Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What do you need to find out now that you've gotten a tenure-track offer?


With luck (and luck will help since the academic job market remains tight), some of you seeking law teaching jobs will get offers of tenure-track positions in the next couple of months.  What then?  Here's roughly what I tell my Texas and Chicago advisees they need to find out, and in the interest of having it written down in one place and for the benefit of others too, here it is (not in order of importance):

1.  You will want to get (in writing eventually) the basic salary information, obviously, and the nature of summer research support and the criteria for its award (is it automatic for junior faculty?  contingent on prior publication [if so, how much?]?  awarded competitively (if so, based on what criteria/process)?).   You should also find out how salary raises are determined.  Are they, for example, lock-step for junior faculty?  Fixed by union contract?  (Rutgers faculty, for example, are unionized, a huge advantage and why they are among the best-paid faculty, not just in law, in the country.)  Is it a 'merit' system, and if so is it decanal discretion or is their a faculty committee that reviews your teaching and work each year?

2.  You should ask for a copy of the school's tenure standards and get clear about the expectations and the timeline.  Does any work you have already published count towards meeting the tenure standard?

3.  What research leave policy, if any, does the school have?  A term off after every three full years of teaching is a very good leave policy; some schools have even better policies, most have less generous leave policies.  (If there is a norm, it is a term off after every six years.)  Many schools have a special leave policy for junior faculty, designed to give them some time off prior to the tenure decision.  Find out if the school has such a policy.

4.  One of the most important things to be clear about is not just your teaching load, but what courses you will be teaching precisely.  You should ask whether the school can guarantee a stable set of courses until after the tenure decision.  Preparing new courses is hugely time-consuming, and you also get better at teaching the course the more times you do it.  As a tenure-track faculty member, having a stable package of, say, three courses (plus a seminar) will make a huge difference in terms of your ability to conduct research and write.   In my experience, most schools will commit in writing to a set of courses for the tenure-track years (and do ask for this in writing), but some schools either won't or can't.   In my view, it's a good reason to prefer one school to another that one will give you the courses you want and promise them that they're yours, while another won't--a consideration that overrides lots of other factors, including salary.

5.  You should ask for the school's materials on benefits:  retirement, life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and so on.  The biggest, and certainly the most easily discernible differences, are often in the retirement and life insurance categories (sometimes longterm disability insurance too, though unlike life insurance, you're hopefully less likely to utilize this!).  What is the university's contribution to retirement?  At the low end are schools contributing only 5-6% of your base salary to retirement; the more competitive schools will be in the 8% range, and some will be higher.  The big issue on life insurance concerns the amount you are guaranteed irrespective of your health history.  750K increasingly seem to be the norm.  And, of course, if your health is perfect, this doesn't matter, but I've worked with plenty of candidates where this was a serious issue.  (Life insurance companies have no incentives to insure faculty beyond the base amount they have to provide, so even health matters that strike you as trivial may disqualify you from more coverage.)  A final benefits issue concerns education/tuition benefits for children.  State schools don't offer these; the wealthier private schools do, and if you have kids or expect to have kids, this is worth looking into.  At the high end is Chicago, which pays up to 75% of Chicago tuition anywhere for each child.  Most of the wealthier private schools will pay 30-50% of the home school tuition for faculty children, wherever they go.  Some will offer a larger benefit if your kids go to that school.  But there are differences, and they don't track your ordinary expectations about prestige (e.g., last time I looked, the Wash U/St. Louis benefit was much better than the benefit at Penn or Cornell).  In any case, get the information.  But remember, university-wide benefits are rarely a subject for negotiation--the law school can't give you a higher benefit.  Of course, if you have a competitive offer, they may be able to compensate for a significant benefits differential.

6.  Finally, once you have an offer, this is a good time to raise issues about the employment prospects for a spouse or partner.  Sometimes you may just want help:  can the Dean help the significant other make relevant professional contacts in the area?  Sometimes you may be hoping for more:  e.g., a position in the law school, or in another university department, for the significant other.  It is certainly fair to explain the situation and ask.  Schools vary in their ability to response effectively to these situations, but many have formal universities policies pertaining at least to spouses who are academics.  Raise the issue, and see if the school can help.  But realize that the school made you the offer, and they may be able to hire you, and that's that.

The last point relates to a more general issue.  If you don't have other offers, you are not in a position to bargain.  Period.  You may certainly ask about things, raise concerns, etc.  But unless you're going to walk away from a tenure-track offer (not a wise thing to do in this market), don't make demands.  And even then, a collegial discussion about issues of concern is far better than demands.  Even if you have other offers, this advice applies:  proceed with caution and respect for the institution.  You can report that School Y is offering you a salary 20K higher, and ask whether the Dean of School X, to whom your talking, has any flexibility on this front.  But remember:  you may end up at School X (because of location, or colleagues in your field, or a better teaching load etc.) and living with that Dean and the other faculty for many years to come.  Don't poison the well by displaying a sense of entitlement and self-importance before you even get through the door.  Remember:  no matter how good you are, you're quite dispensable--in almost every instance, you need the job more than the school needs you.  Approach any 'bargaining' or discussion of the package in that spirit.  A good school has every reason to want you to succeed and to try to help fashion a package of professional duties and support in that spirit.  A good school doesn't need a prima donna.

