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Law Professors Give ABA An Earful On Tenure’s Future

There are some topics you just can’t discuss in faculty lounges. Certainly, politics and religion are as sensitive as office space and outside income. Now, you can add a new taboo to the list: Tenure
That’s the conclusion from last weekend’s free-for-all at the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting. Initially slated to discuss the ABA’s proposed law school reforms, the meeting quickly spiraled into a debate pitting faculty against administrators over the competing needs for free speech and flexibility.
The proposal, which suggested the elimination of the current tenure system, drew faculty ire during the ABA’s panel discussion. Set against a back drop of decreasing enrollments, support staff cuts, higher teaching loads, and increased use of adjuncts, tempers flared over the dangers of removing tenure.
The measure’s opponents argued that academic freedom was vital to law professors. For example, Isabel Medina, a professor at Loyola University of New Orleans School of Law, shared that her tenure probably saved her job for supporting same-sex marriage a decade ago. Other members, as reported by the National Law Review, noted that their “scholarship and advocacy can make them targets of criticism, and they need tenure protection to take unpopular positions and participate fully in law school governance.”
However, the ABA’s proposal may not represent an elimination of tenure, just a different approach or interpretation of it. Jeffrey Lewis, Dean of the St. Louis University School of Law and Chair of the ABA Standards Review Committee, emphasizes that the proposal is not all-or-nothing proposition. He contends that the ABA could enact a “security of position” guideline that guards academic freedom while offering wiggle room to schools so they can modify staffing levels. Dean Lewis also presented a second option where job protections would be integrated to attract and retain the best faculty.
The ABA is still seeking comments on its proposed rule changes, with final decisions coming later in the year.
Source: National Law Review