Greetings from Day 3 of the Symposium! My co-bloggers, writing about how the global recession has altered legal education, have brought us insights from outside the United States and from outside the American tenure track. This post is here to add narrowness. I am looking at my own cohort, law teachers working fulltime in U.S. law schools.
At least technically, in the sense of having low enough income. Exceptions noted, law-professor earnings typically deliver less than $506,000, or $344,000, or a regionally adjusted lower figure into a household each year. Spousal pay, inherited wealth, or income from practice doubtless carries some of us into the 1%. I’m not privy to the cohort’s tax returns. But it’s safe to estimate that most of us live down here in 99-ville.
You might think our 99% status is only technical. Surely we don’t look 99%ish. We’re at the high end of the range. We have no right to form a collective bargaining unit. Our fellow 99%ers probably feel little kinship with us as workers.
The main separation between us and other workers? Job security. Anxiety about wage income—becoming unemployed or underemployed, or living one paycheck away from crisis—is a 99% trait that American tenure-track law professors can understand, but don’t really share. Yet our job security is actually central to our 99-percenthood, I think.
Job security is a priority for all workers except the very rich. We tenured and tenure-eligible teachers still enjoy--and might figure out how to share--what the labor movement fought to win.
Living the dream of labor heroes like Samuel Gompers and Mother Jones, law professors lack plutocratic wealth yet work under conditions that honor our desires, deliberations, and identities. Inside our schools we have a vote, opportunities to speak frankly without risking our livelihood, the rule of law (as expressed in faculty handbooks and university regulations), and--I wish I had a better synonym--something like brotherhood: the chance to nurture and grow in a community of peers. Freedoms are written into our job description. Other 99%ers might understandably think that workplace dignity died a long time ago, even before Ronald Reagan gleefully killed a union as one of his first official acts as President. Our daily lives testify to the contrary.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” the Book of Luke declares; “and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Our relative wealth compels us to pay high taxes (as my old friend, the superstar law prof and confessed 1% member Ian Ayres, argued last December); our status as teachers, scholars, and institutional citizens gives us duties at work. Extraordinary job security is a source of more obligations.
We are tasked with governance. To govern means to speak up for academic freedom, ask questions of administrators who make announcements, and protest any abuses or wrong choices that we observe. We ought to insist on a voice in budgets, and pay particular attention to expenditures that advance the education of our students.
And thinking more directly about Legal Education’s Response to the Economic Realities Facing the Profession, I’d underscore “realities.” Because we law professors govern, and because our voice is crucial enough to be protected by enhanced job security, our judgments about realities warrant attention.
Realities in our world include proposals with financial implications. (Is there another kind of proposal?) Faculty members notoriously heap demands on administrators with decisionmaking power. The strained economy gives these managers a reason to say no. No might be the right answer; it could also be wrong.
Like labor unions in the for-profit sector, we ought to be open to voluntary sacrifice in bad times, for the good of our institutions. But we 99%ers ought to respond actively and with energy when we’re told about detriments like frozen salaries, cuts in travel and other supports, or refusals to hire new colleagues. Same for big-ticket new schemes, which may look like goodies but come at the expense of something else.
We’re in a fiduciary relation with our schools, I think. Fiduciaries know that both spending and refusing to spend money can be parlous choices. Let’s grow up and make the judgment calls that are ours. We have “been entrusted with much” responsibility, as well as much privilege and good fortune.