Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Lessons Learned From Visits At Harvard, Stanford, And NYU Law Schools That Did Not Produce Offers

Tess Wilkinson-Ryan (Pennsylvania), On Visiting:

When I was a teenager there was this meme/prank where a boy would approach a girl and ask “Would you like to dance?” and no matter what her response, he would then announce loudly, “No, I said you look fat in those pants!” I did not have cause to think of this, which even then was usually deployed as a sort of meta-joke, until I tried to explain to a colleague how I felt about my lateral visiting stints. I think there is something about the mild humiliation of an appointments visit, particularly if there’s no permanent offer, that makes most people reluctant to talk about the experience at all. But that pluralistic ignorance is probably bad, because it distorts the cost-benefit calculus that law schools and candidates are employing for an already costly practice. So let’s talk about it.

In the early winter months of 2014, pre-tenure, I got really flattering phone calls from deans at Stanford, Harvard, and NYU, respectively. I agreed to a one-semester visit at Stanford, a three-week teaching visit at Harvard, and eventually to a two-week non-teaching visit at NYU. I was not looking to move, but you never know, and in any case visiting appeared to be the coin of the realm. ...

It’s sort of embarrassing to recount these stories, a real tour of my bad decisions and poor coping skills. But it occurred to me recently in hearing a not-dissimilar tale from a colleague that there is a widely-shared experience that doesn’t get talked about, because it sounds like sour grapes just to describe it. I agreed to all of this! I agreed to be judged and now I’m mad that the judgment was negative! Also it’s just regular embarrassing — I was publicly rejected. ...

I think the imagined echoes of that particular Greek chorus are unhelpfully keeping people like me from being frank about how bad these experiences really were. Even when people are super nice — and there are always really nice people — it’s structurally demeaning.

Visiting is public. Literally, visits are listed on blogs and publicized by the schools themselves. The fact that I’m still in my old job suggests to anyone who cares (hopefully that’s a real small number) that I went out for three jobs that I wanted badly enough to go way out of my way to get, and I was turned down. ...

The aforementioned problems are universal about visiting, but the visiting system is pretty deeply gendered in ways that are both obvious and non-obvious. The obvious way is the family issues, which of course affect both men and women. Historically and still, though, more women than men have partners who work full-time, thus making a temporary move with the family unit intact especially challenging. Children make the whole thing more complicated, because one spouse commuting while another employed spouse remains at home base with kids is its own serious tax on family resources. This is not to mention the enormous challenges for, inter alia, single parents, nursing parents, and those with other family care obligations.

More subtly, I think the visit often demands a different performance from women than from men. There’s an intensity for women in being onsite and under scrutiny, I think because it’s a bit harder to overcome a presumption of intellectual mediocrity and a little more important to impress people with your high EQ.

Michael Dorf (Cornell), A Nice Place to Live, But You Wouldn't Want to Visit:

Yesterday, U Penn Law Professor Tess Wilkinson-Ryan published a courageous essay in which she describes her experience as a visiting professor at Stanford, Harvard, and NYU. She went to each school (for varying lengths of time) in the hope of landing a lateral offer, only to be rejected. The essay is courageous because it tells a personal story of failure. It is very valuable, because it exposes various dysfunctions of the visit-before-you-get-hired system, including the important ways in which it is gendered. ...

Although Prof Wilkinson-Ryan does not include any reform proposals in her essay, I have reason to think she would likely join me in the following proposal, which, in any event, I make at least on my own behalf: Law schools should abandon the semester-long or year-long visit as a part of the lateral hiring process. That would leave three kinds of visits: (1) Enrichment visits bring interesting faculty to a school for a semester or longer simply because they will enrich the atmosphere for students and faculty, with no expectation that the visitor will stay permanently; (2) podium visitors fill short-term teaching needs, again with no expectation of a permanent lateral offer; and (3) reverse "look-see" visits allow a person who holds a lateral offer to decide whether to accept it by spending a semester or year at the new school first.

Josh Blackman (South Texas), The Costs of a Look-See Visit:

The cost of a look-see visit is far too high for most candidates, with far too much uncertainty. If a University wants to hire a professors, they should be able to do so based on that person's record, with a reasonably-timed interview.

Paul Horwitz (Alabama), The Home-Institution Benefits of Visiting Stints:

Not every visit results in an offer, or does so in the short run, so the visitor can indeed bring back what he or she has learned and make use of it. Whether they do so now or not, home institutions should welcome this and make some effort to "debrief" the returning colleague. I would add that we could get some of those benefits from podium visits, and students in individual classes may in fact get some of them; but even more than look-see visitors (who often find a less welcoming environment than they ought to), podium visitors often don't get much integrated into the life of the school they're visiting at all. And I would add that the fact that a look-see visit can confer benefits of this sort does not mean that look-see visits make much sense. I'm not sure they do. Josh quotes Mike Dorf on several other possible visiting formats, all of which (if undertaken in a conscious fashion) would confer the same mutual benefits. The idea of an "enrichment" visit, in particular, makes some sense. So do short-course programs and intersessions, which probably convey less benefit but also are less burdensome for those with family or other obligations.

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As a man, in my post jr. high days, I have only ever heard about the "presumed intellectual inferiority" of women from women. I cannot think of a single instance in higher education and three professional careers where I have heard a man say women aren't as smart. The closest thing to it has been grumbling over how women are rated higher than men when objective performance indicators indicate otherwise (i.e. affirmative action applied through performance metrics), but this is a criticism of a system that is viewed as biased rather than a suggestion of inferiority. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 20, 2020 3:17:08 AM

Is the comment below representative of what women feel as a general matter regarding perceptions of being thought of as having inferior IQs and (perhaps) compensating for that state of affairs with overemphasis on EQ? That would really be bad and self defeating sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy that causes the person to "try too hard"? I am referring to the following:

"More subtly, I think the visit often demands a different performance from women than from men. There’s an intensity for women in being onsite and under scrutiny, I think because it’s a bit harder to overcome a presumption of intellectual mediocrity and a little more important to impress people with your high EQ."

Posted by: David Barnhizer | Jan 15, 2020 7:40:18 AM

Thank you for sharing, Professor. Comparing notes on complicated rejections can help show whether the system is correct (for now), imperfect but fair, or wrong. And it can seem a little embarrassing at first but particularly as professional investigators, arguers and mentors we must get over that and exercise our rights!

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Posted by: Anand Desai | Jan 15, 2020 5:26:55 AM