Is it Fair? Law Professors’ Perceptions of Tenure

52 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2010 Last revised: 29 Mar 2012

See all articles by Katherine Y. Barnes

Katherine Y. Barnes

University of Arizona Rogers College of Law

Elizabeth Mertz

University of Wisconsin - Madison; American Bar Foundation

Date Written: December 7, 2010


This paper presents initial data from a major empirical study of U.S. law professors conducted under the auspices of the American Bar Foundation with additional funding from the Law School Admission Council. The study combines a national survey of tenured law professors (Phase 1) and in-depth follow-up interviews with 100 of those professors (Phase 2). Here we report on tenured professors’ views regarding the tenure process itself. Although over 70% of these professors felt that the tenure process was fair, our results suggest that the perceptions of female tenured faculty members and tenured faculty of color differ significantly from those of their white male counterparts. Both female professors and professors of color perceived the tenure process as less fair and more difficult than did male or white professors. Female professors of color had the most negative perceptions; interview material suggests some reasons for this pattern. In general, the interviews conducted during Phase 2 give us insight into the differing perceptions revealed by the quantitative analysis. They point to experiences of implicit bias, as well as institutional structures and cultures, as contributors to differential perceptions. Both qualitative and quantitative data also indicate that cohort-related effects affect how gender and race influence professors’ perceptions of the tenure process. The existence of a differentially minority and female group of professors who are disaffected regarding the tenure process fits with findings in an earlier study regarding satisfaction among law students. It also suggests some possible inputs to reported differential rates of exit from the legal academy.

Keywords: Tenure system, Legal Education

Suggested Citation

Barnes, Katherine Y. and Mertz, Elizabeth Ellen, Is it Fair? Law Professors’ Perceptions of Tenure (December 7, 2010). Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 61, No. 4, May 2012, Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 10-44, American Bar Foundation Research Paper No. 11-02, Available at SSRN:

Katherine Y. Barnes (Contact Author)

University of Arizona Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

Elizabeth Ellen Mertz

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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