Monday, January 15, 2007

More on Race and Class

A couple of my recent posts have drawn some modest commentary leading to this effort to extend the discussion with respect to one of them. The following is part of a comment on my post, Race, Class and Diversity.

"To me, it seems risky for anyone outside of the "top 10," because I suspect that even if a non-top 10 law school candidate were extended an offer to join a law school faculty, the barriers to getting tenure and eventually being promoted to full professor would be very high, if not insurmountable. That person would never be part of the ivy "clique"; the person would never measure up to the others on the faculty. It's just like everything else in life...kinship and friendship."
The author, an African American attorney, first noted that most of his African American colleagues who had jumped from practice to teaching had graduated from elite schools. He or she ended the comment with what I have produced here.

Part of the reason I am responding in a post is that the comment was “anonymous” and I am not sure the assumption made is correct.

My impression is that things shift dramatically once non elite candidates enter law teaching. Suppose landing a teaching position at a law school is comparable to a 20 foot pole vault for a non elite candidate. For the suitably credentialed person it is more like a 10 foot pole vault. (In other words, it is still not easy.) When it comes to tenure, though, the difference is more along the lines of a 12 foot pole vault for non elites as opposed to a 10 foot pole vault for the privileged. In other words, I would not allow the slight disadvantage to discourage the comment writer from giving law teaching a go.

I think the reasons for the shift are as follows.

1. Credentials are not nearly as important at tenure time. By then the halo effect has worn off and there is performance to go on. This is not to say the credentials are unimportant. They will affect the content of the name-dropping footnote, the people to whom you can sent drafts, possible reviewers, and the ranking of the reviews accepting articles. Still, performance matters.
2. Unless you really irritate a number of people, law professors do not like to admit to mistakes. Tenure denials are rare and mainly reserved for the disliked, the incorrect, real screw-ups, and the seriously underachieving.
3. The non elite candidate is not going get a job at a “fast track” school. The standards and the competition are, thus, not likely to be overwhelming.
4. This goes back to performance but non elites will be surprised at how often the elites are unable to live up to expectations.

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