Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Tenured Life, Part 5: Complacency and Blaming the Students

One thing the tenure life breeds is complacency. There is one test that determines most of the decisions that may people make: what does this mean for me?

In two articles by Robert Lloyd, both of which are now over ten years old, he captures the idea of going with the flow. The title of one article "Hard Law Firms and Soft Law Schools," 83 N.C.L.Rev. 667 tells the story. Law schools are soft, teachers are not rigorous, they teach "soft courses." In a wonderful passage found in the other article he writes in reference to higher and higher grading curves, "When it reaches A+ there will be nothing left to give, and faculty will have to find new ways to ingratiate themselves. " 45 J. Leg. Ed. 551. Actually legal education, although not arriving at the A+ curve, has found out a way to give something new. When grades can't go any higher, the only thing to do is to expect less in class. When you have life-time employment no matter what you do, teaching (I mean actually teaching) less becomes easy.

And teaching less seems to be generally accepted. One colleague in a committee meeting noted that students 1) do not read and follow directions, 2) do not carefully read fact patterns 3) merely state the law without applying it to the facts (this is a big one, they seem to not understand what legal analysis is or why the facts are important) 4) fail to spot large issues. Not a single person in the meeting disagreed. And yet, many of these things are what law teachers are supposed to be teaching. No one suggested the problem actually begins with what takes place in the classroom.

The topic of teaching rigor is evidently off limits. As far as I know, nothing came of Robert Lloyd's warnings 12 years ago. In my own school, and I am willing to bet 90% of other law schools, conversations about rigor have not taken place and I doubt can take place. Call it a lack of leadership, complacency, or whatever but students will only learn what they are taught.

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