Friday, January 11, 2008

The Itinerate Law Professor: So What's Wrong with That?


For a long time I have thought that being a law professor is only the second best job in the world. The first is the traveling lecturer. This person is paid a salary and wanders from state to state and school to school and drops in on any class anywhere to give a lecture or just to say what is on his or her mind. It's a little like paid blogging only you go to neat places. So one day, you get up and think. . . hmmm, I wonder what is happening in San Diego and while I am in there I think I will talk to a freshmen class about Rigoletto and advances in reconstructive surgery.

Actually, some people have a job that is fairly close. These are the traveling law professors, often emeritus, who show up for a semester here or there to fill in. When you take those travelers, other double dippers, and adjuncts, it makes you wonder a bit about where this is all going.

For example, at my school and most others, a fair number of the offerings are taught by people who fall into one of four categories. There are adjuncts. They tend to be volunteers or, at least in my view, poorly paid. There are part time teachers who hold full time jobs somewhere else in the law school. And, there are permanent double dippers. These are people who retire from one school and accept a full time and fully paid position at another school. Finally, there are the theoretically temporary double dippers. These are people who retired from my school or another and are hired to teach a semester at a time.

What is true about most of these groups is that there is no tenure obligation. What should also be true is that they are relatively inexpensive. I do not know if any deans actually put it into practice but why pay a double dipper anything close to a regular salary? For example, if you retire from the University of Bozo at 60% salary, wouldn't you take a job and another school for a 70% salary? I mean it's still 130% for the same and probably less work. I understand that if the double dipper is highly valued the price may be bid up to a regular salary but I wonder how often that happens.

There are, therefore, several sources (suppliers) of law teaching and pretty good ones at that. The supply keeps growing and people retire but really do not and new people come into the market. And, if I am right about this, by hiring adjuncts and dders most law schools should be able to operate much less expensively. I don't mean simply because dders and adjuncts would be paid less but because tenure track people are riskier and expensive in different ways since they tend to require summer research grants and reduced teaching loads. Plus there is all the time reviewing articles and sitting in on classes.

The a law school goes the route of dders and adjuncts it is likely to have an older faculty and, perhaps, a faculty with less commitment to the institution over the long run. But "less" is a sticky proposition here. A great deal of the so-called commitment I see among tenure track faculty is actually commitment to self-interest. Policies, scheduling, course offerings, programs and the like seem to be pretty much about faculty desires and convenience. I have discussed this all before in numerous posts about shirking, the destruction of the law school commons, and the inability of law professors to make counter-preferential choices. It is possible that a faculty with "less" commitment would be one that more disinterested and make decision about the long run that are more consistent with stakeholder, as opposed to faculty, interests.

I am not sure of any of this, though, and wonder if twenty years from now law faculties will look very different and whether that will be a good thing.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

There doesn't seem to be any a priori reason for itinerant profs to be any less self-interested than tenure track ones. Indeed, the surprise about professorial self-interest may be that anyone should find it surprising! The ubiquity and importance of self-interest in a capitalist economy is well understood and often celebrated in economic writings. I for one would not want to receive legal training from someone who behaves counter-preferentially! Would you?

1/11/2008 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watch it there, Jeff! In the humanities, the use of adjuncts has created a real crisis. Schools have embraced it with gusto, trimming their tenured and tenure-track faculty massively. Let's hope it doesn't happen in law!

1/11/2008 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are there in fact schools from which one can retire with a 60%salary? i didn't know that was part of anyone's benefits package.

1/11/2008 5:18 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Thanks for the comments

1.Anon 1. You are right. They would be no less self interested but they would not tempted to organize a law school to serve their interests for 10 or 20 years since they would not be there. Actually, I would like to be around counter-preferential people. They might, for example, teach courses they would prefer not to so the students could take them, offer courses at time that does not suit them but make it possible to for students to take them, etc. And, most importantly, they may place giving a balanced view of the subject matter ahead of their own political views.

2. Anon 2: I think we may be on our way.

3. Anon 3: To be honest, I have heard of one 80% package and I may school I think you can get to 50%. This excludes a very attractive buy out which many people take and the come back and teach part time.

1/11/2008 5:51 PM  

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