January 22, 2020

An open letter regarding a controversial tenure decision at USC Law

The letter is here, and includes many prominent signatories (the letter is accepting more signatories as well).  The case concerns Shmuel Leshem, who was denied tenure in 2013; the controversy concerns the solicitation and use of confidential journal referee reports as part of the tenure process.  I would agree, for the reasons given in the letter, that that is not a proper use of such referee reports.  I do not know what role they played in the adverse tenure decision at USC, but the fact that they were even solicited and considered is surprising.


January 22, 2020 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

December 17, 2019

Other things to think about if you have multiple tenure track offers (Michael Simkovic)

Brian Leiter has an extremely helpful post about things that entry level candidates should think about when they receive a tenure track offer.  The post below is meant to supplement Brian’s post with additional considerations that are relevant to candidates who are fortunate enough to receive multiple tenure track offers.  It may also be of interest to tenured faculty who have offers to lateral to another institution, and to those deciding between a research faculty position and an outside option such as private practice or public service. 

The institution where you start your academic career as a faculty member is most likely where you will end it, if you are fortunate enough to earn tenure.  Only around 1 to 2 percent of tenured law faculty members per year move between institutions.[1]  It is also relatively rare for academics to return to the full-time practice of law after years in the academy.  Every job move is a high-stakes decision, because every move will most likely be your last.

Summary:

  • Check the Institution’s Financial Condition and Creditworthiness
  • Consider the Institution’s Commitment to Research
  • Consider the Institution’s Competitive Position
  • Consider your Colleagues
  • Consider both the Cost & Quality of Living
  • Consider the Ease of Expected Travel

 

Check the Institution’s Financial Condition and Creditworthiness

Tenure is not an iron clad guarantee of future employment.  Tenure is only as good as the financial strength of the educational institution that stands behind it. Moreover, important considerations like research funding and the availability of raises (or even COLAs) are likely to be a function of the financial position of the institution as well as your own performance.

There are two helpful external sources you can consult:

  • credit rating agencies such as Moody’s, S&P, and/or Fitch,[2]and
  • market-based indictors like bond yield spreads for universities that have debt.

Note that credit ratings will likely be of the university as a whole, not specifically of the law school (bond spreads may reference the university as well), but this is nevertheless useful because the financial strength of the overall university often affects its law school, particularly when either the law school or the university experiences a downturn.

Credit ratings do not track U.S. News rankings as closely as you might expect.[3]  In addition to providing important information about an institution’s overall credit rating, rating agencies’ reports will discuss risk factors such as a disproportionately large share of revenue coming from a single line of business, demographic changes in the region, or competition from other universities.

You should also be mindful of the impact that state and local government politics can have on public institutions and on private institutions that either depend on public institutions as feeder schools or compete with them for students to attend graduate programs.

In some states, public institutions have good relationships with both political parties.  In others, one or both political parties may be planning to cut education funding per student.  Figure out the lay of the land before you move across the country.

The institution’s creditworthiness is also relevant to your retirement savings options. Many universities offer deferred compensation arrangements which enable employees to effectively double their tax-advantaged retirement savings compared to a 403(b) plan alone.  These savings plans permit employees to select investments like a 403(b) or 401(k).  However, unlike a 403(b) or 401(k), deferred compensation plans do not provide for a segregated pool of assets that individual employees own.  Instead, employees who defer their compensation become general unsecured creditors of the university and are owed the account balance.  Other creditors would have claims on the same assets if the university were to become insolvent, and not everyone would be paid in full.

To fully take advantage of these retirement savings options as a young professor, you need to be confident that your university will remain creditworthy for the next 50 to 60 years.

Similarly, some public universities offer defined benefit pensions, but the value of these promises depends on how well-funded the pension is and the financial strength of the state government and/or university system.  States routinely underfund their public pensions.  States and municipalities facing inadequate revenues—typically because of limited political appetite for tax increases or concerns about mobility of taxpayers—have in the past restructured their pensions to make benefits less generous, and may do so again in the future. 

The public pension you are promised may only be worth some number of cents on the dollar, with the number of cents depending on which state you happen to be located in.

You can also consult publicly available financial reports for the university and, if available, for the law school going back five to ten years.  You may also be able to obtain information about the financial condition of the law school by asking the dean questions such as what the endowment is, debt and asset levels, how much “tax” the law school pays to the central university, what kind of support the law school enjoys from the central administration, etc.  However, be aware that Deans, like CEOs, are frequently optimistic in their views of the institutions they run.

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December 17, 2019 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Professional Advice | Permalink

December 10, 2019

On filling out the USNEWS.com "peer assessment" (i.e., academic reputation) survey

A young legal scholar elsewhere writes:

I'm my faculty's most recently tenured member, so I got a US News peer assessment survey. Or, I should say, peer "assessment," since it doesn't actually ask for any assessment of anything. I knew that the methodology was shoddy for these things, but I'm still kind of shocked at what this is: just a list of all the law schools and a request to rate them on a 5 point scale. No faculty or publications or any information about them. It's just a test of what schools I happen to have heard good things about lately.

