The definitive statement of a law professor’s REAL mission, or once again Harvard Law retires the chutzpah title

I cannot improve upon Scott Fruehwald’s presentation of this happy news in a recent email:

“Harvard is offering this course in the spring:

BECOMING A LAW PROFESSOR

“There are many elements that go into becoming a law professor, but at the core of the process of moving from law student to law professor is scholarship.  How do you choose your topic?  How do you write an article?  What will become your area of expertise?  What have others written about this subject area, and how do you break new ground?  How do you engage with fellow scholars in the midst of the writing process?

This reading group will focus on the generative scholarly process that is at the center of the life of the law professor.  [Emphasis added.]  Each week, a member of the faculty will present a working draft of her or his scholarship, and that piece will be discussed by the group.  Discussions will focus in part on the genesis of the research project being presented, in order to demonstrate how articles develop from the first spark of an idea to final publication.  Students will also explore substantive issues raised in the pieces, the better to become familiar with the latest work being done across a variety of subject areas.  Students will also develop their own research and scholarly agendas as the semester progresses.

Admission is by application via email to Susannah Barton Tobin at stobin@law.harvard.edu by November 8, 2013.  Please include a paragraph expressing your interest in the reading group and a CV and transcript.

As is the norm with reading groups, there will be no examination or paper requirement, and the class will be graded credit/fail.” (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/curriculum/catalog/index.html?term=Spring+2014&type=Clinic&type=Course&type=Reading+Group&type=Seminar&rows=10&year=2013-2014)

The course description says it all.

Happy New Year,  Scott Fruehwald  [If you are attending the AALS Conference, please come by the ABA Publishing table and look at my book, Think Like a Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals (2013).]“

All right, I [VM] cannot resist adding one comment:  The best part of this deal is that the participating faculty actually get teaching credit for this!   Well, maybe no, teaching is probably not exactly a heavy load at HLS anyway; no, maybe the best part is that the selected students (or their parents/spouses, or the US government) are paying tuition for them to serve as extra unpaid research assistants.

Or perhaps the very best part of this course is the unabashed clarity of its focus exclusively on scholarship, without a shred of pretense, or allocation of even a single seminar to such irrelevancies  as teaching, advising, evaluating and assessing, mentoring, curriculum development, preparation for practice, or engaging (with and without students) in advocacy to improve and reform the law, our profession, or society — to mention only a few of the professorial roles one might name.   (Perhaps all these skills are innate for Harvard grads?)  This course was presumably approved by at least a bare majority of the Harvard faculty (assuming that they still bother to review course proposals) so I suppose it is an accurate  statement of that faculty’s priorities.

The truly sad part is that many of us, on Appointments Committees and as faculty members, will end up not merely voting to hire the graduates of this course, but trying everything in our power to lure them on to our faculties — including promises that as long as they churn out scholarship that is “cutting edge” (nothing as pedestrian as, say, realistic law reform proposals), no one will expect them to work as hard at learning how to teach effectively or fulfill any of the other aforementioned professorial functions.  And in the course of discussions about how to seduce these young superstars who wear the crimson “H” on to third-tier faculties (at least to start), no doubt someone will point out “Look, s/he took a course on law teaching at Harvard!  One with the evocative title of ‘Becoming A Law Professor’!  What could be a better indicator of serious commitment to teaching?”

Footnote:  Naturally, given the topic, I feel compelled to add at least one:  Of course, these remarks would be seriously misplaced if “Becoming A Professor” is one of several HLS courses or programs, some of which address the aspects of professorship that I am asserting Harvard neglects.  I can’t be sure — the hundreds of courses in the HLS catalog are just too daunting — but I did try searching the past three years for any course that included the terms “teach” “teaching” “education”  “educate” “professor” “school” and some others.  Only one item surfaced, a legal history course last spring entitled “American Legal Education,” taught by Visiting Professor Daniel Coquillette.  http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/curriculum/catalog/index.html?type=Clinic&type=Course&type=Reading+Group&type=Seminar&rows=10&year=2012-2013  It does sound fascinating, a course that I would recommend to students and enjoy myself.  While certainly it would be of use to anyone who aspires to the law professoriate, given its scope and format it does not quite occupy a curricular niche comparable to the new scholar-centric offering.

One Response

  1. Is there a reading list?

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