Saturday, April 26, 2008

Let Me Count the Ways

As I have noted before sometime in the mid to late eighties or early 90s legal scholarship took a shift to a race for lines on resumes. In think it roughly coincides with the ratings chase and the full development of symposia issues. I think it was June 17, 1991 but that could be off a day or two.

It was around then that scholarship stopped being counted as a feather in a law professor’s hat and numbers did. It was something akin to a mathematical breakthrough counter to the idea of not creating matter The question is how many different ways can a certain unit of actual scholarship be represented. One unit of scholarship is a amount of actual searching, reading, writing, and thinking. For the more fashion oriented the analogy may be to having one nice scarf and the question being how many ways you can wear the scarf. Or if you like squirting things out of aerosol cans (and what sane person does not), its like filling a substance with air to make the volume increase.

So let's say you have completed 1 unit of scholarship. How can you make it 10?

1. You publish an article.
2. You write a condensed version for a symposium.
3. Slice it up into at least three stand alone pieces.
4. You give it as a presentation – may 3 or 4 times.
5. Looking for a job? Use it as your job talk a but list it as a “workshop”
6. Include in as a chapter in a book to which you contribute a chapter.
7. Write your own book composed mostly of this unit of scholarship and some others.
8. Edit a book of readings and include it.

So when your dean asks for things you did to put under the scholarship column in the decanal glossy, list all of these. And, there is a good chance your dean will give full credit for all of them. You are a star. You are also jerk but that is not a problem in legal education.


Blogger Ani Onomous said...

I am unaware of anyone who would defend counting each of the ten iterations equally. Nor, on the other hand, are the items precisely identical.

On my view, this problem has less with professorial legerdemain than with the administration's perceived inability to evaluate output (wrong "jerk," in other words). I'd also posit that this has less to do with any law-specific development (e.g., law school rankings) and more to do with the migration of law school scholarship to resemble that in other disciplines. The rehash (review essay, chapter contribution) and workshop version has long been prized elsewhere. And, putting aside a perfect scheme in which all is assessed objectively, is it much worse than the alternative? It was certainly easier to assess productivity in the good old days when it consisted of annual updates to a treatise, or a single 100 page article every few years -- pre-tenure. A caricature, but no more extreme than the one in the post.

4/26/2008 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4/27/2008 8:04 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

I'll meet you more than half way on the jerk issue. Clearly there is an infinite supply of jerkiness and an administrator who encouages this and rewards it achieves that status. And, I have no problem with someone trying to reach different audiences. Still next time you get a look at a decanal glossy, how much of what is listed is scholarship?

I think where we disagree is on this. The churners in many instances have little interested in scholarship, just in gaming the system to promote themselves. They could be writing and thinking about new things. Also, you seem to suggest that it's now worse than before because people wrote less - or at least I think you are saying that. I think is is a closer call if you compare the actual substance of what was produced before the "all about me" days.

But even if you are right that people are more productive today, I am not sure why that has to come with a general decline in quality and genuine efforts to address difficult issues in a scholarly manner.

4/27/2008 9:29 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Anon: Thanks for your comment. Please don't be so defensive. As far as I know, I am not talking about you. You are quick to make the assumption that 1) I am miserable in the profession or at UF. The profession for most part is writing and teaching and not gaming. As long as that is the case I'll be fine. Also you assume 2) my ramblings are about my UF colleagues or, if so, about more than a handful. This is hardly the case. Just take a look at the "scholarship" lists many schools circulate. I think at UF and other law schools the churning is often (not always) by those who have done the least and want to compensate.

It may be important to separate personal and professional. On a personal level most people are -- at least to me -decent kind hearted people. At UF I am hard pressed to think of an exception. Somehow, the profession seems to bring out behavior in some that is, though not dishonest, so self-interested and on the edge of deception that it can infect the broader environment. Even at UF it is a handful. Sometimes I think gaming, though not exactly encouraged, is looked upon with favor because it fattens up the glossy that goes to people who actually are not adept at making the distinctions you suggest.