 

So, given that this survey cannot produce any credible measure of quality or anything else (except of who I happen to have heard good things about lately), what should I do? Should I simply ignore this nonsense? Or is there some penalty (to me? to others?) if people who recognize this as nonsense refuse to participate? Should I rank everyone outstanding? Everyone except the top twenty schools?

A few observations and suggestions: 

(1)  any recently tenured faculty member (and that certainly goes for this young scholar) will, in fact, know a fair bit about the quality of scholarship (at least in his or her fields, and often cognate fields) at anywhere from a dozen to several dozen law schools.   Evaluate those schools, being either generous or stingy with the scores as you see fit:  e.g., give just five or six schools a "5," or give two dozen schools a "5."  In general, I think evaluators should be generous, especially since higher scores will have more influence on the overall results:  avoid 1s and 2s (unless you really are confident in the weakness of a particular school), and there's no  harm in giving lots of 4s and 3s.  (In the past, USNEWS.COM used to drop a percentage of the highest and lowest scores as a check on strategic voting, I'm not sure if they still do that.)   Most importantly, when you "don't know" much about a school, choose "don't know."  "Don't know" does not count against (or for) a school.

(2)  The academic reputation survey is, in fact, one of the few "reality checks" in the whole USNEWS.com charade:  without it, the rankings would be based on nothing more than wealth and the extent to which schools "massage" the self-reported data like employment statistics and expenditures.  Unfortunately, the academic reputation surveys increasingly track the prior years' overall rank in USNEWS.com, which impedes its utility as a reality check.  (This is one reason why adding citation data would, if done rightly, be salutary.)   But evaluators can counteract that by actually thinking about (1) the quality of scholarship produced by a school's faculty (not the school's name!), and (2) looking at other data as a check on their impressions. 

Here's a suggestion:  everyone should give the University of San Diego at least a "4" this year in the peer assessment survey, since its overall USNEWS.com rank is preposterously low relative to the strength of the faculty (which is made up of folks who have had tenured positions or offers at lots of excellent schools, including Berkeley, Northwestern, Cornell, Minnesota, George Washington, Boston University, and elsewhere).  If this works, I'll nominate more schools in future years who deserve a boost for their faculty excellence, even as they are punished by USNEWS.com on other metrics.


December 10, 2019 in Professional Advice, Rankings | Permalink

December 09, 2019

Wealthy Penn Law alumnus protests treatment of Amy Wax

He's partly right, and partly very wrong and confused about academic freedom.  He's correct that it is part of the Kalven Report's vision of the university that it is not the job of administrators to take sides on substantive questions addressed by faculty; this is why I objected to Dean Ruger's criticism of Professor Wax's (admittedly idiotic and insulting) statements about immigration.   (I get to express my opinion because I'm not her Dean or Provost etc.)    However, it's absurd to think that "academic freedom" protects a faculty member's right to denigrate the competence of an identifiable segment of the student body at her school, as Professor Wax did.  Professor Wax, like any faculty member, is free to dispute the merits of affirmative action in admissions; she is not free, however, to disclose the academic performance of her students.  As I noted at the time, Dean Ruger's sanction (removing Professor Wax from a mandatory 1L course) was a mild one; he would have been justified in adopting more severe sanctions.  Given this alum's confused understanding of academic freedom (not to mention student privacy), it is probably just as well he is no longer involved in university governance.


December 9, 2019 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

November 22, 2019

Another academic administrator who doesn't understand her job

Eric Rasmusen is a business professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, who has been a well-known "right-wing nut" (to use the techincal term) on social media for many years.  One of his recent tweets (less obnoxious than some of his others, actually) attracted a lot of attention, leading Provost Lauren Robel to issue this statement.  (Professor Rasmusen's response is here.)   Provost Robel is a lawyer, indeed, the former Dean of the Law School.   Her job is not to attack members of her faculty, however stupid or foolish they may be; her job is to uphold the constitutional rights of faculty (which she professes she will do) and insure compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other tasks.  We've seen these kinds of mistakes by administrators before, but it's especially disappointing when a lawyer and law professor make them.   For an extended discussion, see this CHE column of mine from a few years ago.

ADDENDUM:  What should Provost Robel have said in response to the media outcry?   This would have sufficed:   "Professor Eric Rasmussen of the Business School speaks only for himself, not for the University.  The First Amendment protects his speech, whether or not the University or members of the public agree with it.  The University will continue to insure that all faculty comply with anti-discrimination laws in the classroom."  It would have taken more courage, and more commitment to the ideal of a university, for Provost Robel to have kept it this brief, but that would have made all the relevant points.

