Resolution on Clinical Tenure

Cornell Law School (CLS) Proposal for Clinical Professor with Tenure (12/6)
1-page Synopsis of the Law Proposal (2/5)
CLS Elaboration (2/24)
Law School Presentation PPT) (4/15)
AFPSF Report (4/17)
CLS Response to AFPSF Report (4/21)
Cornell AAUP Chapter Endorsement (5/12)
CLS Closing Presentation to the Senate (5/13)
Pre-Vote Summary (5/16)

The Resolution

Whereas the University Bylaws stipulates in Section XVII2.d that Clinical Professor appointments not exceed five years in duration;

Whereas for reasons cited in this proposal from the Cornell Law School (CLS);

Be it resolved that that the Faculty Senate supports the modification of Section XVII.2.i of the University bylaws from this

The foregoing provisions with respect to maximum periods of service shall not apply to the Medical College, the Department of Military Science and Tactics, the Department of Naval Science or the Department of Air Service.

to this

The foregoing provisions with respect to maximum periods of service shall not apply to the Medical College, Clinical Professors in the Cornell Law School, the Department of Military Science and Tactics, the Department of Naval Science or the Department of Air Service.



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10 thoughts on “Resolution on Clinical Tenure

  1. The proposal being set forth by our law school colleagues is a critical step forward in equity for a group of faculty who are disproportionately women engaging in teaching and research with marginalized populations.

    I have not heard any arguments from the law school that argue that these are inferior researchers producing sub-standard legal scholarship. The venues may be different, but this is also the case for engaged research in other disciplines (where patents are created, exhibits are curated, and award winning popular novels are written). Indeed, why is doctrinal the only approach worthy of tenure?

    As a social scientist who writes primarily in peer reviewed venues, I have drawn on the research and writing of my clinical colleagues in the law school, who also are publishing in law reviews (as well as a wide range of other outlets) and regularly engage with them in scholarly exchange.
    But I would leave this assessment of research excellence to their colleagues, as we do with any other discipline outside our own.

    The fact that this proposal doesn’t address inequities in other colleges/units is an unreasonable standard. Forward movement here should not preclude university-wide reforms in the future. If this opens the door to improving job security and academic freedom for what is now a two tier system that is out of step with many other institutions, there seems no reason by we can’t envision similar solutions in other units.

    Does this increase the financial burden for the university – yes probably so. And the stress of the current moment (with online teaching etc) is all the more reason to act expeditiously.
    However, to argue for continuing an unequal system because it produces cost savings (on the backs of more precarious academic workers) is out of step with our values as an institution.
    If this opens the door for narrowing the gap between TT and RTE — this should be something we applaud. We reify contingent academic labor at our own peril. We should be working to expand, not restrict, tenure.

  2. It is easy to agree that unitary tenure is preferred above other alternatives. It is also easy to favor equitability and consistency across the University. But those are false options because no one has proposed or even gestured towards a feasible path for making them happen. Given that context, those arguments strike me as red herrings and quite circular (“we must change everything before we can change anything, and we don’t really have a plan for changing everything, so we can’t change anything”). While the notion of a “consistent rationale across the University” sounds great in theory, it is not what we have at Cornell in practice and thus seems an unfair standard to hold the Law School to at this moment. Does this proposal represent the best possible outcome one might imagine: no. Does this proposal represent a step forward, that respects the autonomy of our law school colleagues, aligns with common practices at similarly ranked professional schools (the most appropriate comparison) and improves the situation of clinical law faculty: yes.

  3. The arguments put forth by the Law School for clinical tenure can be applied just as well to many senior RTE faculty in other colleges, but we are not considering tenure for those positions.

    Whether a position comes with the possibility of tenure must have a consistent rationale across the university. That will be challenging given the variation in the labor market for faculty in such positions among the various disciplines.

    Moving ahead with this proposal without addressing the university-wide problem will create substantial inequity across the university.

  4. Two arguments for clinical tenure. : (a) it is very much in keeping with the way in which the law itself as well as the professionals who practice and study the law evolve; and (b) it allows for greater engagement with the external world as well as with the other departments within the university.

    The law is an extremely conservative institution. It changes very slowly and reluctantly. By the time the law has gone from A to Z, the population has frequently already changed so much that the legal change seems like (and truly is) an afterthought. Other areas of study often undergo rapid change. If an experiment demonstrates that conventional thinking about an area is all wrong, people in the field hurry to accommodate the discovery. In the law, courts and therefore advocates step far more gingerly. In terms of engagement, being able to recruit the most talented clinical faculty (because we offer at least what our peers offer in terms of job security) means giving our students and the undergraduates who frequently take our clinical courses have access to people who have been at the center of important legal battles. The fact that FACTA will be part of the process of clinical tenure should reassure anyone who worries that clinical tenure would fall outside of the standards of excellence that the university and all of its departments embrace. The excellence of our clinical faculty would speak for itself to FACTA and would not require anything beyond what FACTA normally needs to make its decisions.

