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Monday, March 28, 2011

Jonathan Koehler on David Van Zandt's Deanship at Northwestern

Northwestern Logo Following up on last week's post, Ron Allen on David Van Zandt's Deanship at NorthwesternJonathan Koehler, Beatrice Kuhn Professor of Law at Northwestern, offers his his perspective on the Van Zandt years:

I think it's important to correct a few potential misimpressions and to offer a different perspective on Northwestern Law. I am a new faculty member at Northwestern (visitor in 2009-10, hired in 2010), though I was a professor elsewhere (Texas and ASU) for 20 years.

I begin by pointing out the obvious: Ron Allen's views are his own. There may be others who have similar views, but they certainly don't represent those of many of the fabulous people on the Northwestern Law faculty that I have come to know over the past year or so. I have heard that Brian Leiter is no fan of Van Zandt's and that should be considered as well.

Ron writes: "However, over the years the shift in emphasis became a radicalized vision, and here is where it became harmful. In the last five years, essentially the only hiring that could be done was of quantitative Ph.D.s for whom a JD was irrelevant."

As I said, I'm new so I can't speak with any authority about the former Dean's vision, tactics, and implicit hiring restrictions. But I can speak to a few factual matters.

First, I think that there are only three non-JDs on the current research faculty roster at Northwestern who were hired over the last decade: Lee Epstein (2005, political science), Ken Ayotte (2007, economics), and me (2010, psychology).  David Haddock does not have a JD, but he was hired in 1989, long before Van Zandt became Dean.  Given that there are about 50 research faculty at Northwestern Law School, this proportion of non-JD faculty (4 out of 50) is miniscule.

Second, Ron uses the phrase “quantitative Ph.D.s” rather than a more accurate phrase like “social science PhDs” or, more accurate still, “PhD” to describe the non-legal educational background of recent hires.  I doubt that Kristen Stilt (hired in 2007, PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies), or Nancy Staudt (PhD in 2010 in public policy) would like to be pigeonholed as quantitative PhDs.  Of course, if the phrase simply means “PhD training included some quantitative classes,” then I am not sure that hiring people with that background qualifies as a “radicalized vision.”

Perhaps Ron disagrees with the emphasis that Van Zandt placed on hiring faculty who conduct empirical research on a regular basis.  The record clearly shows that there was such an emphasis.  So where are we at on this score right now?  By my count, about 30% of current research faculty at Northwestern Law fall into this category.  That’s it.  Perhaps Ron thinks the percentage should be lower.      

Third, Ron says that the hiring of those “quantitative Ph.D.s for whom a JD was irrelevant … took the law school further and further out of the mainstream of legal scholarship and also compromised the teaching function.” 

But the fact is that all of us publish in top law reviews as well as high quality peer-reviewed publications -- just as Ron does.  I am not sure what metric he has in mind to suggest that the PhDs at Northwestern are out of the mainstream of legal scholarship, but I don’t think he can make this case persuasively.

And, like Ron, we do indeed teach!  Even those of us who don’t have JDs.  Lee Epstein teaches constitutional law, Ken Ayotte teaches bankruptcy, and I'm teaching evidence. Lee and Ken are two of the most highly rated teachers in the school.  This is no surprise.  Many of the best law schools have made a point of searching for and hiring the best political scientists and economists who study legal issues.  And although it is not the norm for law schools to hire people like me (i.e., non-JD psychologists), there are others: Valerie Hans at Cornell, John Monahan at Virginia, and Neil Vidmar at Duke come to mind immediately. Northwestern now has one as well.

So, to the extent the data tell us something, it doesn't appear that Van Zandt hired a lot of non-JDs who didn't teach significant law classes or didn't teach well. What he did do was focus his hiring largely on people who had PhDs (in addition to JDs) who were actively engaged in empirical legal research.  That seems to have been a big part of Van Zandt's vision. I think Northwestern Law has more PhDs among its research faculty than any other law faculty (though many schools are close).  My guess is that Van Zandt thought that having faculty with PhD training and empirical research interests was good for students, good for the research culture, and good for the future of law.  Reasonable people could disagree, of course.  But my observation is that many of the best law schools in the country love to recruit JD/PhD faculty – particularly those who conduct empirical research – and that Van Zandt was at the forefront of this movement.

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It's reassuring to know that Van Zandt's hires all "publish in top law reviews." They even teach! Unfortunately this does not refute a single one of the points in Prof. Allen's interview.

Posted by: Michael A. Livingston | Mar 28, 2011 9:33:38 AM

I find it strange that someone without a JD is even teaching a "bar exam" law class (evidence and con law). I understand anyone can grasp the subject matter, but it just seems odd.

Posted by: online | Mar 28, 2011 10:01:05 AM

How do the grads do on the bar exam?

Posted by: jmike | Mar 28, 2011 10:21:30 AM

Ditto what Livingston said. Nothing in this response refutes, or even really addresses, Allen's points. E.g., Allen did not say that NWU doesn't hire people with JD, but only that their JD was irrelevant (Koehler nonetheless focuses on the fact that some hires do have JDs, but that doesn't establish that their JD was relevant.)

Also, why is Northwestern charging 50k a year to students to pay for an advanced humanities graduate school? That's the most outrageous thing about NWU (and, to be fair, my home institution). Every week we have some speaker coming in to talk about something only tangentially related to the law, and we have "centers" that do little or nothing to improve the legal system or educate our students. Yet we suck the blood from our students to pay for these endeavors. Shameful.

Posted by: yikes | Mar 28, 2011 3:39:16 PM

A professor without a JD cannot fully grasp the legal subtleties of the questions his/her law students ask. That being said, those who are well published with PhDs as opposed to JDs can still be good and entertaining teachers. But it is a sort of bona fide humanities grad school--an outside perspective on how a practitioner should practice evidence, without ever actually having done so.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 14, 2011 2:52:01 PM