I invite signed comments from faculty or deans on these issues.  A comment without a full name and e-mail address won't appear.  Post your comment only once; comments are moderated and may take awhile to appear.

Good luck to all job seekers!

Advice for Academic Job Seekers | Permalink


Another issue to investigate, at least in expensive housing markets, is any housing assistance the school may provide. In some markets, this can be quite significant. Eric.

Posted by: Eric Goldman | Nov 24, 2009 9:34:24 PM

Brian, this is a useful list. While a smaller issue, those accepting offers will want to clarify the school's reimbursement policy for your moving expenses and trips for house-hunting in the area.

Posted by: Jim Salzman | Nov 25, 2009 4:04:25 AM

All useful, but assuming you have more than one offer in hand, I think the most important things are the intangibles. One question I always used to ask at any job interview is, what are you working on today? Not what do you usually do, which is easily fakeable, but what are you doing right now? If there's nobody at the school on the day you visit, there's probably nobody there on other days, either. If students and faculty pay no attention to each other, they probably won't when you get there, either. Talking to the other young people is especially important: the Dean may change over the summer, but the people your own age will probably be with you for a while. Good luck!

Posted by: mike livingston | Nov 25, 2009 9:24:18 AM

Of course what Mike mentions is highly relevant, as are factors like those discussed here:

I was trying to focus here on the 'tangibles,' as it were. The 'intangibles' are often very personal matters, but no less important for that.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Nov 25, 2009 9:31:07 AM

One should also ask about the availability of research assistants during the academic year and the summer. Find out the number of indivuduals and hours to which you are entitled (if any). It is also important to learn about the amount of professional developmnet money (cash used to buy books, attend conferences, etc) available as a right. It is noice to have a reasonable sum available to you and not to have to beg the dean to be able to attend AALS meetings or other professional meetings or still worse pay for such things out of yourown pocket.

Posted by: Bill Turnier | Nov 25, 2009 7:48:09 PM

We have a couple threads on this issue, started by HLS prawf Glenn Cohen.
What to ask before you have an offer
What to ask after you have an offer

Posted by: Dan Markel | Nov 26, 2009 10:00:43 AM

Re: Brian's #5: Some law schools (particularly at large public universities) have defined benefit pensions rather than defined contribution plans. These can be very valuable salary enhancements. The formula works very differently, so it is important to understand the difference if this is a consideration for you.

Posted by: David Levine | Nov 28, 2009 9:38:12 AM

I've posted some thoughts on Legal Theory Blog, which are repeated here:

I might add one or two questions:

* In addition to the written tenure standards, it is appropriate to ask about the decision-making process. Is the law-school faculty and dean's decision effectively the "final word" on tenure or does university-wide body engage in something like "hard look" review of tenure recommendations by departments and colleges. What is the track record of the law school on tenure? Has anyone been turned down (either at the law school or university level) in the last five years?

* What support does the law school offer for the development of the national reputation of junior scholars? Does the law school participate in junior workshop exchange programs? Will you be offered the opportunity to organize a conference or speaker series?

* Does the law school have a formal mentoring program? Is there a faculty member in your field who would be an appropriate mentor?

Leiter suggests a somewhat cautious approach to issues concerning employment opportunities for the signficant other of the recipient of an offer. I don't disagree, but many law schools will prefer that this issue be raised as early as possible--because adequate employment opportunties for the partner or spouse of a new tenure-track faculty member is likely to play an important role in retention.

Most law schools offer candidates with offers a "second visit"--which will usually include an opportunity to socialize informally with faculty members, check out things like real estate and schools, and so forth. This is a wonderful opportunity for offerees to gather information about what could well be a lifelong decision. Plan this visit carefully!

Posted by: Lawrence Solum | Nov 30, 2009 8:56:28 AM

I have a long list of issues candidates should discuss in my piece, Tales of Law Professor Lateral Nothing,

Though written with laterals in mind, many of the suggestions apply with equal force to entry-level candidates.

Posted by: Paul Secunda | Nov 30, 2009 4:24:05 PM

In addition to the useful suggestions above, here are some other things that entry-level faculty may want to consider:

 Talk to the junior faculty at the school. They are the ones who have the lives most similar to the one you are contemplating. Are their lives ones you would want to have?

 Look at the publications of junior faculty at the school. Do they thank senior colleagues, junior colleagues, workshops at the school, librarians, support staff and/or research assistants at the school? If so, then this tells you that there is probably a supportive research climate.

 Meet the librarians and the support staff. How are library liaisons and secretaries/faculty assistants assigned to junior faculty? How many faculty share each library liaison and faculty assistant?

 Meet the students. Funny that few people mention this, but student cultures vary a great deal school to school, even within the same prestige level – and you will be spending a lot of your time in the midst of it. Find out if students are penalized in the local culture for speaking up in class – or if students are so competitive that no one is having fun. See if the students want only black-letter law or are willing to be more adventurous. Find out if they are happy campers with the curriculum and with the opportunities they are getting from the school. Teaching happy students in the best way to have a good faculty experience, and see if you can figure out whether the students are already happy before you get them.

