Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The real meaning of "Sextonism"

Brian Leiter has defined "Sextonism" in derisive, even derogatory, terms:
"Sextonism," after former NYU Law School Dean John Sexton (now President of NYU), is a disease familiar to law faculty, in which a good school suddenly lapses in to uncontrolled and utterly laughable hyperbole in describing its faculty and accomplishments to its professional peers. The NYU alumni magazine, which was sent to all law faculty nationwide, was so plagued by Sextonism that a Stanford professor memorably dubbed it "law porn."
By making a weekly ritual of railing against instances of such putatively odious behavior, Brian has ensured a place for "Sextonism" in the language and culture of American legal academia.

John SextonSo what exactly has John Sexton done to deserve this opprobrium? Nothing besides catapulting New York University and its law school into the first rank of American educational institutions. If what John Sexton has done is an offense against academia, then we should all be so crass. Law school deans named in Brian Leiter's "Sextonism watch" should be tagged as potential candidates for more prominent jobs in educational administration.

Henceforth in this forum, at least when I am writing, the term Sextonism shall denote the adroit (if not altogether credible) promotion of an educational institution among its constituents and its rivals alike. Because Sextonism is an expression of administrative virtue rather than a self-righteous vice, the term carries no negative connotations whatsoever.

I am tempted to match every "Sextonism watch" from Leiter Law School with a corresponding post praising effective Sextonism. Instead of rewarding Brian Leiter's rather perverse transformation, I think I will focus on the unsung heroes of academic quality. I shall create a new designation, that of MoneyLaw Idol, after the style of the Jurisdynamic Idol competition. As worthy as John Sexton would be, I suspect he has honors enough. Besides, I prefer the quieter, more studious type, one who has made a real contribution to the genuine understanding of academic quality. Another John, less prominent than Mr. Sexton, comes readily to mind.


Anonymous Brian Leiter said...

"Sextonism" refers to his embarrassing rhetoric and hyperbole--remember "We sucked Chicago dry" in the pages of the NY Times?--not to actual policies that improve the quality of an academic institution. That is clear even in what you quote from me, so your post is a non-sequitur on its face.

In fact, the best evidence is that Sexton's law porn backfired as far as reputation goes; what allowed NYU to climb in US News was not its reputational scores (which lagged throughout the 1990s, and even dipped during the height of the law porn), but rather their successful manipulation of the "objective" components of the US News ranking.

9/19/2006 11:04 AM  
Blogger la Rana said...

I get it. The Dean, ostensibly charged with bettering the school, can only "manipulate" subjective "components." Because a #4 ranking won't better the school. Might as well be ranked #16.

9/19/2006 12:49 PM  

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