« December 21, 2008 - December 27, 2008 | Main | January 4, 2009 - January 10, 2009 »

December 31, 2008

What does everyone think about free tuition and other early UC-Irvine innovations?

Last week the AP had this story, headlined "SoCal law school tempts students with free tuition," about the efforts by UC-Irvine to get a flying start with top students in its first class.  Here are snippets from the story:

A new law school opening next fall in Southern California is offering a big incentive to top students who might be thinking twice about the cost of a legal education during the recession: free tuition for three years.

The financial carrot is part of an ambitious strategy by Erwin Chemerinsky, a renowned constitutional law scholar and dean of the new school at the University of California, Irvine, to attract Ivy League-caliber students to the first public university law school in the state in 40 years.

Scholarship winners will be chosen for their potential to emerge three years later as legal stars on the ascendance. Only the best and brightest need apply, but the school hopes to offer full scholarships to all 60 members of its inaugural class in 2009. Subsequent classes will be on a normal tuition basis.

Chemerinsky is convinced the prospect of free education, combined with a public-interest curriculum and the University of California moniker, will quickly fill his first class and eventually land Irvine among the nation's best law schools. "Our goal is to be a top 20 law school from the first time we are ranked," he said....

Chemerinsky said he has made substantial progress toward raising the $6 million needed to fund full scholarships for his inaugural class. He's promising students a unique educational program with hands-on experience in legal clinics and eventual job interviews with more than 70 law firms, public interest law organizations and government offices.

Still, in a society seemingly overloaded with lawyers, the question arises: Do we need another law school to churn out more lawyers? "There isn't a need for another law school like all the rest," Chemerinsky answers. "This is our chance to create the ideal law school for the 21st century."

I have not been following closely the development of UC-Irvine School of Law, but I was intrigued to see lots of talk of innovation at its official website.  In particular, one section of the site discusses "Our Difference" with these entries:

I would be really interested in hearing from anyone following closely the UC-Irvine experiment with early assessments about how things are going there.

Posted by DAB

December 31, 2008 in Deans and innovations | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 28, 2008

Success and the narrow path to professorhood

In my last post, I reflected a bit on Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and the formation of law professors.  Having finished the book, I have a few more thoughts, which suggest that the way we select law professors is to the disadvantage of those who may provide the most innovation.

Most law professors (myself included) have the following things in common:  (1)  They did well as children at standardized tests;  (2)  Because of their prowess at standardized tests, they did well on the SAT and LSAT tests;  (3)  Their strong LSAT scores led to their admission at an elite law school; and  (4)  They then succeeded in law school, and were qualified to begin pursuing academic jobs.

If you doubt that attending one of the most elite law schools makes a difference in hiring, consider the finding that among untenured but tenure-track professors at the top 50 schools, 92 went to Yale Law while only 2 went to Cornell (which is an excellent school).  Similarly, there can be little doubt that a very high LSAT score is the primary qualification to get into one of the most elite schools.

Thus, we are for the most part narrowing our pool of professors to those who did extremely well on the LSAT.  However, as Gladwell points out, multiple-choice tests like the LSAT (and the SAT) are convergence tests-- that is, those in which the test-taker considers a limited number of possible answers and then converges her attention on the right one.   Convergence tests are good at determining the presence of a certain talent:  the ability to eliminate wrong answers to arrive at a correct answer. 

While this ability to converge on the right answer is useful at times, it is rarely a major part of innovative legal scholarship (or teaching, for that matter).  That's because the best scholarship is doing something more than eliminating choices from an already-established list.  Rather, the best work offers up a new way of looking at things, advocating for why one solution is right, or proposing an answer that thus far has not been dreamed up.  That is, the best work, the most innovative work, very often goes beyond simply criticizing the proposals or work of others (legislators, academics, or judges). 

However, at the primary sorting phase on the road to becoming a professor (admission into an elite school), we emphasize almost exclusively this talent of convergence.  The LSAT does not test the skill of divergence-- that is, the ability to come up with possibilities from a given reality.  For example (Gladwell's), one might ask "what uses are there for a brick?"  There are no set answers, but there will be good, creative ones and poor, limited ones.  If we cared about divergence somewhere on the path to professorhood, we would be much farther along on the task of fostering innovation in our fields. 

In short, the way we pick professors rewards most a skill which has nearly nothing to do with innovative scholarship and teaching.  Perhaps it should not be surprising that our journals are full of criticism, but resound too rarely with ideas that can change viewpoints, transform society, create justice broadly, or stir the souls of students and scholars.

-- Mark Osler

December 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack