August 3, 2012
How Important is Faculty Scholarship These Days?
Professor Vikram David Amar published an essay today on Justia called What a Recently Released Study Ranking Law School Faculties by Scholarly Impact Reveals, and Why Both Would-Be Students and Current/Prospective Professors Should Care. He argues that prospective faculty members and law students should pay attention to scholarly impact studies in addition to the broader rankings published by U.S. News & World Report.
The U.S. News survey component where a faculty member assesses the reputation of other law schools may not be representative as that person’s real knowledge of reputation is generally limited to a few dozen schools at best. The studies provided by Brian Leiter and others can be informative when answering the survey questions. They obviously are informative to prospective faculty members who arguably would like to join a faculty perceived to have more influence in the legal academy. He goes on to ask the question:
At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss the Leiter-style ratings as being of interest to only a small group of ego-driven law professors who need to be cited by other academics in order to feel useful.
Amar agrees that current scholarship and law practice have essentially diverged at this point. But he offers three responses to the value of scholarly impact studies. One is that scholarship informs the classroom. He notes that some scholars can be bad teachers and some really good teachers are not necessarily scholars. My own law school experience tracks the old saw, those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach. Those who cannot teach, teach anyway. Nonetheless, he says current scholarship can blend with teaching rules to give context to the subject. I think that is true to an extent. Knowing the mechanics of writing a will is important, and knowing the social policy behind generational transfers of property is useful. A client, however, cares about the former and a lot less about the latter.
His second response is that a faculty which is more productive tends to get better funding for their school from the parent institution. I’m not so sure about that in as much as parent institutions may be looking to cutting law school operational budgets these days, what with lower numbers of applications and smaller class sizes in the offing. I’m sure there are plenty of university presidents out there wondering what the optimal size of the law school should be in these circumstances.
His third point is aimed at students, stating essentially that a faculty recognized for its scholarly impact will enhance the reputation of the school and the degree that it confers. I’m sure that this is true. What I would question is whether this is something that gives a student an edge in finding a job in the short term, especially with that acknowledged divergence between practice and scholarship. As he notes, the U.S. News rankings and the faculty impact rankings align in some respects and not others. A lower ranked school with a productive faculty can certainly promote that fact. Whether or not it affects a student decision to apply to one school over another is a different matter. [MG]
Faculty should pay attention on schlorship based studies, because current schlorship policies can blend with teaching rules to give context to the subject.
Posted by: Survey Questions | Aug 3, 2012 11:24:50 PM