Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is the Market for Laterals and Visitors about to Dry Up?

One thing I've been hearing a lot is that one effect of the financial crisis, and the massive decline in endowments (25% and up) of the top universities, is that the market for lateral hires and visiting professors is, like the credit market (but not as badly!), going to become quite tight.  We'll have to track this over the next year or two, but my guess is that by 2010-11, and maybe even 2009-10, we are not going to see lists of visiting professors like these anymore.  This may not be a bad thing, of course.  Thoughts from readers?  Local anecdotes to report?  Signed comments strongly preferred.  Post only once, comments may take awhile to appear.

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» Law Faculty Lateral Moves List - 2009 from The Faculty Lounge
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Tracked on Jan 15, 2009 6:28:23 PM

Comments

This might be a situation where a little collusion might be a good thing. For most schools, visiting might be a net zero as to cash: you pay visitors you have, you don't pay your people visiting away. A rough wash. In the extreme version, only the schools at the absolute extremes aren't in that position. The bottom school has no visitors and only has people visiting away and the top school has no one visiting away but has visitors.

So if visiting is a good thing generally--cross-pollination and greater mobility/matching for dual-career couples say--we should want to preserve it.

But the financial prisoner's dilemma is that if my people don't visit, I still want to not have visitors; and if my people do visit, I still don't want to have visitors. Taking visitors off of your books is a dominant strategy; we all do it and yet the net change to our finances is zero.

Posted by: Randy Picker | Jan 13, 2009 8:58:46 AM

Could you expand on the rationale for this conclusion? Anechdotally, I have heard of a great deal of movement in the lateral market this year (it being largely too early for info. on visitors). I don't disagree with your assessment; I'm just not sure I understand the logic leading to the conclusion.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 13, 2009 8:58:57 AM

I have heard quite a few tales of middle-tier schools that intended to make one or more permanent hires this year having decided, given the uncertain financial future, to go after lateral coverage visitors instead. This is particularly true of state law schools that have some private money available but whose state funding has been cut or who expect state funding cuts.

Posted by: Keith Rowley | Jan 13, 2009 1:58:03 PM

This is a belated response to the Anon, above.

Universities budget 2-3 years ahead, so the effects of the current crisis of capitalism will not be most apparent until 2009-10 and after. But let us assume that most if not all universities will have to make budget cuts. Two ways to cut back are:

1. Reduce the number of "enrichment" or "look-see" visitors, i.e., visitor who aren't meeting curricular needs created by faculty visiting elsewhere or lack of full-time faculty to cover courses.

2. Reduce the number of (expensive) senior hire of full-time faculty in favor of hiring junior faculty or temporary faculty (e.g., lecturers, adjuncts).

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Jan 14, 2009 6:01:55 PM

Any word on VAP programs, or are those lumped in the same boat?

Posted by: anon | Jan 15, 2009 8:11:03 AM

I know of a few schools that are in hiring freezes, which would certainly impact the lateral market (not sure about visitors). Thankfully, at MSU we are financially independent and will be hiring at least two laterals (a business associations scholar and a director for our IP program). I assume we are not alone. I do think, however, Brian's point is on the mark regarding the market as a whole.

Posted by: Frank S. Ravitch | Jan 15, 2009 9:47:15 AM

My own recent experience suggests that academic lateral moves are likely to slow down with the economy. The chief reasons for this are the same reasons that the downturn has reduced mobility in other fields:

1. It's become difficult for people to sell their homes without losing money -- especially in the most economically depressed regions, which are the places people are most likely to want to move away from.

2. For lateral candidates who are married or in committed relationships, a move often means a job downgrade for the trailing spouse or partner. That's harder to stomach in a bad economy.

3. The kinds of incentives that universities and law schools (like many other businesses) typically have offered potential laterals -- housing subsidies, relocation expenses, jobs for the trailing spouse/partner -- are harder to come by when money is tight.

Add to this a more-or-less academy-specific factor -- namely that most lateral candidates are not forced to look elsewhere, because they have tenure at institutions that are relatively well-insulated from the worst shocks of the downturn -- and we have what I strongly suspect will be a noticeable slowdown in the lateral market for the next year or two or three. We shall see.

Posted by: C.J. Peters | Jan 16, 2009 6:04:01 AM

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