September 11, 2009
Through the Dharma Gate, Down the Rabbit Hole: Cincinnati Law's Paul Caron on "What's Wrong with Law School"
In a post entitled, What's Wrong with Law School, Cincinnati law prof Paul Caron quotes UC-Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky from a recent Los Angeles Times story about the opening of the law school, UCI Law has status, not tradition. Dean Chemerinsky was reflecting on his own legal education to compare it to UC-Irvine Law's mission. Chemerinsky was confident that his HLS JD would open doors but he was certain he had not received a good legal education. "The law faculty [at Harvard] wanted the best students they could get and then have nothing to do with them after they arrived," said Chemerinsky. "Teaching is the most important thing we do."
I was struck by the very different attitude at my son's liberal arts college -- the faculty there overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to reduce the teaching load from five courses to four because they did not want to detract from the teaching mission of the school. I wonder if any law school faculty has voted down a proposal to move from four courses to three.
About the teaching mission of law schools, Caron writes "Dean Erwin Chemerinsky pinpoints a problem afflicting many law schools." To which I add "including the University of Cincinnati College of Law" based on personal observation, student criticism and Cincinnati Law grads who swear they will never give the school a dime because so many of their law profs wanted to be anywhere but in a classroom.
The Long Uphill Climb for Law Schools. Struck by the "very different attitude" ... did Caron just pass through the dharma gate, tumble down the rabbit hole? Is he now going to argue the case for increasing teaching loads during the next faculty meeting debate on teaching vs. freeing up even more time for "faculty scholarship"?
It's going to be a long uphill climb to educate law students for the profession of law when so many members of the legal academy strive to acquire status for themselves and their law schools by trying to "be like
Mike Harvard." Few law schools, certainly not Cincinnati Law, have Harvard's resources and prestige to bifurcate faculty hiring and retention into teaching faculty and high profile scholars. To his credit, students of Caron's tax courses regularly give him high marks. So if he can't persuade the UC Law faculty to increase their course load, perhaps he can lead by example by voluntarily increasing his own substantially. Read, one more course a semester or even an academic year. Teaching Into to Law for a week doesn't really count.
At the moment, my hunch is UC law profs are holding their breath waiting for the July 2009 Ohio Bar exam results. They can't get much worse than 2008's last place passage ranking; they also took no responsibility for the unprecedented results. Click on chart, left. See also 2008 Ohio bar results and 2001-2007 results. Dumb students? Not likely, certainly not based on Admissions Dean Al Watson's track record as measured by LSAT/GPA enrollment stats.
Too many adjuncts teaching substantive law courses, too many senior profs on sabbatical when the Class of 2008 was attending UC Law. Calling up players from the minors instead of calling on cite-checking bench-warming veterans to step up to the plate to take a swing at teaching has been the team manager's game plan. The latest example is this month's shout out for a pinch-htting visiting prof for the Spring to teach Corporations I and one other business-related course. "To clinch the deal" the Associate Dean for Faculty "will throw in a ticket to the Cincinnati Reds opening day baseball game.".
A classic example of a weak dean following a strong dean, the current UC Law Dean wants faculty votes for renewing his contract. Caving-in works. But it might be time to get back to the business of legal education, which is preparing law students for the profession of law. The ABA site inspection isn't beyond the horizon anymore. Perhaps the appointment of a former OSU law dean, Gregory H. Williams, president of the University of Cincinnati will turn this situation around. [Press Release | Profile].
The Legal Education Imperative. Cincinnati Law is just an illustration of what's wrong in the legal academy.
Penis Status envy produces an uphill climb to the bottom. To find law schools that take teaching seriously, turn the US News Ranking upside down and then sort out the gems from the rubble of Third and Fourth Tier schools. Law schools will have to shift direction if the ABA-AALS cartel is serious about reforming accreditation standards, at least until they figure out a way to game any new output metrics. Frankly, I'm skeptical about self-policing. Maybe state and/or federal education agencies should take over.
Chemerinsky is right. Teaching is the most important thing law schools do, or should be doing. U-Irvine is setting the example while becoming an elite school by hiring scholars who will teach and promoting skills programming to the level of assocate deanship. Granted, it's early -- a small inaugural tuition-free-ride for the 1L class with more students and more faculty to come; it's easier -- creating a "green" culture at a start-up law school takes much less effort than detoxing a contaminated culture at established schools. Ultimately it is going to takes law profs willing to follow deans inspired by a moral imperative to reform legal education.
The fact that teaching is not the focus at many law schools is only going to come back and bite them later. Exactly how long can a law school expect to carry a bloated faculty, no matter how much 'scholarship' is being cranked out when costs are rising, budgets are getting cut, and graduates can't find jobs? To illustrate how far some schools have drifted from teaching toward the mini-Harvard model, one need only look at a certain top 25 school that landed a highly sought after prospect who is really a rookie in the academy. The rookie's first semester teaching load? A single 2 credit seminar! I'm sure greater glory is expected in scholarly writing. Not sure how that would help a student's resume though.
Anyway, great article. Keep up the good work.
Posted by: Elmer | Sep 11, 2009 4:34:35 PM
Regardless whether your points are accurate or well made, you have a responsibility to disclose to your readers that you have a bone to pick against both the school and the dean. It's the same concept that journalists follow - for example, when CNN reports about Time Warner, it states that it is a unit of the company.
Posted by: Kenneth Hirsh | Sep 11, 2009 1:44:20 PM