Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Front-Line Faculty And Systemic Burnout: Why More Faculty Should Attend To Law Students' Mental Health And The Inequities Caused By Faculty Who Opt Out

Katie Pryal (North Carolina; Google Scholar), Front-Line Faculty and Systemic Burnout: Why More Faculty Should Attend to Law Students' Mental Health and the Inequities Caused by Faculty Who Opt Out, 27 Legal Writing ___ (2023):

Law schools are facing a population shock event, which is a far-reaching traumatic event that has affected a large group of people—in our case, the pandemic. And although law students have long struggled with their mental health, depression and anxiety among law students have become a crisis, with more than eight out of ten law students having been depressed and/or anxious during the pandemic. A consequence of the pandemic population shock event is that law students are experiencing "systemic burnout," which is difficult to perceive and treat because of its prevalence in the population. This large-scale the mental health problem requires a large-scale solution: at the institutional level, law schools must address the systemic burnout our students face—and the depression and anxiety that almost inevitably follow.

But instead of institutions providing large-scale solutions, they are relying on individual front-line faculty members to address systemic burnout. Front-line faculty are faculty who have close contact with students and are therefore in a position to notice—and do something about—students’ mental health struggles. Faculty frequently end up on the front lines because of institutional pressures such as race, gender, teaching subject, employment status, and other marginalization. For these faculty, being on the front-line is not a choice; it is an unavoidable part of their jobs.

Burnout and its bed-fellows depression and anxiety are not limited to students. Many law school faculty are nearing or experiencing burnout. However, front-line faculty are more at risk because of the extra work they are asked to do. This work is directly related to helping our students with their mental health struggles. As our students suffer, front-line faculty do as well, and they are in turn less able to help students.

Law schools must recognize that they cannot rely on front-line faculty to save the day while other professors have the privilege of opting out. The mental health crisis on campus requires more than individual fixes via one-on-one sessions with students; it requires institutional action. Front-line faculty need relief, and institutions can provide it: course releases, pay raises, eliminating unnecessary stress on students, and so on. Nevertheless, this essay recognizes the reality that institutional relief is not here yet and suggests several concrete strategies for front-line faculty to reduce their own strain. It also encourages more faculty to opt into the front line.

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