create significant institutional inequities."

To read the full article, click here.

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