Sunday, September 26, 2021
A few years ago, our new Dean brought the leaders of each department together for a retreat to prepare for the upcoming year. The Dean planned the retreat with activities to both get to know each other and create goals for the upcoming year. The retreat was a resounding success. One of the biggest successes from the event was the connections we made with each other. Every business deals with interpersonal dynamics and requests for the limited resources. I feel like coming together for a couple days helped the leaders of our school understand each other more and helped us work with each other for common goals even though resources are limited.
I believe the same type of connections could help ASPers in 2 ways. We could use similar activities to connect with faculty. The divide between tenure-track and contract faculty/staff seems pervasive throughout law school discourse. ASPers complain at every turn that doctrinal faculty aren't using the most up-to-date teaching methods. Doctrinal faculty think ASPers just hand-hold a new generation of entitled students. ASPers respond that some hand-holding is necessary when jobs are tied to bar results. The non-stop complaining creates a layer of animosity throughout law schools.
The animosity isn't inevitable. We can break the cycle. Other than a few outliers, I believe most faculty (doctrinal and ASP) and staff want students to succeed. Schools probably can't hold large gatherings safely, but we can all have a small meal or zoom meeting with another member of the law school. The meal or meeting doesn't need to be about work. Connections related to interests and family can begin a conversation that leads to discussing helping students inside and outside the classroom. The discussions can lay the interpersonal foundation to then create dialogue on how to help students.
We can use the same strategy with students. In smaller classes, I begin every semester with an introduction and one unique thing about myself. Students introduce themselves and give their unique thing. I try to include anecdotes and stories in all my lectures that relate to my interests. Someone after each of my classes will ask about my kids sports or the recent football games. I use the information to ask students questions when in the hallway. When students know we care about them as people, they are more likely to follow our studying advice. We can go to student organization meetings, take class time, or attend campus events to make connections. The connections may be as valuable as one of the lessons in class.
Working with faculty and students requires navigating many interpersonal and campus dynamic issues. We can't solve all of them with a meal, but genuine conversation can go a long way to helping everyone achieve success.