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February 17, 2007

Are the U.S. News rankings a force for or against innovation?


Back in November, Doug asked essentially this question, and didn't get much response. Perhaps we should have offered "free coffie." However, as April approaches, law deans and profs around the country no doubt are feeling somewhat more anxious about rankings, even without a big cuppa coffie. There is probably nothing more important to the image of many schools than their ranking in the U.S. News survey each year, which will be released about five or six weeks from now.

Doug's observation was that the rankings probably spur innovation in lower-ranked schools (as they try to improve) and discourage them in higher-ranked ones (as they stay with a formula that got them there). Since he made that observation, however, at least two institutions (Harvard and Stanford) have announced curriculum changes that were described as major shifts in emphasis.

In the end, though, my own suspicion is that the rankings very generally suppress innovation at both high and low-ranked schools. Over time, the two proven methods of boosting (or maintaining) ranking seem to be (1) using scholarships to attract more-qualified students and (2) increasing production of scholarship by the faculty. Notably, for the most part the type of scholarship that is rewarded is the most traditional kind (long law review articles), and there isn't much innovative about enticing students with cash. So long as resources are focused on these two things, innovative teaching and scholarship (which is inherently riskier) probably are not going to be valued as highly.

This is not to say that innovation doesn't have some positive effect on rankings. For example, if a well-qualified prospective student sees innovative teaching, she may be drawn to that school. Similarly, some of the most successful scholarship is also innovative in its approach, and at times is successful in large part because it is innovative. However, this is just a fraction of the innovation people are bringing to their teaching and scholarship. Shouldn't it count for more?

-- Mark Osler

February 17, 2007 in Rankings | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 14, 2007

Yet another on-line law journal supplement

Thanks to Brian Leiter, I now see that the Texas Law Review has joined the club of leading law review with an on-line supplement.  This one is called "See Also" and is visually colored in a warn to warm the heart of every Longhorn.  Here's the official description:

See Also is an online companion to the Texas Law Review that presents responses and critiques of recently published articles in the Review.  For each issue of the Review, See Also features responses from members of the academic community and practitioners, styled as op-ed pieces, in order to promote further discussion of the topics addressed in the Review. In addition, See Also provides a forum for our readers to offer their own thoughts and perspectives.

Some related posts:

Posted by DAB

February 14, 2007 in Scholarship -- online | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 12, 2007

Provocative innovative suggestion for the 3L year

Mike over at Crime & Federalism has this interesting post entitled "Anti-Intellectualism and the Third Year of Law School."  The post ends with these provocative paragraphs:

So here's my proposal: Let's abolish the third year of law school and, in its place, require one year of philosophical study.  Let's set aside Marbury and pick up a Critique of Pure Reason. Let's supplement our our discussions of mens rea with Wittenstein's bettle.  Can we, a new law student might ask, ever know the contents of some else's mind? 

Since law professors claim they are training thinkers, not lawyers, there should be no objection to this proposal.  Of course, philosophy professors — rather than law professors — would be teaching these courses.  Which makes me wonder... Does the third year of law school exist for the edification of students, or for the remuneration of law professors and law schools?

Some related curriculum posts:

February 12, 2007 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Another Experiment in Educational Blogging...

Following Doug's lead, I have decided to utilize blogging as a teaching tool this quarter. For years I have taught an oral advocacy class with difficult reading from Aristotle's On Rhetoric. Because the testing in the class is all in the form of oral arguments, to encourage analysis of the reading I have required written reflections of under 150 words each week. In the past, I have received these via email. Because of this form, students could not see the work of others, and there was no chance of a dialogue. Blogging has changed all that; I have them enter their reflections as comments to a post each week. The reports on the first week of reading are coming in, and I am impressed. You can check out the On Rhetoric blog here. -- Mark Osler

February 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack