It is that time of year when aspiring legal academics begin to think about how to fill out the Association of American Law School's FAR (Faculty Appointments Register) form. These one page forms are distributed to every member school & are used by many appointments committee's as the initial screen for selecting interviewees at the FRC (Faculty Recruiting Conference)--the "meet market" of the legal academy.
Over at PrawfsBlawg, Gowri Ramachandran has a post entitled Aspiring Law Profs: Listing Teaching Interests in which she poses two questions:
1. Should one downplay one's interest in teaching a class such as Constitutional Law, which is deemed especially competitive?
2. Should one downplay one's interest in teaching classes such as Critical Race Theory, Feminist Legal Theory, Asian Americans and the Law, or other classes which may be perceived as "fluffy" by certain segments of the legal academy? (And are they in fact perceived this way?)
And Belle Lettre comments in Gowri Ramachandran on Prawfsblawg. On both scores, it seems to me that some candidates may overlook some of the advantages of simply answering as truthfully as possible. Here are a few thoughts, offered from the perspective of someone who has recently served as appointments chair at two different institutions & read thousands of these forms in the last five years:
- The notion that listing "constitutional law" is disadvantageous because conlaw is especially competitive seems to me to have achieved the status of "old spouse's tale." I'm not sure whether it is true. I do know that my committee was actively looking for entry-level conlaw candidates at Illinois last year, and that it was very frustrating trying to figure out who was trying to hide their interest in conlaw. Conlaw is a required course with multiple sections, and the popularity of conlaw teaching has eroded substantially over the last decade or so.
- 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. And if you had to fly under "false colors" to get hired, then won't you have to continue that to get tenure? (Or risk a tenure denial!) And (perhaps contrary to some popular perceptions) tenure does not confer the freedom to choose one's scholarly projects without consequences--ranging from grant amounts to salary increases. 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.
- On both scores, teaching interests and theoretical orientation, there is an even more important reason for honesty. The law teaching market is highly competitive, and the days of credential-driven hiring are certainly waning everywhere (and pretty much over at the most sophisticated institutions). That means that there is a very good reason for candidates to present themselves in their very strongest lights. (If you are talking about your deep interests using your best tools, you will come off as smarter, more interesting, more scholarly, etc. 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.
There is a really nice comments thread at Prawfs--rather than opening a competing thread here, I suggest those who are interested in this topic post their thoughts over at Prawfs.