TaxProf Blog

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

Should Law Schools Give Summer Grants To Faculty For Teaching Projects As Well As For Research?

Summer GrantsMost law schools offer summer research grants.  The latest Society of American Law Teachers survey reports summer research grant awards at 82 law schools (41% of all law schools), ranging from $3,000 at Gonzaga (ranked #132 in U.S. News) to $27,500 at Georgia (#33).  Only one of the Top 25 law schools (Iowa) responded to the SALT survey, and anecdotal evidence suggests that summer research grants are much higher at those schools, often 2/9 of salary. The Best Practices for Legal Education blog "suggests that in addition to research grants, schools consider summer teaching innovation grants":

At Georgia State, like at many schools, our dean has encouraged us to integrate experiential learning throughout the curriculum.  And, he has put his money where his mouth is.

Faculty can compete for  summer teaching innovation grants which are funded at the same level as research grants. Both junior and senior faculty members have taken advantage of the summer grant  opportunities to either revamp existing courses or create new ones.

Grant Criteria
The grant award process is competitive and judged by the following criteria:

  1. The project must result in the creation of a new class or redesign of an existing one that will integrate skills/professional values/experiential components not traditionally taught in conventional courses.
  2. The project proposal must include a statement of learning objectives and outcomes for the course.
  3. The project must include a plan for assessment of learning outcomes, including both formative as well as summative assessment methods, as appropriate.
  4. The project must be capable of being completed over the summer in which the grant is received and implemented preferably in the ensuing academic year.
  5. The project proposal describes a plan for making the new or redesigned course sustainable (capable of being taught on a recurring basis.

Creating a Culture of Teaching Innovation and Excellence
All grant recipients must present to the faculty in the semester following their grant-based course.  This presentation allows other faculty to learn about new courses or changes to existing courses and prompts thinking about one’s own course.

The video describes courses that came into being due to summer teaching innovation grants, and includes some course innovations that resulted simply from a culture which demonstrably values teaching innovation through concrete actions such as summer grants, weekly informal coffees to talk about teaching, and emphasis on teaching in our annual reports.

It’s not too late to for your dean to offer summer  grants as a way to further develop institutional support for teaching innovations.  If these are not already in place at your school, perhaps you can encourage your dean to consider this option.

Some faculty have called for the elimination of summer research grants for faculty as one way to reduce the cost of legal education borne by our students.  See Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Summer Research Grants:

These summer stipends supplement salaries that already rank among the highest in the academy. They are also quite unusual in the academy; other university faculty do not receive summer research grants with the ease or regularity that law faculty do. Professors in other disciplines usually apply for outside grants if they want summer support. More often, they do without: they devote their summers to research even though they technically are unpaid during that time.

Why do law faculty need so much financial encouragement to produce research? Why aren’t we encouraging our faculty to seek outside grants if they want that summer support? Summer research grants are wonderful bonuses, but they shouldn’t be necessary to encourage research. People join the academy to research and teach, so that’s what we should do.

A first step in reducing the cost of legal education would be to eliminate summer research grants for full professors. We could continue to award grants to junior faculty, who are seeking tenure and may bear their own student debts. For full professors, summer research grants seem like a luxury we can give up to help both our students and our institutions.

See also Jay Sterling Silver (St. Thomas), How To Cut Law School Tuition By 35%: Cap Overhead Tax At 15%, Cut Faculty Salaries By 20%, Eliminate Sabbaticals And Summer Stipends, Increase Teaching Loads to 3/3.

Legal Education, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink


I'm not a fan of these -- despite how they're phrased and justified it seems that, in fact, they merely provide a method to give summer money to unproductive scholars so as to make them not feel left out.

Posted by: LawProf | Apr 11, 2016 5:18:45 AM

If used properly (e.g. to incentivize desired behavior) I don't see the problem. Law school deans have very few tools available to force tenured faculty to do things the faculty member isn't already self-motivated to do, beyond the bare minimum. Summer salary can be a useful tool to encourage faculty to write more than they otherwise would (let's bracket the debate over whether society needs more law review articles). It's not any different really than paying faculty a summer salary to teach summer school.

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Apr 11, 2016 8:02:00 AM