Saturday, March 07, 2009

Is There A Dog There?

The tail wagging the dog idea has made it into Moneylaw on a number of occasions. I am beginning to wonder if there is a dog still there. USN&WR rankings determine what law schools do ranging from admitting transfer students, lowering class size, and employing their students, at least temporarily.

SSRN has created the cult of the download. Narrow lists so everyone is on a top ten or gerrymandering a category so you can create your own top ten. Rankings of professors and schools are generated on the basis of downloads which you can manipulate yourself.

Teaching evaluations have result in altering teaching styles not in the direction of ensuring that today's students are even better prepared than their predecessors but so the teacher can score a higher number. Some faculty obsess over a tenth of a point here and there. I've had colleagues freely admit that they decided to be funnier to raise evaluations.

Foreign programs have gone from opportunities for students to products that are sold to them oft times in hopes that the professor will get to go and not because there is some gaping hole in educational opportunities for students.

The writing requirement which I suppose at one time was instituted in hopes that people with freedom to study law would "discover" things much like scientists. has largely been diluted to a hurdle, almost a form of hazing, in order receive tenure. 7000 plus articles a year, few of which are read and even fewer of which are written because of inspiration. Instead there is a great deal of casting about -- what can I write about now? Does this edited book of readings count even if Elgar says they will do it for me? Is it refereed if someone asked me to do it for a symposium?

Grades are inflated in part because, as it has been expressed at my school, 1) We have to give high grades so our students can compete. 2) It hurts the students' feelings to get a C (and increasingly a B). Students ask why not raise grades even more so they can be even more competitive. Maybe they have a point.

If you peel away all of the tails, would we find a dog? I assume this means 1) teachers who do their best to produce students to whom they would entrust the fates of future clients -- even their parents- regardless of the impact on evaluations, 2) writing only when you feel a pressing need to express something that may actually make a difference, 3) honestly evaluating every program to determine what it produces for the students and other stakeholders, 4) admitting students (at least to a state school) so the subsidization is fairly given to those with promise regardless of the USN&WR-affecting LSAT.

My sense is that we would find a dog. My fear is that it may be a chihuahua.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, you are fast becoming an invaluable institution. This post is right on the money. Indeed, I'd go so far to say that it's uncontroversial. But typically things completely uncontroversial are not interesting. Why is that emphatically not the case here? I think it's because what you say is so, so right, and yet achieving it is so -- pie in the sky. Abandoning all the junk that you identify, in favor of actually providing the best service we can, would require so much coordinated behavior that it could fail in innumerable places. So what can we do?

I think the only solution is unilateral disarmament: each of us, and each of our schools, simply does what it needs to do to "find the dog" and ignore the tail, no matter what the short-term consequences. If it means that our institution falls in the rankings, so be it; indeed, bring it on! Really, we have no choice, unless we are to continue in the current, disheartening direction.

3/07/2009 6:46 PM  
Blogger emfink said...

"I've had colleagues freely admit that they decided to be funnier to raise evaluations."

I suspect this tactic would backfire if the professor is not actually funny.

3/07/2009 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But do colleagues ever vow to stop trying to be funny in order to raise evaluations?

3/07/2009 10:07 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Thanks for the comments. Vladimir, a little leadership would help from those who could signal how unimportant the tails are. But, ultimately, I think the only thing a person can do is find the dog in him or herself, nurture it, and hope is it not a chihuahua

3/08/2009 3:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Bravo for this wonderful post--it really hit the mark!

3/12/2009 5:56 PM  

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