Thursday, March 01, 2007

Teaching Law Yesterday

Law schools have in recent years tended to give their tenure-track faculty lighter and lighter teaching loads. We can foresee the day when most law professors will routinely teach but one class a semester—and only intimate seminars, at that. But before we charge into that brave (but very laid back!) new world, we law profs might do well to recall what we stand to lose.

I can tell you about "old school" law school from firsthand experience. Last semester I taught two Contracts I sections—over 120 students. This semester I have those same students for Contracts II, plus a fair-sized Entertainment Law course, giving me 9 credit-hours to cover.

(Why am I enjoying that blast from the academic past? Long story. The short of it: Please wish our dear colleague, Prof. Frank J. Doti, well.)

Teaching three courses and around 150 students costs me a fair amount of time and attention, of course. I have less time for scholarship than I normally would. With Utah L. Rev. expecting a paper by April 1, I face a bit of a challenge. Soon, I'll also face a lot of grading: midterms for Contracts II and finals for all my classes. Whew.

But let me emphasize the positives to a heavy teaching load: 1) I can help a lot of people learn about the law; 2) I enjoy a downward sloping average cost curve; 3) I have a bigger audience for my inner (or is that "outer"?) ham; and 4) I feel like I'm earning my pay.

Don't underestimate the appeal of that last benefit. We law profs have landed pretty good gigs. Our professional qualifications—good grades, scholarship, teaching—attest to our prodigious mental powers. How easily can we coast through our academic careers, meeting only the bare duties of our jobs! Sloth thus tempts. Teaching an overload certainly offers ample balm for that worry.

[Crossposted to Agoraphilia.]


Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Nice but here is the issue as I have noted over on classbias:

In order to feel good about working hard a person has to have the capacity to know when he is not working hard. Many law professors see themselves as working hard and go home each day complaining although an objective outsider would say "ya gotta be kidding." This part of the legal education matrix -- the make believe world of rationlizations. In fact, volunteering to do something extra is often viewed as suspicious.

3/02/2007 10:08 AM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...

Yes, Jeff, I have to grant that some law profs view sloth as a right rather than a vice. To hardworking common folk, I suppose it looks as if we all do.

3/02/2007 12:27 PM  

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