Best Practices in 2020

Sean M. Scott, President and Dean – California Western School of Law

As a dean, I have spent a tremendous amount of time over the past six months contemplating best practices as regards to students and how to manage the challenges wrought by COVID 19.  Should we move to pass/fail grading?  How can we incorporate best practices for online learning and teaching into our classrooms?  What are best practices as to the administration of exams? We have spent less time as a community discussing the impact of the virus on faculty, particularly untenured faculty.  The virus has intensified the existing tension between the demands of career and the demands of family.  For those faculty with school aged children, or elderly relatives, those competing demands are likely to negatively impact the faculty member’s ability to diligently pursue their research and scholarship.  What should the legal academy’s response be to those whose research and writing have been derailed because they are home schooling, or caring for elderly relatives whose isolation and physical vulnerabilities create increased demands on caregivers?  The faculty most likely to be facing this dilemma are women, as women regardless of sexual orientation, remain primarily responsible for childcare and elder care. 

Anecdotally, my conversations with my dean colleagues reveal that they are addressing these issues on a case by case basis.  Some faculty on the tenure track are approaching their deans seeking an extension of the tenure clock.  Other faculty are reluctant to seek such an extension, fearful that the request will be detrimental to their bids for tenure.  COVID has exacerbated this long-simmering tension between work and family demands.  What should a best practice be under these circumstances?  My recommendation is that we take the burden off of individual faculty members to make specific requests from their deans, and move towards a policy of granting a blanket one-year extension of the tenure clock for all pre-tenure faculty.  Faculty could opt out of the extension, rather than having to seek an individual accommodation.   As a best practice, it would reflect a profession wide recognition of the sacrifices that faculty who are caregivers must make, and takes a stand that they should not be penalized for meeting the immediate needs of family, the byproduct of which may be the delayed ability to focus on their research and writing. 

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