Curricular Planning and Mission

Warren Binford, Annette Appel and I are leading a concurrent session at the AALS Clinical Conference in Tucson this May.  Our session is entitled “Strategic Planning:  Learning From Our Mistakes and Growing From Our Experiments.”  We are planning to engage the audience in some strategic planning techniques.  In thinking about our upcoming session, I reflected on Best Practices and curricular planning because I think that a law school’s curriculum is foundational to its identity and its aspirations.

The Best Practices book suggests that a law school’s curriculum should “achieve congruence in its program of instruction”.  Congruence requires that law schools harmonize educational programs with their mission, their curricula with educational outcomes, and instructional objectives with their curricula (p.93).   The ideas derive from educational theory and research, but also make a lot of common sense.  It makes sense that a law school should connect its program of instruction to its mission.  For example, if a law school has a social justice mission, its curriculum would not make sense it if was primarily a business focused curriculum–and vice versa.   If a law school touts its strengths in an area, its program of instruction as well as the research agenda for the institution should reflect that strength.

 So…it seems logical that curricular reform and curricular planning should come after the institution has engaged in effective strategic planning.   Strategic planning requires that the faculty understand where its law school is and engage in self education and reflection to determine where the faculty would like to see it go.  After an educational process, the faculty should engage in a process that will result in the clear formulation of its mission and vision.  This process is very important and necessary before undertaking to reform its program of instruction.  The process might reaffirm an existing mission, but it could mean a shift in vision.  For example, it could see itself becoming the best regarded state school in a given region, with a mission to provide excellent legal education to diverse students within the region.  It could decide that it did not want to change its mission, but that it would now shift its vision to become the best state or private school within the region.  Thus, the mission would remain the same but its vision would shift a bit.  After the articulation of mission and vision, should come the strategy to further the mission and achieve the vision.

So…how would curricular planning fit as a strategy?  A law school could decide that in order to be true to its mission of excellence it would undertake comprehensive curricular planning to enhance the quality of its program of instruction in line with its mission.   Of course, a smart law school would not just rely on curricular planning and innovation to further its mission, it would also implement its vision and develop additional strategies such as enhancing its faculty development, attracting the students it seeks to admit, getting the word out about its programs, developing a research agenda that builds on faculty interests and strengths, developing resources to achieve its objectives and taking other relevant actions to achieve its goals.   If a law school does not undertake an enhancement of its educational programs, it will not be effective in moving forward.  Its curriculum is a statement about both its current mission and its aspirations.  A law school that simply continues to do what it has always done, will find itself losing ground to law schools that seek to enhance their programs in line with their mission, vision and goals.   The Best Practices book gives some guidance to law schools that seek to do this and an effective strategic planning process can help guide the law school as it undertakes to improve its program of education. Next post I will explore  Best Practices suggestion to connect curricula with educational outcomes.

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