Monday, January 21, 2008

The Tenured Life, Part 1: Is Bad Good?

Once a person hired to teach at a law school, life time employment is nearly assured. With few exceptions, everyone who makes an effort gets tenure. The only people who do not are those who have not made nice and who have utterly failed in the scholarship department. Note that teaching barely counts. There are prearranged class visits by peers that always result in positive reviews. How could they not? For the teacher its like taking a test that you have been given the answers to. Student evaluations are unimportant unless they are consistently negative and the faculty is already predisposed to dump the candidate.

The risk of false positives is high. One of the consequences is the cost to students and faculty. The problem is not so severe with scholarship. After all with 7000+ law professor articles written each year, a few less is probably a blessing. Teaching is another matter.

Non producers are often asked, urged to, but never required to make up the slack and earn some of their life time annuity by teaching a little extra. To understand how this works, think of the last time you looked over check out lines at the grocery store to see which one was moving faster. That's the one you picked. In effect, being fast or efficient is its own punishment -- more people in that line. Being slow is a benefit -- your line is shorter and may be avoided altogether.

Now shift to tenured law professors. What does a school do with them? There is virtually nothing that can be done salary-wise. When it comes to teaching, students shy away from their courses as much as the teachers shy away from teaching a little extra. One reaction is to put them into required courses. Yes, think of it. Deliberate placement of so-so teachers in high enrollment courses. Another pattern that emerges is to create courses or to allow them to teach electives where they teach fewer and fewer students. Just like the slow check out person, if you are really bad, things get better for you. In the meantime other classes are overcrowded and better teachers, unless they have managed to specialize themselves into tiny enrollment courses, work harder.

The tenured life is great for the false positives

No comments: