Wednesday, November 04, 2015
VAPorized: The Demise of Individuality
For several years now, one way to a permanent law teaching job is to be a visiting assistant professor (VAP) at a law school. It's a temporary position that allows those who aspire to be law professors to write and teach while they are prepped, groomed, advised, shaped, molded, etc. by people who are already law professors. A good idea, right?
I'm not so sure. In fact, what I see is a process close to mass production in which individuality is hammered out of otherwise interesting people. VAPorized candidates are very polished, well groomed, friendly, accomplished, (all in the same way) and can thank everyone from Woody Allen to Jeff Lebowski in their invariably very long acknowledgement footnotes. Their job talks are impressive both in substance in style -- well rehearsed I would say. And their schools -- both the elite schools from which they graduated and their VAP homes -- cannot say enough good things about them. What I want to know is what is inside that dressing, that is, if there is anything left after they are told by law professors how to be law professors. If they were rooms, I would try to find the doors. But what they are taught while being VAPorized is not to show themselves.
Let's face it, the cloning effect in legal education was severe even before Vaps. So what do they bring to legal education? I don't want to paint with too broad a brush here but in some sense "nothing new." (Is there something less than nothing new?)For the most part they have locked into a specialty or sub specialty. They take on the characteristics of a mid career person. They do not seem that interesting because they have already arrived at one-dimensionality and lost interest themselves in anything other than a narrow field. I preferred the old days when new hires were a couple of years out of law school and still, in a sense, learning.
Let's face it, the worse thing about law professors is a cultural sameness -- dress, vocabulary, mannerisms, appeals to authority, appearance of reflectiveness, law schools from which they graduated, socioeconomic class, passive aggression, close to the vest, never admitting mistakes or regrets, life is a life time negotiation, excessive self interest, blah, blah -- I know I am a broken record.
Before a candidate is VAPorized. there is a chance. Slim, I know, but there is a chance to see the real thing and a chance they will bring some element of diversity to a faculty. I would like someone to start a program for Vaps that deVAPorizes them.