Monday, November 26, 2007

7200, Conservatively Speaking

In a comment to a recent post of mine suggesting that that post tenure non writers may be stealing, the claim was made that less writing is actually a good thing. Putting aside that not all of the non writers volunteer to teach extra and that the non writers all claim to love scholarship until they fall out of love only after receiving tenure, I have some sympathy for the too much writing view.

These numbers must be off but, think about it: 180 law schools, 2 journals per school, 5 issues a year, 4 article per issue. I think that is a demand for 7200 articles per year. (72,000 since 1997) That may be conservative. (Evidently about a third of these are sent to the top 15 journals before ending up elsewhere.) Surely the supply of useful articles is not that high. In fact, I have never heard of an article that did not find a home although I have flirted with that possibility at least twice.

Would a Moneylaw school require as much writing as is currently the case? Maybe. There are some explanations for the current level. I used to support maximum writing by viewing law professors as scientists. They experiment with articles, never knowing until some time in the future which ones "work." Irrelevant today might be highly relevant in 10 years. Just keep the ideas flowing and eventually, "boom," a winner. After all, if there is too much writing, who would be told to stop? How do we know in advance who will not produce something wonderful? Then I realized that a great deal of legal scholarship in not a search for answers but advocacy for one cause or another restated in twenty different ways. At least for me, the research-lab-scientist explanation lost its traction.

Ok, so maybe the writing is to give the students something do to. To some extent, the proliferation of reviews is a response to student demand. If that is the case, what skills are taught and why do only some students get to do it?

Finally, maybe writing is a test -- a rationing mechanism. There are way too many people who want to be law professors so the positions are allocated to those willing to write. If it is only a rationing mechanism, then I and others should stop complaining about post tenure non writers.

I think there is some historical explanation for all of this that I probably should know. Or maybe the high levels of demand and supply are explained by the last two factors above. Still, what would a Moneylaw school's approach to writing be?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great question, Jeff! My sense is that writing would be put its place. By that I mean publish, yes, but the emphasis would not be on quantify, but rather on producing stuff that is likely to last, to stand the test of time. Which means more time per article, and fewer of them. Also, writing wouldn't be elevated over teaching as drastically as it now is. Even if teaching is hard(er) to measure, it would be given the place that is its due, considering that students are in fact paying the bills, and are entitled to more than just a faculty that publishes a lot.

For what it's worth

11/26/2007 6:18 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

I agree totally on the number of articles. Somehow as writing became a rationing mechanism, numbers seemed to become more important than quality. For the first time in years I have taken on a pure research project. I do not know where it will take me or whether I will have anything to say at the end. It is enriching and frightening at the same time. Could it be that at the end of the year I will have nothing it list?

11/27/2007 2:37 AM  

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