There is a fascinating comment thread on the Faculty Lounge entitled “Are We Sustaining a VAP Trap?”. I didn’t care much for the topic of the original post – which seemed to talk about the future of the law professor market and the feasibility of visiting assistant professor (VAP) programs. VAPs are basically nontenure track, part-time professors being paid less than a tenure track first year assistant professor. They are different than adjunct professors who normally have full time jobs, do not generally expect to teach full time in the future, and teach one or two classes per semester on their field of expertise – and paid a LOT less for it. Supposedly, VAPs are useful for those wanting to gain teaching experience with their eyes set on an eventual tenure track position.
The comment thread was pretty scary. Several anonymous VAP hopefuls – some with very good credentials – came out of the classroom closet and wrote about their attempts and failures to obtain a VAP position. Apparently, some low-ranked McLaw factories hire VAPs with no plans to convert them into tenure track positions. As VAPs are glorified contract employees, I don’t see why that is a problem (see Orin Kerr’s comment). But the commenter implies that an unspoken agreement exists where being hired as a VAP will lead to a tenure track position so long as you don’t fuck up. The AnonVAPs bring up the concerns that job-seeking young attorneys have to deal with every fucking day: being looked at as failures or flight risks or having to hear a bunch of ambiguous excuses from recruiters.
I’m torn here. On one hand, I am unsympathetic toward the VAP-wannabes’s plight because with their presumably exceptional credentials, they will have a SLIGHTLY easier time shifting to a midlaw firm, an in-house job, or a nonlegal job. Some of them were judicial clerks and their boss is likely to vouch for them. If these AnonVAPs posted their stories on some loserlawlawschoolgrad message board, they would probably get eaten alive by the regulars. Also, they should have seen the writing on the wall – fewer people have been applying to law school recently and this obviously means that law schools will not be hiring anyone anytime soon.
On the other hand, I think it would be great to see these AnonVAPs become future law school professors and faculty members. Since they have also struggled the way most young law school grads have, they will take more decisive action towards law school reform and do more than give empty platitudes to disgruntled students. Perhaps for this reason, older faculty may be hesitant to hire young faculty who is likely to rock the vote, or worse, turn into another Paul Campos. Of course, they might sell out once they get their tenure card.
It is disconcerting to see a VAP struggling to get a tenure track position. It reminds me of a porn star trying (and in most cases failing) to become legit by working bit parts in mainstream movies.
I would like to see how this thread develops. For those who visit that site, don’t be dicks.