MULTIPLE MISSIONS OF A RESEARCH I
UNIVERSITY-BASED LAW SCHOOL
Thomas M. Mengler
Copyright © 2000
by Thomas M. Mengler
At salary time five years ago (two years into my deanship), John Colombo,
our Associate Dean for Academic
Affairs, cooked up a numerical system for evaluating our tenure-line faculty.
Prior to that time, the process we used for determining salaries was one
that might generously be described as an exercise in gestalt psychology.
The Dean and Executive Committee (composed of the Associate Dean and four
elected members of the faculty) would peruse each faculty member’s curriculum
vitae and annual report of activities and then collectively decide – based on
their feelings about a colleague’s overall contributions to the law school --
whether he or she deserved an above-average raise, average raise, or
Under the numerical system that John Colombo created five years ago and
that we continue to employ, we assign points ranging between 1 (for poor
performance) and 5 (for superior performance) to each faculty member under the
three core categories of faculty responsibility: teaching, research and service.
The numbers are totaled and serve as a starting basis for weighing the
worth of a colleague’s contributions and assigning a salary.
My colleagues and I have viewed this number-crunching not as the end of a
salary discussion, but as a useful beginning.
Indeed, salary decisions have never been, and I believe never should be,
But this numerical process has served to focus us in every case on each
of the three areas that research-based public and private universities (and law
schools) appropriately consider relevant to performance.
The most significant feature of the numerical system, perhaps
surprisingly, is that it gives equal weight, roughly a third, to teaching,
research and service. Surprisingly,
because my guess is that deans, department heads and faculty in most other units
on a university campus like ours at Illinois –one of the finest research
institutions in the country-- would be aghast, perhaps even appalled, at this
It has surprised me and the Executive Committee a little too.
Each year when we begin our consideration of salaries, the Executive
Committee and I have debated whether that weighting sets the right balance.
Frequently, one or more of us express the view that at a national law
school like ours, which is continually seeking to enhance its visibility and
scholarly reputation, we should be placing a higher value – perhaps 50%,
perhaps even a bit more-- on the research contributions of our colleagues.
And truth be
told, even (or perhaps especially) among the 160 law deans who each year sign a
letter castigating rankings in general, and the U.S. News & World Report
rankings in particular, law schools are all striving to be more highly regarded
in the same way for the same reason – by achieving national recognition though
Every American law school dean, each of us, appreciates the predominance
of scholarly recognition in measuring our law school’s self-worth.
Each year, however, after much discussion, I and that year’s Executive
Committee have chosen to follow the system of assigning one-third weight to
research, as well as to teaching and service.
Let me advance a
few explanations why, seemingly against all reason, we have been sticking to our
guns. One is that at the University of Illinois and the College of Law, the
dominant criterion for a faculty member’s eligibility to hold an endowed chair
is his or her national or international scholarly reputation.
As the law school’s fundraising efforts continue to bear fruit by
landing these endowed positions, faculty members know that if they want to
become a named chairholder – and receive both the recognition and financial
reward accompanying the honor – they must distinguish themselves in the
research arena. This reward for a
record of scholarly distinction, along with credit (albeit one-third worth) at
the annual salary deliberation and a few other financial incentives, is thought to be
sufficient to encourage faculty to strive for excellence in scholarship
throughout their careers. Additionally,
non-financial rewards, such as peer recognition, frequent citation in court
cases, law reviews and books, and invitations to present papers at select
conferences, play a significant role in promoting research excellence among law
A second explanation is that our experience has
been that it all comes out in the wash anyway.
Our truly outstanding faculty members who are most deserving of
substantial raises – those folks who make the greatest contributions to the
law school – do everything quite well. The
true leaders of our faculty, those who command the most respect, lead by their
excellent example. They are among
our very finest scholars; they work hard and conscientiously in the classroom;
and their service-- within the law building, the University and nationally and
internationally-- is exceptional too. It
really is true that strongly engaged individuals tend to be engaged in
everything they set out to do. Those
individuals who are engaged in a life-long dedication to discovery and
inquiry—our top scholars—usually bring that energy and insight to the
classroom; and they are sought after for law school and campus committee
projects and national and international law reform efforts.
Our leaders are not necessarily our naturally most gifted teachers, but
they take this task seriously and they provide a strong classroom experience.
Not everyone, of
course, is outstanding in all aspects of his or her professional life.
And the principal justification for our numerical system might best be
expressed by borrowing a phrase from a New York senatorial candidate – it
takes a village. There are a lot of
things that have to be accomplished within and outside the walls of a law school
to make it function well and flourish. Not
everyone does everything equally well. There
are notable exceptions--for example the leaders I mentioned in the paragraph
above. Unfortunately, there are
also a few exceptions on the other side of the ledger too. But most of us, if we have gotten this far in life, do some
things exceptionally well, others pretty well, and a few things only slightly
better than the average duck. Yet,
everything essential to the short- and long-term well-being of a law school has
to get done. Somebody has to do it,
and it is the dean’s job to make certain that the main objectives, all of
them, of the law school are being met. Hence,
I believe a sound reward system is one that really considers the strengths and
achievements of the faculty in light of the multiple missions of the program, a
system that seeks to recognize and thank people for their different
I do not mean to
suggest that financial incentives sensibly targeted to advance the most
important objectives of a law school are its salvation.
