TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cohen: Seven Ways to Increase the Risk of Being Denied Tenure

TenureI. Glenn Cohen (Harvard), How to Increase Your Risk of Not Getting Tenure:

Can we say anything about folks who have run into trouble at their home institutions to help guide the new (smaller) bumper crop of entry-levels that are soon entering law professorship? Having just passed the tenure threshold myself, I acknowledge up front that this is just a very tentative and provisional list of advice on the issue from someone with a very limited set of experiences. I hope that others with more experience on the subject will weigh in through comments

  1. Write less than one paper a year or leave most of your publishing for late in your tenure clock
  2. Co-author too much
  3. Being too much of a wallflower or being not enough of a wallflower
  4. Focus too much on teaching or service
  5. Fail to get to know those in your field, fail to be a good PR agent for yourself
  6. Undertake projects with timelines imcompatible with your tenure clock, including books
  7. Focus on the views of your mentors to the exclusion of the views of your faculty as a whole and outside readers

The list is no doubt idiosyncratic and missing many good pieces of advice. Others will disagree. I welcome that and encourage people to add in the comments. The last thing I will say is that while this list is focused on what people can do to increase/reduce their risk of getting denied tenure, because that is where your agency is as a junior, I don’t want to let faculties off the hook. I think we should think of tenure denials as failures on our part, either as to early screening or (more often) as to helping our colleagues through the process of tenure. There are many things faculties can do better vis-à-vis junior faculty, and this list is not meant to let the faculty off the hook.

Update:  Paul Horwitz (Alabama), A Meta-Post on Tenure

Legal Education | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Cohen: Seven Ways to Increase the Risk of Being Denied Tenure:


8. Say too many original things that threaten people in your field

Posted by: michael livingston | Jun 8, 2013 6:30:01 AM

Oops! Article is down. (But archived here: ) Looks like Cohen made a few too many law professors upset with that article.

"Focus too much on teaching and service???"

That's the point of law professor. Not tenure, not writing papers. They are there to produce lawyers.

Posted by: Keith Lee | Jun 8, 2013 6:43:37 AM

That was not the problems with the post.

Posted by: JMH | Jun 8, 2013 12:01:21 PM

I. Glenn Cohen's article came down faster than you can say "academic ethics." He may have just achieved tenure, but the establishment will make his life miserable.

Posted by: Woody | Jun 8, 2013 4:17:34 PM

I have some different views, involving the ways in which faculties misbehave:
1. Coauthor, of course, if there is reason to do so. As there often is in law and economics and empirical work, where sole authorship is the exception. If law school faculties don't like this, and some don't, that ought to be their bad, not yours.
2. Write for peer-reviewed journals. If law school faculties don't like this, and some don't, that ought to be their bad, not yours. The argument that "you should have written more for (student) law reviews" is bizarre. We should write for colleagues, not for students.
3. Tenure denials ought to be common, as they are in other fields. Unless they are, it's too hard to take a chance on a promising junior. We don't have magical powers of prediction as to who will be productive, creative, etc. We can only guess, and we'll often guess wrong.
4. If you hire someone to do work of type X in field Y, don't turn them down for tenure because they did good work of type X in field Y, but you've changed your mind about whether this work is valuable (or never believed it was).
5. Being nice at social faculty lunches is a not a reason for granting tenure. Not going to said lunches, or other similar social sins, is not a reason for tenure denial.
6. High teaching ratings are a weak marker of teaching skill; low ratings are a weak marker of lack thereof. And for some, teaching is a learned skill that emerges over time. We should care more about effort and peer assessments, and much less about student evaluations.


Posted by: Bernie Black | Jun 8, 2013 10:32:12 PM

Would that Bernie's views were the norm, not the exception.

Posted by: btraven | Jun 11, 2013 12:10:45 AM