Blogging, Law Professors, Law Schools

Does Tenure Hurt Students?

You can download the notes, or not. I don’t care. I have to write a law review article that nobody will ever read.

Of course it does. That question has such an obvious answer that it’s kind of dumb to ask. Of course a system that rewards “teachers” with lifetime jobs for focusing on esoteric research that has little or no applicability to the challenges their students will face in the real world is of limited value to the students who pay their salaries.

So why would a professor get in trouble for saying that? Why would a professor get in trouble for saying it to other professors? If there are people who think the job of a big-time legal academic is to service students, they are sadly mistaken.

Why should anybody have a problem with a Harvard Law professor who says that?

Please note the UPDATE added after the jump.

A tempest bubbled up over at PrawfsBlawg this weekend. Harvard Law Professor I. Glenn Cohen wrote a post titled “How to Increase Your Risk of Not Getting Tenure.” It was good advice. Here’s an excerpt:

1. Write less than one paper a year or leave most of your publishing for late in your tenure clock
2. Co-author too much
3. Being too much of a wallflower or being not enough of a wallflower
4. Focus too much on teaching or service
5. Fail to get to know those in your field, fail to be a good PR agent for yourself
6. Undertake projects with timelines incompatible with your tenure clock, including books
7. Focus on the views of your mentors to the exclusion of the views of your faculty as a whole and outside readers

Sounds about right to me. Honestly, a lot has been said about this post, but you know what hasn’t been said: that it’s false. New professors might, stupidly, think that good teaching will be rewarded. They might think that contributing to great scholarship is more important than doing mediocre scholarship of their own. And they’d be wrong. That’s the point of Cohen’s post.

The post is no longer on PrawfsBlawg. They’re saying that there was some pressure from Harvard Law to remove the post. If true, that’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. First of all, Harvard Law should be smarter than this. You can’t take things down from the internet. Jesus. Keith Lee on An Associates Mind pulled up the Google Cache of the post in minutes. You can’t delete things from the internet. For further discussion, see generally Effects, Streisand.

UPDATE (1:50 p.m.): Actually, it turns out that it’s not true. We reached out to Professor Cohen for comment. He clarified that he and not PrawfsBlawg took the post down and that he was not even sure that HLS knew about the post (and certainly had not pressured him to take it down). He pointed us to a comment he had previously made on PrawfsBlawg several days before indicating that his taking it down had nothing to do with pushback on the substance of his post; instead, “despite being very clear in the intro to my post that I was not talking about anyone or anything at Harvard specifically, some of the commentators read it that way. That was the last thing I wanted, so I erred on the side of caution, and took it down.”

Meanwhile, again, is this post wrong in any way? If Harvard Law School would like to say that excellence in student teaching and student services directly impacts a professor’s chances of making tenure, I’d like to hear that. If they’d like to say that such teaching excellence can overcome a mediocre publishing record, I’m sure some HLS professors would love to know that. If you are going to say Cohen is wrong, come out and say so.

Otherwise, let’s not try to pretend that the way to lifetime job security is through the hearts and minds of the student body. Keith Lee writes:

The people that we are entrusting to train the next generation of lawyers are being encouraged by their institutions to not focus on students, but instead on papers, projects, and other scholarship that has little to no relevance in the actual law practice.

To which I said, “Duh.” Of course law professors are incentivized to focus on their careers instead of helping their students build skills. Of course the system of tenure isn’t designed to foster a dynamic and innovative approach to student services. That’s been part of the deal all along.

The difference is that law firms (and their clients) used to be willing to pay to do the job that law professors wouldn’t.

Law Professor Infuriating Comment of the Day: I. Glenn Cohen (Harvard) Edition [An Associate’s Mind]
A Meta-Post on Tenure [PrawfsBlawg]

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