Reward systems have their limits, and I do not want to overstate their
importance. While I believe that
one significant role of the dean is to provide financial incentives that promote
institutionally valued behavior, I am under no illusion that a financial reward
system can generally be effective in turning non-performers in any area into
valued colleagues. The principal
objectives of financial incentives are to reward institutionally valued behavior
in hopes that (1) such behavior will continue among those faculty who have
already demonstrated it; (2) the institution will be able to retain those
faculty who perform their duties so superbly; and (3) an academic culture will
develop within the law school that values such behavior virtually independent of
any reward system. As an example,
the culture of dedicated teaching and high research productivity is a strong one
that has existed at the University of Illinois College of Law, quite frankly,
for generations. It clearly existed
among senior faculty when I arrived as an assistant professor in 1985 and led
those of us who were junior faculty to follow their leadership example.
Rewarding both good teaching and research productivity in 2000, I
believe, helps to maintain an academic culture of excellence that might
otherwise wither away over time.
I would also add
that I believe maintaining a healthy academic culture is much more dependent on
hiring faculty of strong ambition and character and on peer pressure than on
financial incentives. In good or
bad economic times, it is primarily the heart and soul of the academic community
and its collective values, not the salary levels of its faculty, that are key to
promoting the excellence of the institution.
Having said that,
nevertheless money matters; it helps us to recruit and retain our best faculty,
and it reinforces valued activity, if we spend our bucks wisely.
So why is the law school different than the other academic units at a
Research I University?
Why are law schools so different that we should be compensating research,
teaching and service in roughly equal measure, while the rest of the campus,
through their salary decisions, should be signaling that research is king,
teaching is acceptable labor, and outstanding service is worthy of chump change?
One answer is
that law schools may not be so different. Perhaps
those academic units that are compensating only outstanding scholarship should
be taking a more balanced approach. A
perennial issue at most Research I Universities – and more so in recent years -- is the challenge of
fulfilling one of the core missions – undergraduate teaching – in a
satisfactory manner. Particularly,
though not exclusively at the public research university, legislators, the
public, and parents are demanding more and better education for their students.
For example, the last decade, and particularly the last five years, at
the University of Illinois have been marked by greater dedication of resources
and of tenure-line faculty to undergraduate education; a First-Year Discovery
program has been established to provide small enrollment seminar experiences for
freshman undergraduates, taught exclusively by tenure-line faculty. To sustain
this redirection will require significant financial incentives. Yet, because of campus
budgetary limitations and priorities, the financial incentives for teaching
these courses have been modest. Faculty
teach these courses as overloads and receive only $4,000 to teach a two-hour
seminar and $9,000 to teach a three-hour seminar.
One might reasonably surmise that this program will eventually die if it
remains an add-on with only modest financial rewards.
In the same vein,
universities have also become more focused on fulfilling their service mission,
again particularly at the public university.
At the University of Illinois, for example, a campus-wide service
initiative, Partnership Illinois, was begun five years ago.
Partnership Illinois is a program designed to publicize the many existing
services faculty provide for citizens of the State of Illinois, as well as to
increase visible service activity by tenure-line faculty.
It is fair to say (perhaps as an executive officer of this university, I
should not admit this) that Partnership Illinois is struggling.
Discussions continue about how best to make public service activity a
more vital part of the life of the university; Partnership Illinois is likely
doomed to fail as long as it continues its practice of operating as a source of
funding for relatively modest seed grants to individual or small groups of
faculty for their project expenses, rather than to seek ways to compensate (with
salary supplements) those faculty whose service activities already bring credit
to and visibility for the University, as well as value to the State of Illinois.
If public service is treated and compensated as a diversion, only the
noble, selfless servants or the dull-witted will do it with any enthusiasm and
however, is that law schools do differ somewhat in the complexity of their
missions from most, if not all, other academic units at a Research I University.
Only other professional schools may face the same powerful pull in two
directions that a law school faces. Others
have commented on the American law school’s schizophrenic challenge of acting
both as a professional school serving the best interests of the legal profession
and as a serious academic unit serving the best interests of the university.
On the one hand, law schools and their faculties have obligations to
participate in the improvement of the legal system and profession.
Our missions should include participating in significant international
and national law reform projects; a law professor is uniquely positioned to
bring his or her expansive understanding of an entire field to improvement of
our justice system. It is also our
responsibility, I believe, to participate in local or regional activities in
some modest measure as well. With
few exceptions, American law schools, even those that can rightly claim to be
national programs, are regional in scope. Most
of their students come from a particular region (in the case of public schools,
most come from a single state). Most
of their graduates live and work in the same region. Prudence alone (from an alumni affairs and development
perspective) counsels in favor of some modest amount of regional, state, or
local public service activity. For
state schools, another rationale is good citizenship, especially when that
service has close links to the state legislature or executive branch.
