Monday, March 03, 2008

Is T.O. on Your Team?

Two posts below, Jim Chen has noted the importance of playing for the team as opposed to oneself. He is writing about the Louisville basketball team but suggests the question can be applied to other university units. No doubt, he is thinking about law schools.

When it comes to a law school, is it possible that trying to rack up individual statistics detracts from the success of the team? Before thinking about this, one other factor should be noted. If players are too self-serving and the team suffers, the team loses. If the team loses enough, the coach is fired. Consequently, there is a control. A player who tries to run up his or her score by taking the shot and not passing to an open teammate or ignoring fundamentals that make the team better off will be benched.

In the context of law schools there are, therefore, two issues. How do we know when a law professor is detracting from the team and is the dean comparable to a coach who can control this problem?

Running up individual stats for a law professor may mean publication after publication -- lines on a resume -- without any real consequence. This means being on the "take" for every 10 page symposium opportunity, accepting every opportunity to speak even if it has all been said before, fretting over SSRN downloads and patronizing the students to inflate teaching evaluations and so on. In the individual race, all of these things look good and enhance the image of the individual especially to fellow self-promoters who want to legitimize these activities. Much of this activity is "froth" that is unrelated to the actual overall quality of the team's effort.

Deans have a choice. They can facilitate this process or take a closer look at what is good for the team and, thus, the school. Specifically, a dean can be a counter -- how may times has your name appeared on an article, how many talks did you give -- and ignore actually "nose to the grindstone" efforts. To this dean, a 5 page symposium piece is the same as a 60 page article. That type of dean is a disaster for the team. By encouraging individual stats the nature of the game is set. Competition among team members means more wastefulness.

Or the dean may choose to put some faculty on the bench by indicating what is best for the team. This means not counting but actual attention to depth. For example, is the work original? Does it represent painstaking research? Does it represent actually research as opposed to an effort to justify the professors opinion. Is it risky research in that it may actually not lead to a marketable article.? Does the work represent a new direction for the faculty member or another safe effort?

Finding a losing law school team often means finding a coach who does not know the difference between running up individual stats and winning.

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