Continued, mandatory tenure systems for law professors got a high-profile vote of support recently from two past presidents of the Association of American Law Schools. Robert A. Gorman, professor emeritus of law at the University of Pennsylvania, and Elliot S. Milstein, professor of law at American University, sent a letter to the American Bar Association in favor of its current requirement that law schools offer professors a system of earning tenure as a condition of accreditation. That stipulation has come under fire in recent years, and it is now under review by the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. The reviewing council has asked for comment on several proposed alternatives to that requirement, one of which does away with does away with the tenure requirement entirely. Another requires enough “security of position” for faculty to ensure academic freedom and quality recruitment, but does not require tenure as it is traditionally understood. In their letter, Gorman and Milstein argue that it is a necessary condition of employment, given the unpopular positions law school faculty members must argue. Judges and civil servants enjoy tenure-like conditions, they argue, and those who disapprove of tenure frequently misunderstand it. It’s a not a guaranteed job for life, they say, but a means of attracting and retaining top educators.
In an email, Milstein said: “As both teachers and scholars, law professors often play an important role in a society built on the rule of law, to be critical of injustice and advocate for change. Furthermore, clinical professors and their students represent clients whose positions are sometimes unpopular with the powerful. Internally, law school governance is often a process in which what will be taught, how it will be taught, to whom, and by whom are contentious issues. Decisions about what is valued in a law school have an effect on the nature of the legal profession and concomitantly upon law itself.”
In addition to the authors, 14 other past presidents of the Association of American Law Schools have signed on. Barry Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education at the ABA, said the council had received the letter and added it to a growing list of feedback on the tenure proposals. The council is expected to vote on the matter at either its March or June meetings, he said.