How about this. The next time you see a Law School decanal glossy - UFs or virtually any law school's (by the way, these are mainly for alums) -- see if you think my point is that far off and let me know.

4/28/2008 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff: Obviously you pushed a very sensitive button on anon who, in all likelihood, saw him or herself. What resulted was a personal attack that is a bit worrisome perhaps for you but more so for the person reacting so emotionally. Ironic, isn't it that "anonymous" will evidently put his or her name on anything and everything else. Thanks for saying what many of us have been thinking. You are, however, wrong on the date. It was May 21.

4/28/2008 9:41 AM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

anonymous 9:41,

You (and I) should be careful in casting aspersions or finding ironies in anonymity.


Like virtually everyone, I have some sympathy with your analysis, and have felt irritation at scholarly redundancy before ("Oh drat, this is just the same piece in a different guise."). I question the priorities of those doing it repeatedly, not to mention those publishing derivative/redundant work.

The burden of your argument, though, concerns double-counting, and that someone is a jerk for sustaining a world in which scholars say the same thing repeatedly and get compensated as those it's different (I interpreted "full credit" in your post as meaning that). I remain skeptical on that front: I am sure it happens, but guess it pales next to counting crappy-but-new (for the author, anyway) work.

What may upset you is a different kind of "counting" -- presence in glossy brochures, and apparent credit before the eyes of the world. Perhaps it's unfair or jerky to trumpet redundant work in these guises; I say, welcome to it, and to the ridicule. These are usually put together by someone who has little sense of what matters anyway, and attract, well, a certain kind of reader. And as to what THAT audience thinks, I am more concerned that anyone would conclude anything from the tag-lines -- including that the work is purely redundant, that the author somehow perceives that all work counts the same, or that the author is motivated by a jerky desire to outshine her peers. I bet you and I have things on our CVs that we don't think count the same (workshops or whatever), and WE put them there out of compulsion to be complete, not for any fell motive . . .

4/28/2008 12:16 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Ani: You make a great deal of sense Your comments are appreciated. I think there are two things going on here (not literally here necessarily) that form the bases of my concern. One is that relatively bright and energetic people are pulling into the "game." You are right that it means someone is paying them off but too many people are pulled that way because deans and peers do reward it. Why make it pay off? Because so many of them are doing the same thing.

The other is the way it leads to intra-clique back patting. People and their peers begin to believe their press. They want to believe it because they like the person and want to avoid an adverse tenure or promotion outcome for that person. If the person has "the numbers" a great deal can be justified even if the numbers do not represent much in the way of novelty, effort or sweat.

On the anonymous comment. I am just worried that anonymous is missing out on a chance to add his or her comment to a resume under the category -- Op. ed. pieces or "essays."

4/28/2008 2:09 PM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

I think we pretty much agree on this, and I think it's useful to call people out on it. What gave me pause is supposing that anyone who does this is doing it for either the wrong reasons (to be a jerk, or to pull the wool over the evaluator's eyes) or because they are lemmings. Lots of people write overlapping works and do so because they are marginal extensions/variations on ideas they think are important, and because it represents a chance to extend a point or reach a different audience, and they see nothing wrong (nor do I) in citing such things -- on the assumption that discerning folk can figure out the weight of everything. To the extent you are calling on everyone to be discerning, I agree.

4/28/2008 2:35 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

I think the difference is in the motivation. I certainly would like another crack at some of the things I have written because I have thought of something new or I could improve whatever it was. Frankly I find going back to something way to boring when I could be on to something new.

On the other hand, as a friend recently told me. "You are better off to cut that article up into 4 shorter ones if you can because that is the way the game is played." I have no doubt some of the motivation is related simply to self-promotion, lines on a resume and, unfortunately, until people are called on it, it will continue.

4/28/2008 7:44 PM  

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