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September 22, 2007

Adjuncts, Visitors, and Innovation

Because we have a small standing faculty, my school (Baylor) uses a number of adjunct professors to cover elective classes.   These adjuncts are often experienced practitioners from Austin and Dallas who have expertise that we need in narrow subject areas.  Over the past year, I have been talking to these adjuncts and their students, and found some surprising trends.  While they are generally very good teachers, they seem to rarely take chances.  Most use very traditional teaching and testing methods, and stick closely to a textbook.

This observation matches the memories I have of visiting professors who taught me as a law student.  With a few striking exceptions (such as Catherine MacKinnon), most seemed to use only the most traditional methods.  It's understandable that they would be this way, of course-- many were auditioning for a job and fearful of making a mistake. 

The cost of this conservatism by the "outsiders" in our midsts is that we are not seeing innovation from some of the most logical sources.  Perhaps we need to more often give them permission to try different things, and lessen the risk of being unconventional.

-- Mark Osler

September 22, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 18, 2007

Innovation, publicity and the development of new law schools

I have not blogged on the hiring-firing-rehiring of Professor Erwin Chemerinsky as the new Dean of the new UC Irvine law school in part because the rest of the legal blogosphere has been all over the story.  (The WSJ Law Blog and Brian Leiter's Law School Reports have been particularly effective at covering developments, and TaxProf Blog has had great round-ups.)

But now that the dust is settling, the affair provides a nice setting for reflections on publicity and innovation, especially in the context of a new law school. 

First, though the Chemerinsky affair makes a lot of folks look bad, the new UC Irvine law school has gotten a lot of unexpected publicity (and the school now likely will continue to generate added publicity as legal media and professors watch more closely how now-Dean Chemerinsky and the UC system moves forward).  Though not all publicity is good publicity, I do think the whole affair could end up a net win for a new school that surely would struggle to make a name for itself in a crowded law school market.

Second, on the assumption that various folks in the UC system may now need to give Dean Chemerinsky extra room to operate as he sees fit, Dean Chemerinsky may have a truly unique opportunity to innovate in a setting that may be uniquely friendly to innovation.  California has a lot of different law schools, a lot of different legal markets, and a lot of different legal and non-legal appeals for potential students and potential faculty.  Because UC-Irvine needs to start from scratch in a dynamic and competitive marketplace, there may be lots of opportunities and even a strong demand for the development of a truly innovative law school.

But, third, perhaps the marketplace for innovation and prestige in law schools may be stacked against Dean Chemerinsky and UC-Irvine.  Michael Dorf made this point (in a less that PC-way) in interesting recent posts here and here.  Here is the start of Dorf's skepticism on law school innovation potential:

When I last saw Erwin Chemerinsky I asked him why he wanted to be the dean of a new law school. He was enthusiastic in response, talking about the opportunity to place his stamp on legal education as the founding dean of the UC Irvine Law School.  I was skeptical and remain so.  Chemerinsky has enormous talent and energy but I sincerely doubt that anyone could change legal education significantly without buy-in from the faculty of an already top law school.

Though I do not concur with all of Dorf's points, I do think he is flagging some important and troublesome issues about elite law schools as, to coin a phrase, "innovation market-makers."

September 18, 2007 in Deans and innovations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack