Monday, March 28, 2011
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.