Friday, July 06, 2007

FAR Form Honesty

(Did your eyes misread the subject title as "FAR From Honesty"? Pun intended).

Gowri Ramachandran's post on PrawfsBlawg about Listing Teaching Preferences has an extraordinary amount of useful comments!

Larry Solum has typically excellent advice and insight over at his blog. He urges honesty in reporting what classes you're interested in teaching on your Faculty Appointments Register form (FAR). The man helps me choose classes. I always listen to Larry. So should you.

Choice excerpts:

Being honest about theoretical orientation is probably wise. Whether one is a historian, economist, feminist theorist, empirical scholar, critical race theorist, or philosopher, the reality is that some law schools will welcome your theoretical orientation with open arms and others will be skeptical. But in this respect, I think that stealth candidates can create very serious long term problems for themselves by concealing their "true colors." Once your new faculty gets to know you, it is going to be difficult to conceal one's basic attitudes about legal scholarship. There is a lot to be said for the notion that it is more important to find an institution that really wants your toolkit and theoretical orientation than to try to fly under the radar and land at a school with a higher ranking.

If you are talking about feigned interests using the tools you think the interviewers favor, you will come off as shallow, unfocused, less sophisticated, etc.) And for almost all candidates that means that you want conversations to be on the topics that interest you deeply using your sharpest tools. If your FAR form suggests that
interviewers should focus on topics that are secondary interests and a theoretical orientation that is not your strong suite, you are effectively crippling yourself.

I also like this question by AspiringLawProf:

One question I have is how much do you "bend" your developing scholarship to touch on other topics that you would like to teach as a part of your package? E.g., if you want to teach employment discrimination and your scholarship is centered around this, how much should you "reach" for other areas within this scholarship for the sole purpose of evidencing that you would be qualified to teach in those other areas (like contracts, torts, civil procedure, etc.). Is it enough to just write in the specialized area(s) you are passionate about and (assuming that scholarship is quite good) trust you will not need your scholarship to directly provide indicia that you can teach every class set out as a teaching interest? I hope these questions make sense.

And this reply by Bruce Boyden:

Aspiringlawprof, to directly answer your question, I don't think research and teaching interests need to completely overlap; at least, they didn't in my case. I went through the process more than once, one year listing Civ Pro on the top line and one year listing Contracts -- not because I intend to do much scholarship in those areas, but because I have practice experience and believed I would enjoy teaching those classes. It was clear that my research interests are in other fields and no one ever asked me what Civ Pro or Contracts research I was planning on doing (although I did get asked how I would teach the class, so get ready for that one).

My follow up comment:

I am qualified to teach CRT, but no longer have as strong an interest in theory as I used to. But my transcript and diploma definitely say "with a concentration in CRT." Is it disingenuous _not_ to list CRT and Asian American Jurisprudence as classes I _can_ teach (but feel reluctant to)? Is it just being foolish not to list them, just because I no longer write in the areas and don't do much current reading in either?

Then again, to echo aspiringlawprofs, listing torts and contracts for my first year courses is more gaming than actual active scholarly interest. My work in contracts is more employer-employee bargaining; so if I were totally honest I would list: employment discrimination law, constitutional law, contracts, sociology of law. And upon reconsideration, I think CRT and Asian American Jurisprudence should be on there as well.

Gowri Ramachandran's response to me:

I would say, if you're not that interested in CRT or teaching CRT anymore, don't list it. You can simply list different teaching and scholarly interests if that's what it takes to reflect your current wishes.

I had a very similar issue when it came to my scholarly interests because I have a Master's in Statistics, but am pretty uninterested in doing data analysis or other systematic empirical work right now, as well as not well read in the latest methods and their benefits/downsides. And just like you, I have some conflict about it. I have no beef with those methods per se. It's just that when I went on the teaching market, I was not really inspired to use them in the near future.

The good news is that because you have this CRT thing on your resume, people will likely ask you why you didn't list it, which is what they did with me re: Statistics. At that point you can explain what you've explained on your blog, including the fact that of course, if there is a teaching need, you'll happily meet it.

I may have gotten a lot of questions to clear up the Stats issue in part because empiricism is so "hot" right now, but if the item on your resume is substantial enough and the school is seriously looking for CRT teaching, hopefully the chances are high they'll interview you and ask you about it.

Great advice from everyone! I'm still ambivalent about listing CRT and Asian American Jurisprudence. I mean, I _can_ teach those courses. But the article I'm going to to shop next month is social network theory + a touch of Asian American Jurisprudence in discussing stereotypes. My dissertation will be on organizational theory and employment discrimination law. I'm still theoretically minded, but grounded in social science methodology (seriously, my advisor is going to have me cram essentially a masters in sociology in my dissertation years, and I will have to get IRB approval for my dissertation). In terms of constitutional law/public law; I'm still into federalism, albeit going for the 14th Amendment angle (future project); which may shape up to be more sociology of law than doctrine-crunching. So I think I will own up to my theoretical bent, but refrain from listing classes based on deconstructionist critical theories as an area of interest. Not that I don't like feminist legal theory or am that antipathic towards CRT--just not my forte anymore. But I'll happy to teach if asked. Though I would prefer law and organizations.

So it'll be honesty plus: I'll be honest about my current scholarly orientation and honest about my past. No sense in obscuring or attempting to obfuscate anyway. Every professor I've talked to told me that I have a right to change my mind and interests, so I hope I can believe them. If asked, I will discuss why I don't write in CRT anymore, even if I can teach the course if there's a curricular need. So honesty is the way to go. It feels disingenuous to list CRT as an active interest, but also dishonest to not talk about it during the course of interviews. So I'll talk about it, and see what courses will satisify my scholarly interests and the school's curricular needs.

Of course, I'm not going on the market until Fall 2009. Fall 2008 at earliest, but that's highly doubtful given the qualitative and quantitative aspects of my disseration. So this is long-range planning here.


Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

I have not read every word of these posts but I have a sense that there may be an expection that the process is more of a science than it is. I favor honesty and would not list anything you do not feel comfortable teaching. Still most hiring committees realize that people who have not taught much may not have that much expertise even in the fields they list and that they may have a change of heart down the line.

The list should show some flexibility and a willingness to take on at least one large section course. Two would be better. Remember, it is a buyer's market and it is important to be sensitive to what the buyers need.

7/10/2007 2:52 PM  

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