  5. I am unpersuaded by the arguments put forth by the Law school of the need for ‘Clinical tenure’ for the following reasons: (i) The #1 and #2 clinical law programs in the nation have a unitary tenure system; (ii) The arguments about the introduction of clinical tenure ‘fixing’ the law schools gender balance problem is unpersuasive. A more interesting question is why are there so many male tenure members in the doctrinal tenure class (80%) and why are so many clinical professors (RTE currently) women (80%)? An ‘easy fix’ will not solve the underlying problems that have not been addressed; (iii) Other colleges and departments are able to have individuals who work in clinical practice and yet get tenure by the usual route. For example the School of Architecture. Why have the doctrinal tenure faculty in the Law school not been more flexible in rethinking their tenure guidelines?

    1. The #1 clinical program in the nation is at a peer school–Georgetown. That is the ONLY peer school with unitary tenure. None of the others have it. The #2 clinical program is at American, which is not a peer school. It is ranked #76, far below CLS at #13. The academic culture at such schools is very different from the culture here. For example, many of those schools have long offered unitary tenure to all or most of their RTE faculty, far beyond clinical professors.

      Also, comparisons of Cornell Law to other Cornell colleges and departments are less apt than comparisons to peer law schools, which share a common culture and practice. These peer law schools will not enact significant change to their tenure systems, like physics or Architecture did. If faculty want that change, they will have to get there incrementally. And the best chance to move the ball forward is via clinical tenure.

  6. Thanks for raising this. The Law School promotes to full professor at tenure, so we never have a large number of Associate Professors. Over the past two years, we have hired 5 new doctrinal TT faculty (2 full Professors and three Assistant Professors) and one new permanent RTE faculty. Current hiring plans call for 10 new TT faculty over the next 3-4 years and no new permanent RTE faculty.

    Beth Lyon (Law)

  7. Looking at the response of the Law School to AFPSF concerns, Appendix 2 shows a marked imbalance in doctrinal faculty in the Law School. I am struck by that the Law School only has 2 doctrinal tenure track associate professors and 37 full professors. Why are CLS not hiring faculty into doctrinal lines, appearing to prefer to put their available funds to RTE lines. With more senior faculty potentially retiring, there is going to be dearth of more early career faculty in doctrinal lines in CLS in the future, unless there are plans to hire more faculty in the doctrinal track (once pandemic hiring freezes are lifted).

  8. I do believe in the importance of self-governance, however the proposal of the Law School to award clinical tenure impacts the entire University and other related RTE titles such as Professor in Practice. This proposal cannot be viewed in isolation but merits a “bigger picture” conversation of what it means for doctrinal (unitary) tenure, what is required to be tenured at this institution and what does tenure actually mean anymore.

    Example questions
    What constitutes tenurable activity in a clinical versus doctrinal tract? Is it just how we perceive scholarship and should we be altering our perception of what activity is tenurable versus changing the expectations? Why is clinical activity not tenurable under the current doctrinal system? It certainly is at my College currently.
    Is clinical tenure “tenure light” with lower or no expectations for scholarship or external assessment?
    How would doctrinal tenure differ from clinical tenure, e.g. governance, start-up, FACTA evaluation etc? To my understanding, clinical tenured professors would still be considered RTE faculty (for now) unless there is a change in the by-laws.
    What difference would it make to doctrinal tenure if we change the by-laws to have RTE faculty become University faculty?
    Does this create even more of a layered system of hierarchy and potential inequity in faculty appointments than currently exists?
    Does it stop here or is next Teaching with tenure and Extension with tenure?

  9. I think the discussion about these big senate issues, including the pause tenure policy, is markedly curtailed by the inability of people to have “hallway” conversations or face to face meetings. We are pretty much limited to talking to spouses and regular colleagues and often the latter is restricted to other work issues. Opportunities to hear more input from others we used to interact with on a daily or more intermittent basis are no longer possible. This is going to substantially impact input on these proposals. With the increasing demands on our time to switch to on-line teaching and all the stresses that are coming up with the downturn in economy and losses Cornell is suffering. (and concerns of potential upcoming job losses and salary reductions). I believe that these items should not be rushed through the senate right now.

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