Friday, November 02, 2007

The Fall Election: News for Law Students and Alums


Each fall an election is held. It’s an unusual election in that it involves actual votes and then marketplace “votes.” In both cases, the voters are law professors and the election is held to determine which people will become law professors.

In the vast majority of instances the voters vote against their own students. Instead, their votes are cast for students and alums of a small handful of exclusive and expensive schools. That’s right, collectively they decide that their own students or students trained by their counterparts at similarly ranked law schools are not qualified to be law professors.

So, what is the rationale for slapping the “unqualified” label on these people? One possibility is that these students are poorly trained. Is it really possible that law professors are humble enough to concede that they cannot cut it and are unable to teach effectively enough to prepare people to teach? I’m going to take a wild guess that that is not the explanation.

OK, so maybe the students are just too dumb, ignorant, or lazy that even incredibly good teaching cannot overcome their shortcomings. If it’s not the teaching, it must be the students. Right? So, law professors must be so turned off by their own students that they conclude they are all right to handle the affairs of others – you know, unimportant things like death penalty cases, planning huge estates, arguing the merits child custody battles – but not possibly up to teaching. Think of this message: You are beyond help. Whatever I do “for you” you cannot be as qualified as I am (unless you go through the LLM “cleansing for dollars” process). They must be teaching difference students than I see every year. In fact, right now I have 180 contracts students and I am convinced that some of them in five years could be doing a better job than I am.

So, if it is not the professors and not the students, what is it? And, how did elitist professors come to know whatever they rely on when casting their votes without actually talking to a single applicant in Washington. Arrogant may be the right word here if that means not realizing that you don’t know what you are doing but doing it anyway.

Another thing that puzzles me is why the 90% of students and former students who are not buying or did not buy a brand name legal education are so accepting of being sent the message that they cannot cut it. Is it some kind of Stockholm syndrome whereby students admire those who dismiss them? A power thing? Do they believe the press of their professors? Do they believe what their professors are telling them about themselves? If so that is unfortunate because it is flatly wrong. Hopefully the professors are truthful with the students about other matters.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I sympathize with this post, I thought I ought to mention that none of the two candidates who have come to UF so far, at least in the student meetings, have mentioned the proper name for their law school at all. In fact, both seemed to go out of their way to say "where I went to school" or "at my law school" or something along those lines. We liked that, but I don't think we should hold it against them.

Jeff Harrison said...

Thanks for your comment. It's great that the students do not go for appeals to institutional authority. That puts you ahead of the faculty for whom it remains critical. Actually, though I am not surprised. UF students are excellent quick to understand what's important.

I would not read too much into the decision not to name drop in the interview. The candidates have already used appeals to institutional authority to be interviewed in DC and to be called back. All of their references -- some of whom are not reliable (see my post, "Fish," on moneylaw) are ultimately appeals to authority. Finally, I am pretty sure they believed that you already knew the schools so why rub it in?