April 05, 2006
Poaching Tulane?
Posted by Gordon Smith

TulaneLast fall, many law schools -- including the University of Wisconsin -- hosted displaced Tulane Law Students, and as far as I know, all of the host law schools agreed not to allow those students to remain enrolled, subject to limited exceptions. I had three excellent Tulane students in my first-year Contracts class, and I would have been happy to retain them here. Nevertheless, the decision to refuse them permanent admission was widely viewed as the right thing to do, and it seems to have worked for Tulane (84% of the law students returned).

Law schools did not adopt anti-recruitment policies in connection with Tulane's law faculty [see UPDATE below], and Dave Hoffman has posted a list of eleven law professors from Tulane Law School who will be visiting (six) or moving (five) next year. Are law schools poaching Tulane's faculty?

In the latest US News rankings, Tulane ranks 43rd. Of the five Tulane faculty who are moving to other law schools, all of them are moving to lower-ranked schools. Three of the movers are untenured faculty. Only one of the Tulane faculty is visiting at a higher-ranked school. No school has recruited more than one Tulane faculty member.

Undoubtedly, each of these visits/moves has a story of its own, and those stories involve not only the actions of the recruiting schools, but also the preferences of the Tulane faculty. New Orleans is a much different city than it was before the floods, and one of the commenters at Concurring Opinions suggested that Tulane had adopted policies that would alienate many faculty ("cancelling leaves and sabbaticals; requiring faculty to teach extra classes"). Under such circumstances, it would be surprising if other opportunities didn't appear more attractive to many Tulane faculty.

On the other hand, what about the schools that are recruiting those faculty? Is this the right thing to do? Did the recruiting schools approach the Tulane professors or vice versa? Would that matter?

Beyond the mere number of Tulane faculty who are visiting or moving, the most striking fact in all of this is that 10 of the 11 affected faculty are visiting or moving to lower-ranked schools. I will defer to others who follow lateral hires more closely than I (Brian Leiter?), but I think it is fairly unusual for untenured faculty who are not subject to an (imminent) adverse tenure decision to move down the law school hierarchy. Vic is an obvious exception familiar to readers of Conglomerate, and I admire Vic for his decision. It's possible that Tulane has three exceptional cases in one year, but the chances of that seem remote.

Recruiting lateral hires from higher-ranked schools is challenging. The recruiting school typically attempts to exploit regional or economic advantages to compensate for lost prestige. In this instance, the sales pitch from recruiting schools must have been made significantly easier by the changed circumstances at Tulane. Sitting in the comfort of my office in Madison, I would be a little uneasy about taking advantage of those changed circumstances to recruit Tulane's law professors, but if I were a Tulane law professor, I certainly would be hoping that such scruples were not widespread.

UPDATE: I wrote that "[l]aw schools did not adopt anti-recruitment policies in connection with Tulane's law faculty," but I just received an email from a reader informing me that some law schools have adopted such policies at the urging of Tulane. One of the commenters at Concurring Opinions mentions the dean's plea to other law schools.

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