 If you have interdisciplinary training, try to meet the department chair and faculty in your “other” field. Joint appointments with arts-and-sciences departments are surprisingly hard to arrange at most law schools, and they may be inadvisable pre-tenure in any event because you may get caught in the crossfire of competing expectations (e.g. the disciplinary department will want your dissertation published as a book and the law school doesn’t know what to do with a book in lieu of law review articles). But you will want to make sure that your other discipline is willing to welcome you into their midst. Ask if you can teach courses on occasion in that department – or if you can advise (particularly graduate) students without a full joint appointment. See if you can get onto their seminar and workshop list – or otherwise be included in departmental intellectual occasions.

 If you do grants-based empirical research, ask if you are allowed to buy out a semester or two with grants before you come up for tenure. Law schools are often surprisingly resistant to this idea; better to know before you try!

 Ask about parental leave (or, if your parents are aging, eldercare support). With parental leave, some schools give it automatically for both parents. Other schools require you ask and even look down upon you if you take it. Ask how parental leave affects the tenure clock. And ask how much support the school has for junior faculty with children (e.g. childcare facilities, emergency childcare support, tolerance for bringing kids to the office when all else fails). To make sure the policies you are told by the dean are real on the ground, ask other junior faculty what they have done if they have had children.

 If you are asked to teach a course in the core curriculum, ask how many other faculty rotate into teaching that subject. If you are the only one who can teach criminal procedure, or securities regulation, or intellectual property, then you might want to contemplate what life will be like if you can never avoid teaching that course every year. Repetition is good in the early years of teaching, but eventually a course you have to teach every year will feel like a life sentence.

 Many schools provide course relief in the first year or two while you are getting used to a full-time teaching load. Ask if you can ease into your new workload gradually by getting a course off in the first year – and maybe even in the second.

Good luck!

Posted by: Kim Lane Scheppele | Nov 7, 2011 6:08:10 AM

To follow up on Kim's point for those with interdisciplinary training -- interdisciplinary teaching on the grad level is usually accommodated by law schools, since grad students can sign up for your law school seminar, and hopefully you can cross-list the course. The more difficult issue is teaching undergrads, so this is something to think about if you are in a position to ask for things because you have more than one offer. Some legal history courses may work especially well as a lecture course -- for example Morton Horwitz taught a legendary undergrad lecture course on the Warren Court at Harvard. But this sort of teaching often involves law and arts & sciences deans working out budget issues -- since your salary is covered by the law school, but under some university finance structures, the student tuition dollars tied to your course go to the college of arts & sciences. If you care about this issue, work it out when you have offers in hand, and get it in your offer letter, rather than relying on vague statements that someone will waive a magic wand and everything will work out in the end.

Whether you should ask for the opportunity to teach an undergrad course, at least occasionally, is another issue. Pre-tenure you'll want to focus on contributing to the law school. The deal I worked out when making a lateral move was to teach an undergrad course every other year that has an advanced component for law students. This will allow me to teach constitutional history as a lecture course to a broader group of students, while also letting law students enroll (and write law school level papers).

Posted by: Mary Dudziak | Nov 26, 2012 8:19:07 AM

From personal experience, I strongly second Brian's suggestion to get your course package *in writing*. Don't worry about looking like an a-hole by asking. It is too important to your future success as an academic. Your bargaining power dissolves away almost completely once you have started your job, and you would be amazed at how easily oral assurances and representations are "forgotten" by those in power. I would also suggest asking about every relevant benefit that you might expect to receive and care about receiving, and not to assume that because your school is a "good" school that you will receive the "typical" benefits that you think an academic receives. A prime example: I never thought I would need to ask about sabbatical policy -- doesn't every law school offer sabbaticals, especially a law school at a top research university? -- only to find out, after I had accepted my job, that my institution does not participate in my university's sabbatical program, and that we don't receive any post-tenure research leave. Needless to say, that information would have been pretty relevant to me at the time I made a decision had I thought to ask.

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Nov 21, 2014 7:39:27 AM

Those with/planning children and potentially teaching in cities with weak public schools might ask whether there are any subsidies for private school tuition for children K-12. I don't know how common this is, but the last time I looked a few schools did offer subsidies--potentially a huge supplement to salary. Along the same lines, some universities have laboratory schools; do the children of employees have any priority? And ask about university childcare--what hours, what cost, what availability.

Posted by: Larry Garvin | Nov 24, 2014 8:46:57 AM

I've heard of some alarming instances where law schools have withdrawn TT offers based on requests or even inquiries during negotiations that the dean thought indicated that the candidate would be difficult or demanding. If I now had a single entry-level offer and wanted to make a deal (as I did in 1995), I would discreetly investigate the negotiating culture of the school to determine if the offer should be treated as "take it or leave it."

Posted by: Jack Chin | Nov 18, 2015 8:39:52 AM

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