July 21, 2005
Acting Professor
Posted by Victor Fleischer

At UCLA junior faculty carries the title "Acting Professor of Law" rather than Associate or Assistant Professor (the traditional titles that signal tenure-track positions).  Usually when friends notice the title they needle me a bit, asking, "So, you're not a professor but you play one on TV?" or "Acting Professor ... is that an LA thing?" or "So you have the same title as James Lipton?"  (I did take some acting classes when I was living in New York, but that is a story for another day.)

The reason for the title, as I understand it, is that the State of California sets limits on the salaries that Associate and Assistant Professors can make.  But law profs make more than, say, history profs.  So to get around this, UCLA puts us on the Professor of Law salary scale, but us untenured folks have to tack on the title "Acting" in indicate the conditional nature of the appointment.  Or something like that.  So the juniors at UCLA, Boalt, Hastings, Davis are all saddled with this odd title. 

Sometimes, tho, I wonder if the title is more than just an amusing annoyance.  Last weekend someone who had recently served as an articles editor on a top-20 journal asked me, "What's up with the Acting Professor title?  Does that mean tenure-track or not?"  I wonder if law review editors out there know that Acting Professor is tenure-track, or do they confuse it with Acting Assistant Professor, which is typically NOT a tenure-track position?  Do they care if authors are tenure-track or not?  How does it affect the editors' review process? 

My suspicion, of course, is that law review editors care a great deal about the status of the author; not just what school they are from, but also whether they are tenure-track or adjunct.  We ask student editors to pass judgment on articles when they may know little about the subject matter or the background literature.  It would be surprising if the editors didn't rely on status and publication history to reassure themselves that their judgment about an article is sound.  I also suspect that most articles editors figure out the "Acting Professor" thing pretty quickly after they begin, and so my articles probably aren't tossed in the student/practitioner/adjunct pile very often. 

Of course, in a better world, law reviews would be blind reviewing anyway. 

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