There is, of
course, a lot more to our service responsibilities than the greater prospect of
development bucks. Our profession
at its finest is a service profession, but it does not always live up to
the billing. And law faculty are
often inclined to lead the charge in deriding private practitioners for their
money-grubbing ways and lack of pro bono activity. Yet, law school faculty are themselves on the front line; we
are the first legal professionals whom our students encounter.
Our example, in the form of the level of our participation to public
service, is noticed by our students.
As a professional
school, we also have a special obligation to teach our students well and for a
particular professional purpose. I
am constantly reminded of that obligation each spring when I am called on to
certify for the various state boards of law examiners that our graduates are fit
to practice law. As members of the
bar, we owe this duty as well – to discharge our responsibilities in the
classroom with energy, relevance, and excellence. Of course, here also, prudence alone counsels in favor of law
deans keeping their eyes on the teaching front. The high cost of a legal education should lead us to think of
our paying customers as clients, not simply as students. As all of us know who have labored in the fundraising
vineyards, a graduate’s gift to the law school is frequently an expression of
gratitude for the kindness or care that a now long-retired teacher showed to the
donor many years before.
These are some of
the challenges that a law school confronts as a participant in the legal
profession, and they should lead a healthy law school to prize good teaching and
visible public service, as well as outstanding scholarship.
As I noted, the law school is not simply part of the legal profession; it
frequently is part of a great research university, and there are special
challenges here too. I am not
simply thinking of the very real challenges law deans confront every year during
campus tenure and promotion deliberations:
(1) that law faculty are considered for promotion earlier than the rest
of campus; (2) that most of our law reviews are not peer-reviewed; and (3) that
new law faculty usually begin their academic careers without a research agenda
(except for those new faculty, now in greater numbers, who have a Ph.D, as well
as a J.D.). Those are sticky
wickets, I admit.
I am rather
thinking principally of the challenge of the law school’s programmatic
location as peripheral to the core missions of the university. Law schools lack mission centrality. We lack undergraduate programs (teaching a few or handful of
undergraduate classes to hundreds of students – in order to generate a stream
of revenue– doesn’t count). The
law school typically is not a doctorate-conferring program.
Law faculty rarely generate large (or even modest) government or
foundation grants. In essence, we
do nothing that contributes to the criteria for membership in the Association of
American Universities, an elite association of the 60 most research intensive
universities in the country, membership in which all Research I and II
At bottom there
is nothing really that law schools can do to alter these facts; we are
programmatically on the fringe, and appointing as many Ph.Ds to our faculties
will not change the programmatic deficiencies I have identified above.
But what can we do to be important, albeit peripheral, players on a
Research I campus? Most
importantly, we can be as good as we can at what we define as our own strategic
objectives: the law school’s
faculty can excel at research, as we define excellent research;
the faculty can teach ably, energized by the fruits of their research
discoveries; and they can participate in professional activity with distinction
and national visibility. I believe
it is a mistake to try to be like every other academic unit on a Research I
campus, when we are not. Good
campus leadership usually is sensitive to differences in academic cultures, and
good campus leadership values excellence as those cultures define it.
A second thing we
can do is to build interdisciplinary ties to the strengths of our Research I
campus. In any institution, it only
makes sense to build on one’s strengths, and those strengths include the
strengths of the greater campus. If
the business school is the crown jewel of the campus, then loading up on joint
programs and faculty with interests in entrepreneurship and organizational
systems would seem the right long-term strategy. If the campus is a center for science and technology, as, for
example, at the University of Illinois, then the law school should be a center
for the intersection of law and technology and intellectual property.
Making more of one self, by being part of the best the University can
offer, also brings the law school slightly closer to the University’s center.
Finally, I really
believe, as small as law school faculties typically are on a Research I campus
– about the size of an average department on a campus of 75 or
100 such units – we can and should have enormous influence on the
governance of the campus. Law professors are well-skilled, if not uniquely skilled, to
lead the most vital campus committees or special task forces.
We typically know how to run meetings; have you noticed that faculty at
other units frequently do not? We
are trained to cut to core issues. And,
for the most part, we discharge these tasks in an articulate and diplomatic way.
A few well-placed law faculty on major campus committees – quintessentially
service activity – can capture the attention and admiration of campus
leaders. It is essential, hence,
for the law school dean to view campus committee work as a piece of the law
school’s bridge-building to the core of the University, and to value those
faculty who assist effectively in the effort.
The point I wish to press here is that excellent
legal research, good law teaching and visible public service (on, as well as
off, campus)—all three—are important to the leadership of a Research I
University, just as they are important to the leaders of the legal profession.
Our missions, therefore, as we define them, should be as important to the
legal profession and to the Research I campus as they are to us.
And, if the law school is to do all these things well, we need to value
them by crediting our faculty accordingly.