Saturday, November 13, 2010
In a climate of increasing pressure on law schools to produce "practice-ready" law grads, it's been a rough year for those on the front-lines of practical legal education, the clinics. While outside interests in several states have sought to undermine the politically unpopular work of some law clinics, the ABA is presently considering changes to law school accreditation requirements that would deprive clinicians and other "skills" profs of the kind of job security that protects their rights to pursue such unpopular causes (here and here).
This article from the Association of American University Professors ("AAUP") entitled "Kneecapping Academic Freedom" describes the recent spake of attacks on the sometimes controversial work of law clinics and its effect on legal education and academic freedom
Clinical legal education is similar to the internship programs of medical schools. Like medical students working inside the hospital with patients, students in law school clinics have the opportunity to learn by doing: they practice law and solve client problems through the actual representation of clients under the close supervision of law faculty. Legal commentators, lawyers, and judges all agree that clinical legal education is the best way to teach lawyering skills and professional judgment, because students are able to act as lawyers for real clients and benefit from faculty supervisors who help students develop their capacities to reflect upon professional conduct through the use of self-critique and feedback.
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[E]ach time teaching leaves the confines of the classroom, the potential exists for conflicts with the interests of others. This is particularly true when the activities outside the classroom involve assisting individuals and groups whose interests put them at odds with the interests of those with strong ties to the university or elected officials, especially corporate interests.
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[A]cademic freedom is increasingly at risk when teaching bumps up against powerful political and corporate interests. When those interests feel threatened by such courses, some try to restrict or silence university activities that they cannot buy or otherwise control.
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Faculty members need to appreciate the educational value of service learning to students and support other faculty members when their out-of-classroom work comes under attack. University administrators, too, need to recognize the importance of service learning and, as the Association of American Colleges and Universities stated in 2006, 'recognize that real-world learning may involve students with issues and problems that have been highly politicized.' Administrators should explain these courses 'to the public, alumni, donors, and government officials and be prepared to defend them,' in the words of the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, 'when ignorance or ill will threatens the institution or any part of it.'
You can read more of the AAUP article here.