Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Teaching versus scholarship: a recap of the opening arguments in a new debate

Paper ChaseThere is no such thing as the right time to start a new blog. But MoneyLaw appears to have come a scant couple of weeks too late to have taken meaningful part in a new debate over one of the longest running debates in legal academia. Better late than never: I will now endeavor to summarize the debate so far, reserving till later further commentary on the issue.

Tennessee's Benjamin Barton has posted his paper, Is There a Correlation between Scholarly Productivity, Scholarly Influence and Teaching Effectiveness in American Law Schools? An Empirical Study:
This empirical study attempts to answer an age-old debate in legal academia: whether scholarly productivity helps or hurts teaching. The study is of an unprecedented size and scope. It covers every tenured or tenure-track faculty member at 19 American law schools, a total of 623 professors. The study gathers four years of teaching evaluation data (calendar years 2000-03) and creates an index for teaching effectiveness.
Larry Solum offers by far the most extensive summary of Barton's paper. Questions of methodology having been thoroughly aired on the Legal Theory Blog, a brief statement of Barton's conclusion will suffice here. After correlating each of five measures of scholarly output and influence with teaching evaluation scores for all 623 professors in his study, Barton found "no correlation between teaching effectiveness and any of the five measures of research productivity."

As Bill Henderson observes at ELS Blog, this is the most significant effort to address the relationship between teaching and scholarship since Jim Lindgren & Allison Nagelberg, Are Scholars Better Teachers?, 73 Chi. Kent L. Rev. 823 (1998). In their study of faculty members at three law schools, Lindgren and Nagelberg found a modest correlation between citation counts and popularity on student evaluations of teaching.

Barton's striking conclusion has caught the eye of Lisa Fairfax at the Conglomerate, Brian Leiter, Dan Markel of PrawfsBlawg, Orin Kerr, and Stuart Buck. Bill Henderson and ELS Blog have hosted a forum on Barton's article, which the author himself nicely summarized. Much of the resistance to Barton's paper targets the study's heavy reliance on student evaluations as the sole measure of teaching quality.

Perhaps the most astute single observation in the entire debate to date comes courtesy of Jeff Stake. In one of his contributions to the ELS Blog's forum, Jeff concluded:
[I]t seems likely that writing and teaching are complements at low levels of writing and substitutes at high levels of writing, and determining whether any particular faculty member has increased his or her writing to the point that further increases will reduce teaching quality is a very tricky business.
With that, the debate will surely continue. MoneyLaw, with a fairly high degree of certainty, will be weighing in.


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