Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

What Factors Hurt a Teaching Candidate's Prospects?

A law professor writes:

In the spirit of your post on factors that count most (in favor) of a candidate, it might be time to talk about what will hurt a candidate most.  And I think one of those is being from a “lesser” school in the same geographic market.  I’ve seen a number of instances where someone from another school in the same geographic market (usually the same city or state) is passed over by a neighboring school.  I think that’s because it would validate the neighboring school.  I can’t tell if this kind of prejudice is getting worse or not, but I think it exists.  Sometimes the prejudice manifests itself in assessments that another’s scholarship is weaker than it actually is; at other times, the prejudice is even bolder, as in “no one at ___ is worth hiring.”  I think that’s unfortunate, but a fact of life.

Before weighing in, I'm curious to hear what others think.  This correspondent mentioned one other factor that I'll turn to in a separate post.  Non-anonymous comments are far more likely to be approved.

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Comments

I bet the issue depends a lot on whether one is "hiring up" or "hiring down." So, to pick a non-random example, other schools in Boston are not going to take a pass on HLS graduates because they are worried about validating HLS -- but the opposite seems likely to play out quite differently -- at least at the margins.

It is also worth clarifying whether the issue is the entry-level hiring market, or the lateral market. Things might play out quite differently - again at the margins.

Posted by: David Hyman | Aug 24, 2006 1:32:18 PM

I think that the expression of a geographic restriction can hurt a candidate in unexpected ways. Announcing unwillingness to relocate to a region (e.g., Deep South, Northeast, the West) can rub me the wrong way even when my school is not in the targeted region. Among the other, perhaps more obvious questions that such an expression invites, I find it careless for a candidate to eliminate a region (as opposed to a state). Is Duke in the Deep South? Is Temple in the Northeast? Is UNLV in the West?

Posted by: Thomas Main | Aug 24, 2006 2:40:12 PM

Here are a few things that can sink candidates, focusing on lateral hiring:

1) Politics that are too far from the faculty's center, whether on the right or the left (whatever that center may be, which varies from school to school).

2) A reputation for being difficult or obnoxious.

3) Having views on the law that clash with the views of colleagues already at the school. (While some professors like having disagreement and debate within a faculty, others think that they are right and it's pointless to hire someone who is wrong.)

Posted by: AnonbutTrue | Aug 24, 2006 3:49:27 PM

I would expect any prejudice against candidates from less-prestigious schools in the same market to be swallowed up by the prejudice against candidates from less-prestigious schools, period. According to Larry Solum's data, a dozen JD-granting institutions produced three-fourths of all new law teachers last year. No school outside that top dozen was able to place more than two of its graduates anywhere. And the only member of the top dozen that was in a position to suffer from a prejudice against candidates from less-prestigious schools in the same market was the University of Illinois when it pitched its graduates to the University of Chicago.

Posted by: Jon Weinberg | Aug 24, 2006 4:25:52 PM

Certainly not having written anything hurts you, but also, having written something but not being able to explain your thesis in a sound bite hurts you.

It is unfortunately true that having been "uppity" as a student (at least if you are female) does--still-- hurt you.

And I agree that school prestige, period, still has a lot of weight, even if you went to a very good place. How many graduates of USC are now teaching at the top three? top 10?

Posted by: Margaret Jane Radin | Aug 25, 2006 5:34:31 AM

In my 25 years of teaching and more than half of that time as a member or chair of an appointments committee, I have NEVER heard an expressed prejudice against candidates from less prestigious schools (whether same market or not). In my experience, after you're in the academy, what matters is the quality (and quantity) of your scholarship and the professional contacts you have made (not unrelated factors). Further, the quality of your teaching will not get you a job, but will keep you from getting a job that would have been within reach based on the quality of your scholarship.

Posted by: Pete Alces | Aug 25, 2006 6:41:50 AM

For entry-level candidates, a low-prestige school raises some doubts (is a 4.0 gpa at Podunk equal to a 3.7 at Stanford?) but if the candidate has written something (as almost all have) those doubts are eradicated by quality scholarship and adept presentation. What kills entry-level candidates is the inability to summarize their own work succintly and cogently and, even worse, to be unable to engage skilfully with those who are skeptical of the candidate's work.

For lateral candidates, a low-prestige school is simply not an issue. What matters is what the candidate has done, whether the curricular fit is right, whether or not the candidate has a reputation as an unpleasant colleague and, at some schools, whether the candidate has the "correct" political views.

Posted by: Calvin Massey | Aug 25, 2006 10:32:00 AM

Just to clarify, perhaps, what my original correspondent was thinking, here is an anecdote about which I have first-hand knowledge. Someone at a borderline "first tier" school in U.S. News told me they wouldn't even consider hiring a faculty member from a U.S. News fourth-tier school near by--even though, in this case, the person in question clearly would have been in the top half, probably top quarter of the "first tier" school's faculty in scholarly productivity and visibility.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Aug 25, 2006 10:39:44 AM

I think that a bunch of us earlier were talking about hiring entry-level candidates who *graduated* from less prestigious schools. In that context, I think, prestige clearly matters. I took a quick look at the 35-40 members of the regular (non-visiting) law faculty at Pete Alces's school, since he was one of the first to post on this point, and saw that all but four of them had graduated from schools rated higher than (or tied with) his in the (current) US News ranking. Moreover, two of the outlying four were the director of clinical programs and the law library director. I think that's entirely typical.

When it comes to hiring people who *teach* at less prestigious schools in the same market, well, that's happened twice in my geographic market in the last five years -- when Wayne State hired Harry Hutchison from Detroit-Mercy, and when Michigan hired Jessica Litman from Wayne State.

Posted by: Jon Weinberg | Aug 25, 2006 11:14:19 AM

Just to clarify my comment, because there has been response to it: I was referring to hiring someone who is TEACHING at a lower prestige school, not hiring someone who was graduated by a lower prestige school. I do agree that it is very rare in legal academe to ever wind up teaching at a school more prestigilous than the school by which you were graduated. For what it is worth, virtually all of our hiring over the last few years has been of those who were graduated by schools clearly in the top 10 (maybe even top 5), but in considering laterals, we do not care where they are currently teaching, and we care somewhat less about where they went to law school.

Posted by: Pete Alces | Aug 25, 2006 1:33:42 PM

FWIW I'm sure that Cooley has some MSU-DCL people on its staff and that M-D has some Cooley people on its staff even though both schools are in the Lansing MI area.

Posted by: John Rooney | Aug 27, 2006 4:35:53 AM

In response to Professor Radin's query, I would point out that a few extraordinary scholars -- other than just her -- have graduated from very good (though not Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.) schools and ended up teaching at top-three schools. To be sure, it is the rare case that USC, Texas and UCLA grads end up at Harvard, Yale or Stanford, but it does happen.

Posted by: Adam | Sep 5, 2006 4:23:17 PM

A. James Casner studied law at Illinois and wound up teaching at Harvard.

Posted by: John Rooney | Sep 5, 2006 8:55:48 PM

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