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Why are some teachers at law schools called ‘instructors’ and not ‘professors?

Representatives of the Union for Rutgers Law School Faculty presented what some may consider a radical proposition.

They advocated putting full-time teaching jobs on the tenure track, but they were not doctrinal.

Kimberly Mutcherson (the law school’s codean) says that she had never heard of the idea and neither had the majority faculty until it was presented to them at the bargaining tables. In response, she established a faculty panel, which issued a 2020 report that suggested a tenure pathway for both nontenured and tenured clinical faculty.

Mutcherson reports that the faculty supported the suggestion but were opposed by some. Law schools tend to distinguish between instructors and professors. In the past, they have not required them to teach scholarship and serve others. Criticisms of Rutgers included claims that people in non-doctrinal positions are not serious scholars. Their work should instead be focused on scholarship.

Mutcherson states that Mutcherson is a scholar whose work focuses on bioethics, family law and reproductive justice.

She supports the proposal, which was also accepted by university administration.

“Fairness is one our values.” Mutcherson said that a system where an individual is paid less and has the perception of less academic freedom is not fair and just. Mutcherson is also a founding member of the Association of American Law Schools’ Law Deans Antiracist Claringhouse Project.

Rutgers law professors are called professors. But, that’s not true at other institutions. Faculty who teach legal writing or clinical work often get titles such as “instructor” and “director” according to academics who were interviewed by the ABA Journal.

According to a 2019 article written by Renee Nicole Allen (Alicia Jackson and DeShun) men have traditionally occupied faculty seats in law schools while women are employed in skill positions including libraries, legal writing and clinics. The article, entitled “The Pink Ghetto” Pipeline: Opportunities and Challenges for Women in Legal Education”, states women are often able to enter legal education as non-tenured, skills-based teaching jobs. They often have low pay and heavy workloads.

Rachel Lopez, a professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law and also the director of its Andy and Gwen Stern community lawyering clinic, said that there are many other gender and racial differences.

She says, “In law academy so many who dispel inequality and racism in scholarship for some reason are blinded to it at their own institutions.”

Lopez wrote an article, Titleless: The Power of Designation In the Legal Academy. This article is due for publication in Rutgers University Law Review. According to the article law school titles can create disparities for teachers who are not granted the title of professor.

Lopez was also mentioned as an example of academics who have experienced problems when unprompted students call them by their first names. According to her article it isn’t unusual for students call her by their first names, even after she asks them to use the professor title.

She said that students sometimes push back by saying, “I didn’t know you were professor”–despite the context indicating otherwise–or, “[insert first name of white male professor] tells us to call him by my first name.”

Meera Deo, an associate professor at Los Angeles’ Southwestern Law School, said that some law schools offer long term contracts in lieu of tenure to people who work in areas such as legal writing, clinics, or the library. Deo, whose academic focus is on legal education, and racial representation, says that these short-term contracts are available from other schools.

Some law schools may offer tenure to faculty who have different standards. Deo supports the tenure track, which includes all those who are full-time faculty at law schools and who meet the requirements.

“Also,” Deo states, “I support evolving standards to be more inclusive by recognising in a greater way the value of different teaching methods or service.” Deo is also the director of Law School Survey of Student Engagement.

Melissa Hale (president of the Association of Academic Support Educators) suggests that there is another option to the tenure track: dean positions. Loyola University Chicago School of Law is her office. She is also the director of academic achievement and bar programs.

Hale said, “What I do at Loyola, is very administrative.” She added that her work involves meeting with students and keeping track of data. It also includes planning workshops and serving as a member on faculty committees. In summer, she is primarily focused on the July bar examination and new student orientations. This leaves little time for academic research.

Hale said, “I like scholarship, and I also write scholarship.” He has authored a 1,300-page book entitled The Ultimate guide to the Uniform Bar Exam. “But I don’t think I have as much time as tenure-track faculty members to write.”

Hale said that AASE supports the inclusion of academic support workers on the tenure track. This is because it supports fair wages and job security and demonstrates that a school takes bar passage seriously. She says that AASE members are involved in significant amounts of research and writing about topics related to students’ learning.

Hale says, “Just like those who write scholarship on tax law and secure transactions, there is a wealth in scholarship on how students learn.” It’s easy to think that these studies and research are not serious scholarship. However, they have a direct impact on students’ lives every day.