Sussing Out a School’s Scholarly Culture

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In an article otherwise about the perils of discussing family matters and responsibilities at work, I stumbled upon this description of a job-seeker’s experience:

A friend who is a high-powered scholar told me about his job interview at an allegedly turbocharged department at a top research university that was heavily wooing him. As he put it, “One guy boasted about how he was neglecting a book project because he was occupied in fixing up his lake cabin’s deck.” Indeed, the two days of interviews revealed to him a corporate culture fixated on families, hobbies, and leisure. The department offered him a job, but he turned it down knowing that part of the meaning of “research support” is finding a research culture that matches your own character.  

I have lamented before (here and here) the “canned” nature of questions from entry-level faculty candidates in the law teaching market (“What kind of support does the school provide for junior scholars?”).   The Chronicle article quoted above made me think about the more subtle ways of sussing out a school’s scholarly culture.  

Asking a prospective colleague about what he or she is working on right now might be a good way to get an impression of a school’s scholarly vibe.   If a candidate asks several faculty members that question and  hears too many responses along the lines of, “Well, I’m between projects right now,” that’s a pretty good indication that the faculty might not be all that engaged in scholarship.     On the bright side, a pattern of answers like this also signals that faculty members know that they’re supposed to be publishing, but feel a bit sheepish that they’re not, and at least have the common sense to refrain from saying, “I haven’t written a law review article in years.”

-Bridget Crawford

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