 


November 22, 2019 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

November 19, 2019

"Penn Carey Law"

In the wake of the outcry from students and alumni, Dean Ruger at Penn has sent a letter to students and alumni announcing that "the Law School will continue to use Penn Law as our short-form name until the start of the 2022-23 academic year, after which we will use Penn Carey Law."  A reasonable compromise.


November 19, 2019 in Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Rankings | Permalink

November 11, 2019

Some students and alumni of "Penn Law" are not happy about becoming students and alumni of "Carey Law"

They have a point.  The University of Maryland already has a "Carey Law School," making losing the connection to Penn a particularly bad idea.   Why not "Penn Law-Carey"?


November 11, 2019 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Rankings | Permalink

October 09, 2019

How Long After "Meat Market" Before Candidates Hear from Schools?

MOVING TO FRONT FROM LAST WEEK (MORE COMMENTS WELCOME--ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 2007)

A rookie job seeker writes:

A question about the law teaching market, which I suspect will be of interest to a number of candidates who read your Law School Reports blog:  When can we expect to hear from hiring committees we spoke with at AALS?  Do the better schools tend to wait longer to make their calls?  And do schools tend to notify candidates that they *won't* be inviting them for a job talk, or do you only hear from them if they're interested?

If you think this is a worthwhile topic, perhaps you could open a post for comments so that hiring committee members could say what their procedure is.

My impression is that schools will contact the candidates they are most interested in within the first two weeks after the AALS hiring convention, and, more often than not, within the first week.  Schools will often have some candidates "on hold" beyond this period of time:  e.g., because they are reading more work by the candidate, or collecting references, or waiting to see how they fare with their top choices.  So it is quite possible to get call-backs beyond the two-week window.  Schools tend to be much slower in notifying candidates they are no longer in contention (you might not hear for a month or more). 

 

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October 9, 2019 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Professional Advice | Permalink | Comments (16)

August 05, 2019

Rostron & Levit's guide to submitting to law reviews updated

I am happy to share the following announcement from Professors Rostron & Levit:

Dear Colleagues,

We  just updated our charts about law journal submissions, expedites, and rankings from different sources for the Spring 2019 submission season covering the 203 main journals of each law school. 

We have created hyperlinks for each law review to take you directly to the law review’s submissions page. Again the chart includes as much information as possible about what law reviews are not accepting submissions right now and what months they say they’ll resume accepting submissions. 

There has been some change in law reviews’ submission preferences:  Now 82 schools prefer or require Scholastica as the exclusive avenue for submissions, 40 law journals prefer direct emails, and 39 law reviews prefer or require submission through ExpressO, with 37 accepting articles submitted through either ExpressO or Scholastica. Seven schools now have their own online web portals.  Ninety-three schools permit email submissions even if they prefer submission through a service.

The first chart contains information about each journal’s preferences about methods for submitting articles (e.g., e-mail, ExpressO, Scholastica, or regular mail), as well as special formatting requirements and how to request an expedited review.  The second chart contains rankings information from U.S. News and World Report  (overall, peer, lawyers and judges), as well as data from Washington & Lee’s law review website (citation count, impact factor, and combined ratings).

Information for Submitting Articles to Law Reviews and Journals:  http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1019029 

We would welcome your forwarding of this link to your faculty.   We appreciate any feedback you might have.

Happy writing!

All the best,

Allen and Nancy

Professor Allen Rostron

Associate Dean for Students and William R. Jacques Constitutional Law Scholar and Professor of Law

rostrona@umkc.edu

Professor Nancy Levit
Associate Dean for Faculty and Curators' Distinguished Professor and Edward D. Ellison Professor of Law

levitn@umkc.edu             

UMKC School of Law
500 E. 52nd St.


August 5, 2019 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Professional Advice | Permalink

July 24, 2019

Amy Wax, again, and academic freedom and the duties of administrators

Penn's Amy Wax has done it again, and this time her Dean has caved into those (reasonably) offended and condemned the substance of her remarks.  In the past, Penn Dean Ruger did the right things when it came to Wax, but in this instance he failed:  it is not the job of a Dean to condemn the protected and lawful speech of faculty members.  (See this for more details about my views on this score.)   The public response should have been succinct and consisted only of this:  "Professor Wax speaks for herself, not for the institution."   Individual faculty are free to exercise their speech rights to criticize Wax's latest stupidity, but the institution, for whom the Dean speaks, should remain silent. Here is how the University of Chicago's 1967 Kalven Report (authored by famed First Amendment scholar Harry Kalven) puts it:

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge.  Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society.  A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions.  By design and effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones.  In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student.  The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.....To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry, and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures.  A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community....

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues o fthe day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.


July 24, 2019 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink