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December 21, 2006

Platoon teaching

The first casualty of law school teaching is cooperation.

Well, it only seems that way, and perhaps only on aggressively uncollegial law faculties.  At MoneyLaw, I've posted an item on the willingness of senior professors to share plum teaching assignments with their junior colleagues within a platoon system.  I believe that platooning affects law school innovation in two ways:

First, platooning rotates different faculty members into high-visibility portions of the law school curriculum.  Fresh blood, one would hope, means fresh ideas.  At a minimum, platooning defeats the ability of an entrenched veteran to rely on the same class notes year in and year out, without even the pretense of updating.

Second, the willingness of a senior faculty member to yield a teaching assignment in favor of a junior colleague who needs to develop her or his research agenda and teaching repertoire speaks volumes of the senior faculty member's collegial propensities.   If uncollegial behavior becomes ossified as the faculty norm, the law school in question is highly unlikely to innovate.

Let me make this point explicitly: Entry-level and untenured lateral faculty candidates, you are hereby put on notice.  In assessing whether to accept a tenure-track offer, ask the other untenured faculty members whether they've encountered difficulty in getting access to certain subjects.

Platooning is a very real indicator of collegiality.  It has the additional virtue of being virtually impossible to fake.  It's one thing to represent how collegial your law school is.  Actually being collegial, especially if collegiality demands yielding preferred teaching assignments, takes much more work.  As I said in my original <em>MoneyLaw</em> post: "If you want to create a culture of collegiality, start by hiring -- and being -- a faculty of platoon players."

-- Jim Chen

December 21, 2006 in Teaching -- pedagogy, The tenure process | Permalink

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Comments

Thanks to Dean Chen for raising this important issue. I think it is important to prevent fiefdoms in certain subject areas, to permit junior professors to teach "coveted" courses--on a rotation basis.

This requires senior faculty to be prepared to teach alternate courses--but I think that this is a reasonable demand.

A difficulty might arise with respect to professors with great negotiating leverage, who can demand a particular teaching package from the dean. I think a dean should avoid committing a course to a particular professor exclusively.

Posted by: Anupam Chander | Dec 22, 2006 12:01:58 AM

I think this is an issue in many professions-- even within factories, where there is the fear that a new colleague may prove able to do the job faster. I'm glad to hear this perspective from a Dean, who has the ability to implement such a system. At many schools, scheduling is handled by an associate dean, who may lack to the political power to impose such a system.

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