August 7, 2008
Does Law Professor Quality Matter?
Adjuncts, tenure-track, or senior law faculty, who are "better" at teaching which courses?
Despite a rich literature on legal education and on teaching law, and despite the fact that nearly a quarter of all law school courses are taught by adjuncts, there has been very limited inquiry into or discussion about the effect of the adjunct’s role upon the education the student receives or upon legal education in general. Such analysis is essential because these part-time teachers most often have very demanding full-time jobs to which they owe their primary allegiance. If they are lawyers, they have clients whose needs are not neatly scheduled; if they are judges, they have dockets and opinions that have schedules of their own. Not only is most of adjuncts' time filled with something other than teaching, but also it is inevitable that conflicts will regularly occur that will impact their teaching.
Ah, aren't senior and tenure-track law faculty members time also filled with activities other than teaching?
Lander claims "only core courses such as constitutional law and first-year required courses remain largely the sole province of the full-time faculty." Largely but certainly not exclusively. We could also add other essential "bar courses" are routinely being taught by adjunct law professors as full-time law profs flee from classroom responsibilities to engage in largely ignored scholarly writing.
From my personal interaction with law school students, the use of adjunct law profs is a resounding "thumbs up" experience because their lectures, including those in substantive courses, are viewed as being much more relevant to learning how to become a lawyer.
On the Benefits of Junior Law Faculty Teaching: Check out Mississippi College School of Law professor Gregory Bowman's The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty: Implications for Teaching and the Future of American Law Schools, 2008 BYU Educ. & L.J. 171 [Westlaw]. From the introduction:
In the ongoing debate about how to improve law school teaching, there is a general consensus that law schools should do more to train junior faculty members how to teach. While this may be the case, this consensus inadvertently leads to an implicit assumption that is not true--that in all facets of law teaching, junior faculty are at a disadvantage compared to senior faculty. In fact, there are aspects of law teaching for which junior faculty can be better suited than their senior colleagues.
From my observations, law students find younger tenure-track faculty member more accessible. Perhaps being near cohorts in age is a factor. Certainly, younger faculty members tend to have a better grasp of information and education technologies. I've yet to meet one who thinks he or she has become an IT guru by using clickers in the classroom. Their use of e-course management services seems to be "more evolved" and their Powerpoint presentations tend to be less bullet-point crazy. Their use of digital media is more purposeful, less I-techie gee wizzie. Of course, there are always exceptions. My favorite, the one slide Powerpoint presentation that only contained a small snippet of text. In general, younger tenure-track faculty members who spent a few years practicing law appear to have benefited from learning the ways and means of digital production and distribution from the law firms they worked in.
On the Benefits of Senior Law Faculty Teaching. .... there's got to be something published "out there." There are still some "old school" tenured law profs who believe that their teaching responsibilities come first. I know they exist because I've run into them at AALS meetings smoking outside the conference hotel and shaking their heads in bewilderment over some of the sessions they just left.
Are Students Viewed as One's Greatest Professional Legacy in the Legal Academy? Not quite on point, but William Gangi's article, A Scholar's Journey on the Dark Side, 11 Chap. L. Rev. 1 (2007) [Westlaw], a critique of contemporary legal education and scholarship upon the occasion of his fortieth anniversary as an academician, offers some hope that some tenured profs view their students as their greatest professional legacy. Certainly computer science professor Randy Pausch does in his The Last Lecture (Hyperion 2008).
Does the Quality of Professors Matter? Is there such a time as "better teaching." Are there metrics for measuring better educational outcomes? See Scott E. Carrell (Dartmouth College) and James E. West's (U.S. Air Force Academy) recent NBER report: Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors. [JH]
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Does Law Professor Quality Matter?: