The Fellowship of the (Hi)Ring
posted by Rick Swedloff
Thanks to Dave and the rest of the perma-bloggers for the invitation to blog here. I have been told that I am the first non-tenure-track guest on this site. I am one of those aspiring academics in limbo: not yet on the tenure-track. In short, I, like so many other aspiring academics these days, have a graduate fellowship.
There has been a proliferation of fellowships and VAP positions; and it seems clear that more and more entry-level candidates are seeking some sort of pre-market academic employment. Perusing the list of last years’ entry level hires, many of the successful candidates had either completed a fellowship, a visitorship, or some other form of academic study beyond law school.
Cynically, one could suggest that graduate fellowships are a means for law schools to extend the tenure track on the backs of low-cost labor. Let’s examine this position a little closer.
First, entry-level candidates are now not judged on potential, but on a proven record of publication. Thus, candidates are expected to have spent time before entering the academy writing and publishing. To the extent that writing articles takes time, schools have lengthened the tenure track. And graduate fellowships are one place that aspiring profs can park themselves as they write their way into the academy. And, although you can’t blame the longer tenure-track on the fellowships, they are indicative of the longer lead time to tenure.
Further, while by no means poverty-inducing, taking a graduate fellowship is not a lucrative proposition. (Then again, neither is academia in general.) Georgetown pays $70,000 for an eighteen month period. Harvard offers $60,000 per year for the Clemenko. Yale offers $42,250 for the Ruebhausen and Ribicoff. Stanford offers $50,000 for a first year fellow and $55,000 for returning fellows. Temple offers $36,000. These stipends are certainly less than the average tenure track professor. [Feel free to leave more details about the stipends in the comments section. Applicants may be interested.]
Okay, so perhaps these fellowships do provide cheap labor and an extended period of work before a tenure decision. But how do schools reap the benefits of the extended tenure track? First, those schools that offer graduate fellowships benefit from additional pre-tenure labor, cheaper labor. Second, to the extent that anyone counts the number of publications from a school within a year, schools that offer fellowships, may get additional credit for articles produced by fellows. Lastly, all schools benefit from the greater sorting potential based on more applicant writing samples. So perhaps the cynic is correct.
But these fellowships can mean a great deal more than just a place to write for individuals who come to the academy several years after law school or for folks from outside the traditional academic mold. For instance, beyond writing an article or two, one could spend time during a fellowship finding a voice and reading the current literature to find where he or she fits in. Further, one could think seriously about what motivates him or her as a scholar. That is, one could take the research agenda question seriously. Moreover, one could learn to teach by developing a syllabus, writing lesson plans, and standing up in front of a class. And, one could meet other faculty members and find out how they develop ideas for articles and budget their time between writing, classes, students, and service.