Friday, January 25, 2008

The Tenured Life, Part 2: Prodigal writing

In the last post I described how poor teaching is tolerated in the tenured life and how there are incentives not to be an effective teacher. Scholarship is a little different. I am already on record saying that the scholarship requirement for law professors is probably overdone. 7200 articles a year is far more than necessary to express every original or useful thought all law professors combined have to offer.

Still every law professor I have known has made an implicit promise to carry on a research program. It was part of the exchange when he or she was promised life time employments. It has been shown that law professors generally write less once they get tenure. Some stop writing completely and do not make an effort to offset this through extra teaching.

Does it make a difference? It's unlikely. This faculty member may or may not be viewed as having fallen from grace. This all depends on whether he or she is politically useful to the administration or one faculty group or another. Being a good political ally will make up for massive levels of underachievement. Politics and decanl job security outweigh individual accountability.

Plus, deans generally have little discretion with raise money and even less courage to use it to signal non writers that they are not keeping up their end of the bargain.

But there is another quirkly thing much like the bad teaching is good for the teacher problem. Suppose one faculty member is a steady producer. Another does not produce for years and by accident or by shaming does produce something. Because the second professor has so thoroughly lowered expectations, he or she is instantly viewed as having "made good." Even though the non producer may still be in debt to the school to the tune of 5 or 10 years of scholarship, it's just far simpler to ignore it. No one is holding anyone accountable anyway.


Nathan said...

I don't necessarily feel that a professor has to keep producing scholarly works after tenure. There are reasons for tenure and at least one of them is to protect academics from being fired once they are past their prime. Many academics hit their prime in their 30s and it would be unfair for a great professor to be fired simply because the level of work is not as strong as earlier in their career. After all, some of these professors have so influenced the younger generation with their ideas the younger generation simply is above and beyond what they are capable of thinking of. Essentially, as in the words of Stephen Hawking, the younger generation is standing on the should of giants, who are now the older professors who have tenure but are coming up with less mind blowing ideas or simply no new ideas at all. While I do agree with this, I feel that the tenured professor can't then stop teaching, stop teaching effectively, or just start being lazy in a teaching respect. Tenure should be on the condition you remain an effective teacher if not an effective academic researcher.

Jeff Harrison said...

You could be right but I would feel better about it if they did ask to teach more or contribute is some other way. Plus, I am not so worried about the ones who fade out after having tenure for 20 years. It's the ones who shut it down immediately upon getting tenure. In any case, aren't the people not writing the same people who professed to love research?