Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Thought Experiment: Barber College Research and the Burgeoning CWC ("Certified Wisdom Counseling") Industry

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Two posts over at PrawfsBlawg, one by Jason Solomon and one by Paul Horwitz, both on the subject of defending legal scholarship, caught my attention.  

The question is whether the writing that emerges from law professors has value, whatever that means.   If it does have value, does it need to be instrumental value?   I think "instrumental" means that it's apparent very quickly whether there's value (say because it actually generates a rule of law - Areeda and Turner's mid-197o's article on predatory pricing is a classic example).  

I'm willing to concede that the Hart-Dworkin debates on positive and natural law contribute to ultimate flourishing of humankind, but I'm also pretty sure that whatever "instrumental" means, those articles are less so than Areeda & Turner on predatory pricing.  (I'm reminded of the old "BC" cartoon that posed the philosophical question "why are we here?"  The answer from one of the characters was "The sustenance of Hart.")

Steve Lubet (Northwestern, right), it seems to me, correctly identified the issue, and it got batted Graphic-LubetSteven_v2011-01-13 around in the comments:  is there too much scholarship relative to the subject? Nevertheless, the metaphor also getting batted around in the comments, to the effect that law professors are to lawyers as ornithologists are to birds (i.e. birds don't care about the scientists who study them), doesn't work because ornithologists aren't trying to teach the birds how to be birds.

BarberHumor me with the following thought experiment.  

Barber colleges decide next week that faculty, themselves a tiny fraction of the total number of barber college graduates, not only should be teaching students how to cut hair and serving the institution, but writing at least one fifty page article a year.  

The article could be about barbering, but maybe not.  The article could be practical or theoretical.  It could be disciplinary or inter-disciplinary.  There would be no peer review, and the articles would be edited by barber college students.   Finally, the articles might have immediate practical and instrumental value, or they might simply contribute to the sum of the world's knowledge and the ultimate flourishing of humankind.

At the same time, the perfect storm of the Information Age, rising incomes, and access to higher Unknown education has resulted in an entirely new profession, now regulated and subject to licensing as "Certified Wisdom Counselors."  Thousands of previously unemployable philosophy and humanities undergraduate majors now are employable as CWCs, the educational requirement of which is a degree in philosophy.  

Unable to keep up with the demand for teachers, philosophy departments hire some CWCs to teach in philosophy departments, understanding that only a small fraction of the CWCs will go on to be CWC teachers.  Most CWCs will in fact go on to be practicing CWCs.  But as a result, the number of people teaching in philosophy departments explodes.  And it's a requirement of being a teaching CWC that you publish at least one fifty page article a year.  

The article could be about wisdom, but maybe not.  The article could be practical or theoretical.  It could be disciplinary or inter-disciplinary.  There would be no peer review, and the articles would be edited by CWC students.   Finally, the articles might have immediate practical and instrumental value, or they might simply contribute to the sum of the world's knowledge and the ultimate flourishing of humankind.

In each case, isn't it clear that we are likely to have too much scholarship wholly as a result of the structure of the institutions and the incentives for advancement within them?

The closest educational analogs to law, I think, are medicine and business.  Medical educators may often have the same degree as practitioners, but schools use armies of clinical professors to teach clinical skills.  Those clinical professors, I'm pretty sure, aren't required to create scholarship.

Business schools, like law schools, turn out armies of graduates.  But (and I've done all of about thirty seconds of research on this - looking at the As and Bs in the faculty list of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan), full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty overwhelmingly get Ph.D.s, differentiating them from the students, who graduate with M.B.A.s.*

As Steve Lubet points out, it comes down to cost.  When the law industry was booming, nobody cared much about this.  Now it's an issue.

* UPDATE:  Except when they teach law or ethics in the business school, in which case a J.D. is a sufficient degree.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwhiteboard/2012/10/a-thought-experiment-barber-college-research-and-the-burgeoning-cwc-certified-wisdom-counseling-indu.html

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