Summer Research Grants

March 20th, 2013 / By

A survey of law faculty salaries, conducted by the Society of American Law Teachers, suggests that the overwhelming majority of law schools offer summer stipends to at least some faculty. The reported stipends range from a low of $5,000 to a high of $25,000. Notably, those reports do not include any of the schools with the most highly compensated faculty; you won’t find the summer salaries for schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, NYU, the University of Chicago, or Stanford on this list.

These summer stipends supplement salaries that already rank among the highest in the academy. They are also quite unusual in the academy; other university faculty do not receive summer research grants with the ease or regularity that law faculty do. Professors in other disciplines usually apply for outside grants if they want summer support. More often, they do without: they devote their summers to research even though they technically are unpaid during that time.

Why do law faculty need so much financial encouragement to produce research? Why aren’t we encouraging our faculty to seek outside grants if they want that summer support? Summer research grants are wonderful bonuses, but they shouldn’t be necessary to encourage research. People join the academy to research and teach, so that’s what we should do.

A first step in reducing the cost of legal education would be to eliminate summer research grants for full professors. We could continue to award grants to junior faculty, who are seeking tenure and may bear their own student debts. For full professors, summer research grants seem like a luxury we can give up to help both our students and our institutions.

  • Jack Graves

    Deborah, I agree with your general observations that we should write without any “extra” pay incentives. I further agree that law faculties are generally very well paid (and, in most cases, likely overpaid from the perspective of value delivered to students in exchange for tuition). However, I am not certain that cutting research grants is the best way to address the issue.

    Setting aside junior faculty, which you rightly do, there remains at many schools a large pay disparity between the most senior faculty and those more recently tenured. To the extent that many of the most senior faculty members may be less “productive,” summer writing grants may provide at least some means of addressing that disparity. Thus, eliminating summer writing grants may have the perverse effect of increasing any disconnect between compensation levels and institutional contributions. I am not suggesting that this will be the result in all cases or at all institutions, but I would merely suggest that uniquely targeting writing grants may have unintended and undesirable consequences in some cases.

    Bottom line, I think law schools need to deal more directly with excessive faculty salaries. The current financial challenges arise from these high salaries, and the solutions will be found when we admit that and deal with them.

  • Michael Cicchini

    When I started the search for a professor job a few years ago, I had an interview in which they told me (out of the blue) the starting salary and the amount of the research grant. I started to panic. What type of research were they expecting me to do with this grant money? I had already published about eight law review articles by that time, and was thinking that a grant was for something special, e.g., some type of complicated empirical study that required surveys or advanced mathematics. When I found out that this research grant was simply an extra payment for publishing law review articles — something I was already doing on the weekends and something I would be paid handsomely to do had I landed the job — my jaw just about dropped. I realize I’m different than most, but I actually felt sick that I would be making such an enormous paycheck plus a bonus for doing what I’m already doing: publishing. In short, cutting the research grants is obviously the first thing to fix law school mess. The pay is already enormous compared with nearly every job that a practicing lawyers could hope to have. And, on top of that, as I’ve argued here, giving incentives to do what profs are already paid to do is shameful:

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