Thursday, December 21, 2006

Platoon II

TeamworkIn Hollywood, Oliver Stone made no sequel to Platoon, unless you count Born on the Fourth of July.

Here at MoneyLaw, I thought I'd write a quick sequel to my version of Platoon. These thoughts are adapted from a recent post of mine on Law School Innovation, which ponders how platooning -- defined roughly as the willingness of senior professors to share plum teaching assignments with their junior colleagues -- might affect a law school's marginal propensity to innovate or, for that matter, the very core of a law school's culture.

I believe that platooning matters for two distinct but related reasons:
  1. Platooning rotates different faculty members into high-visibility portions of the law school curriculum. Fresh blood, one would hope, means fresh ideas. At a minimum, platooning defeats the ability of an entrenched veteran to rely on the same class notes year in and year out, without even the pretense of updating.

  2. The willingness of a senior faculty member to yield a teaching assignment in favor of a junior colleague who needs to develop her or his research agenda and teaching repertoire speaks volumes of the senior faculty member's collegial propensities. If uncollegial behavior becomes ossified as the faculty norm, the law school in question is highly unlikely to innovate.
OdiumAnd that's the least of it. Law schools where senior faculty members hoard teaching assignments can be exceedingly unpleasant places. People this odiously selfish won't hesitate to base appointment and tenure votes on the possibility that a "rival" (their word for what everyone else calls a colleague) might snag a plum teaching assignment. And if law school management actively rewards this sort of behavior -- say, by giving Professor Odium an endowed chair in a misbegotten effort at appeasement -- then welcome to the Gehenna School of Law.

Let me make this point explicitly: Entry-level and untenured lateral faculty candidates, you are hereby put on notice. In assessing whether to accept a tenure-track offer, ask the other untenured faculty members whether they've encountered difficulty in getting access to certain subjects.

Platooning is a very real indicator of collegiality. It has the additional virtue of being virtually impossible to fake. It's one thing to represent how collegial your law school is. Actually being collegial, especially if collegiality demands yielding preferred teaching assignments, takes much more work. As between a faculty of platoon players and odiously selfish independent contractors, I'll wear the dog tags every single time, with pride.


Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Jim: As you point out, there is facial collegiality and real collegiality. I would add selective collegiality. It involves real collegiality for those are poltically and socially friendly, but only those.

12/21/2006 9:09 PM  
Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Jim's right about the importance of "platooning" (the willingness of senior faculty members to sacrifice for junior faculty members). Platooning does demonstrate collegiality, as does the willingness to cease fighting battles after they're won (or lost), the willingness to create safe places for junior colleagues to make mistakes and learn from them, and the willingness to experiment without preconceived notions about how the experiments might turn out.

I remember that, when I entered law school, that school was experimenting with Section Bs (one section of Civ Pro was taught by the traditional case book method; section B folks were taught Civ Pro by doing it--completing projects, drafting motions, etc.). After a while, I never heard about section Bs again. But over two decades later (holy cow--has it been over two decades ALREADY???), that same law school is now revamping its first-year curriculum again to give students more of an interdisciplinary understanding of law.

I hope that those folks choosing among offers this year focus on collegiality and the REAL signs of it. No school is completely collegial all the time, but if the community displays the wish of returning to collegiality every time there's a temporary departure, that's a good, good sign.

And now a plug for my future school: when I stepped down and started my sabbatical, several people (some of whom are related to me) wanted to know why I didn't want to shop around for another post. The answer is easy: I think I've found a place that has what I want. It's egalitarian in the sense that everyone on the faculty has a say (no caste system here), and it has a number of high-profile, high achievers already. It's one of the most diverse faculties I've seen (bravo to Dick Morgan for assembling such a good mix). It accommodates couples of all stripes. (I've even heard that there are CONSERVATIVES on the faculty--and I'm looking forward to doing my part to make sure that they have as much of a say about issues as their more liberal peers.) Most of all, I got a real sense that the worst thing that one could say about the place was that everyone was NICE. So far, my own observations about UNLV have confirmed that impression over and over.

So why not look for a more, um, established school? First off, I like being part of something new. I like being one of the people who will create new traditions someplace--as well as brand-new programs. Second, I'm at the stage at which I want to spend my time writing and teaching. People can find me easily enough at UNLV, and they can read my work on SSRN. It doesn't matter to me what the ranking of the school is; it DOES matter to me what the personality of the school is--whether I believe that the school facilitates synergies among the folks there.

So: offerees, think long and hard about what you want. Do you want support for your work? Encouragement to try (and fail, and try again)? Do you want to limit the number of class preps before tenure so that you can get some of your writing done? Do you want to be with senior colleagues who are still writing, still improving their teaching skills, still engaged? You should spend some time thinking about what you want and what priorities you have on your wish list. This choice is going to be very difficult for you, so spend some time with friends who can help you sort things out (and spend some time alone).

Finally, two more things that might help: 1. Take a look at the Places Rated Almanac. This book gives info (educational opportunities, recreational opportunities, weather, medical care, crime, cost of living, etc.) for every part of the U.S. 2. Read Malcolm Gladwell's book BLINK. And listen to your gut. It won't lead you astray.

12/21/2006 9:18 PM  

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