Wednesday, March 04, 2015


Over on the tax prof blog Paul Caron has posted an article about reduced teaching loads to keep star faculty from leaving. The idea is how odd it is to reward stars by reducing the amount of time they spend with students. The article does not focus on law profs and seems to be more generally about departments in which important research takes place. (so obviously not about law profs).

It does raise the question of what it means to be a star in legal education. I have heard the term "star" used quite a bit. There are stars and rising stars. "Rising star" is one of the favorites among those writing tenure review letters.

The notion of a star means a star in the terrarium of law professors. I think it means being at a fancy school and being cited a lot. Of course citations come to those at fancy schools so it is more a commentary on the school than the individual. The problem with the label "star" is that it is a bit like being the star on the chili cook-off circuit. No one cares but a very small group of people who rank people on an unknown scale. But then chili recipes are not fungible while law professors are so I am not sure the term star is even applicable. Any one of us could be kidnapped by aliens and only a small group of people would notice the difference.

There are faculty stars. These are the people who teach 12 hours and 200 students, write an article every year or so about something relevant, advise students, do committee work, and are always ready to read a manuscript.  There are very few of these stars. Interestingly, being a star on your faculty means there is no chance you will be a star in the law prof terrarium. Plus, can someone be a star simply by putting in a day's work? I would not think so but in a world of reduced teaching loads, directorships, and vanity courses, it is hard to find an honest day's work.

I remember the first time I heard someone use the term "star" in the context of law professors. My first thought was "this is delusional" but I suppose that goes hand in hand with the puffed up sense of importance that pervades the profession.

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