MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 8, 2012 (ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 24, 2009)
With luck (and luck will help more than usual in what is a very tight year on the academic job market), 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. 500-600K 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!