On tenure and moneyball: Leiter vs. Caron

Those who follow the blogs are probably already familiar with the wealth of free blog advice that has been offered to new UC-Irvine law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky. Over on the Law School Reports blog, Brian Leiter takes issue with Paul Caron’s blog post in which he suggested that the most important thing that the new dean could do is get rid of tenure. Caron explains:

My general advice to Erwin Chemerinsky is to embrace his inner Billy Beane and adopt a data-driven approach to running the new UC-Irvine law school. Such an approach would play itself out in myriad ways, which I cannot sketch in 250 words here. But my “single best idea for reforming legal education” is to rethink tenure.

Although tenure had noble origins as a protector of academic freedom, it has morphed into nothing more than a lifetime employment contract. The Billy Beane who eschews long-term contracts for free agents undoubtedly would abhor life tenure for anyone.

Law schools struggle to create reward structures to incentivize faculty performance. The stakes often border on the trivial and tend to focus exclusively on scholarship at the expense of teaching and service.

Instead, renewable five year contracts could be given to faculty, with objective performance measures in all three categories. UC-Irvine provides the ideal environment for such an experiment – given the publicity surrounding political interference in Chemerinsky’s hiring, what better place to develop adequate job protection for faculty within the confines of contractual appointments?

To attract and retain faculty, UC-Irvine should pay a significant salary premium over comparable schools (here and here) and offer faculty-wide bonuses for student successes (e.g., bar passage, job placement). My guess is that high-achieving, well-rounded, energetic faculty would flock to UC-Irvine to work under Dean Beane-Chemerinsky.

There is some merit to Caron’s points. Incentive based employment relationships are well advised and I imagine that many faculty who perform well and are well regarded in their discipline would have no problem trading tenure for a “significant salary premium.”

However, what is that premium? To somewhat restate Brian’s post-question: what would a high performance faculty member such as Caron or Leiter accept in return for tenure? Clearly, the Irvine-Chemerinsky hiring/firing debacle highlights the potential for non-performance based employment decisions. Of course, the quick retort is that a high-performing faculty member can land on their feet and will have plenty of schools ready to hire them in the event of such a debacle. However, changing jobs and residences in this situation can have significant professional, personal, and monetary transaction costs. Exactly what would Irvine have to lay out for this “significant salary premium,” in order to compete with other schools who likely already pay very well and offer tenure for high performers? My guess is that it would be a prohibitively high amount.

One Response to On tenure and moneyball: Leiter vs. Caron

  1. My fear is that without tenure when ever a Hannity or O’Reilly-like pundant starts railing about some article they don’t like, the whole world will come crashing down you. The likelihood one of them would ever read anything I write is pretty low, so I’m probably safe, but if one wants to push the boundaries some…how do we prevent the reactionary populous from crushing our careers?