Sunday, August 12, 2012
I'm not going to talk about the details of the [resignation of St. Louis Dean Annette Clark and Sixth Circuit's affirmance of the dismissal of St. Louis visiting professor Lynn Branham from her tenured position at Thomas Cooley] ... (I have strong feelings, but this is not the place to discuss those), but I do want to have a conversation (or contribute to an ongoing one) about how it all fits into bigger changes and what they might mean.
One of the most compelling pieces of this for every law professor, student, or person thinking about going to law school is the way these events are seen as having some relationship to the problems law schools and universities face right now: the high cost of higher ed. and especially law school, declining enrollments, declining financial support from sources outside of tuition, and the "worth" of earning a law degree. Above the Law (I'm sorry, I can't link to it because the comments give me Auto-Admit flashbacks) saw the resignation as resistance to university efforts to use the law school as a cash cow, and much of the debate in the comments there (shudder) and at least some to Paul Caron's initial post have focused on whether, to the extent the fight is over money, the money is for the benefit of students or faculty.
Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, the message on one side is that if the money was to be spent on research stipends for faculty, that expenditure is not legitimate and should not be made by the law school (or the university) in the first place. Sometimes that's expressed as skepticism that any research actually is done, hostility that it should be separate from and in addition to the "regular" salary a professor earns, or hostility to the value of research period. In the events at SLU it has at least partially been suggested that those who engage in scholarship or encourage students to do so are not teaching students what the students need to learn. On the other side, there seems an unspoken assumption that research is not only a legitimate part of what a law school should do, but that it's imperative to engage in a lot of it. These themes resonate with the larger scamlaw narrative so popular at the moment -- and no links here either because I don't want to promote that narrative -- which has us "stealing" from students for our own selfish desires, or the more measured critiques by people who call our attention to the problems with the current "business model" of the law school.
Absent from all of this debate, at least what I have seen of it, is much real progress with the pressing issues that we individually and institutionally are all struggling with. In particular, what it is a law school should be doing for students, what they need to know or have mastered by the time they leave, who else is served who wouldn't be if we didn't exist, and how to structure it all to serve those constituencies. And of course I'm thinking of many of these things in employment terms (like job security and status) as well, considering that it's the kind of workplace I am in and because that's just how I see lots of things (hence the whole Workplace blogging). Increasingly, I'm frustrated by what looks like the same old dualistic tropes -- teaching v. research, skills v. doctrine, doctrine v. theory, academic v. professional school, liberal arts v. technical education, tenured v. contract, at-will v. job security -- without digging into these labels or categories in the first place. And the rhetoric that puts what we do in business terms -- business model, deliverables, outcomes, opportunity costs, returns on investment -- troubles me too because it seems to already presume that some things may not have value unless they are easily commodified.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- St. Louis Law School Dean Resigns Abruptly, Blasts University Administration (Aug. 8, 2012)
- St. Louis President Says He Was Going to Fire Dean, Names PI Lawyer Interim Dean (Aug. 9, 2012)
- More on the St. Louis Fiasco (Aug. 10, 2012)
- 6th Circuit Affirms Termination of Tenured Thomas Cooley Law Prof (Aug. 7, 2012)
Update: Anders Walker (St. Louis), Enter the Practitioner Dean:
Assuming that the practitioner model is in fact workable (or else Duke, NYLS, and Brooklyn wouldn't have done it), how were the transitions handled? Presumably, the Associate Dean/s play a critical part. Personally, my sense is that Associate Deans for Research must work quickly to impart the significance of scholarship and the intricacies of US News. Perhaps most important is to demonstrate how the two interrelate, and what rankings can mean for applications, enrollment, and students' job prospects after graduation. For example, students in my classes at SLU regularly cite the ranking of a law school as a critical factor both for deciding on which school to attend and also for their career prospects. Meanwhile, even scholarship that is/appears theoretical can play a significant role in that ranking. Put simply, scholarship remains one of the best ways of improving an institution's academic peer review score over time, a number that makes up 25% of the US News ranking overall, a factor greater than all others.