Making Law Professors Happy
Michael Livingston (Camden-Rutgers) has a relatively new blog that I just came across. Last month, he offered an interesting set of observations on why law professors, who have objectively wonderful jobs, are often so darn nervous and angsty. Here is a taste:
The answer is provided by the theory: they behave in this manner because they are doomed to compete, without anyone else to share the responsibility, in an activity in which they can never know whether they have succeeded or even what succeeding might mean.
This makes the world I live in look quite grim, and I don’t know that I buy the descriptive claim. Are professors any more unhappy than doctors, accountants, GM workers, or real lawyers? I doubt it – although Livingston’s recent post on affirmative action sheds some light on issues he finds alienating. The payoff from his claim is provocative: he offers a novel defense of the tenure system, based on relieving of the crisis caused by competing against yourself in a world without measures:
Tenure, for example, which would no longer be seen as a form of protectionism for incompetent academics, but a necessary countermeasure to prevent the suffering from becoming still more pronounced.
Ok. But if that is the goal tenure is serving, couldn’t we accomplish it more efficiently by, say, giving professors grades? Does it really matter that such grades will have no connection to objective measures? (We all went to law school, and are used to such things.) As so often happens, I’m reminded of a terrific Simpson’s episode, involving a teacher’s strike. I strongly empathize with Lisa’s response, expressed in a conversation with Marge:
Lisa: Grade me…look at me…evaluate and rank me! Oh, I’m good, good, good, and oh so smart! Grade me!
[Marge scribbles an A on a piece of paper]
[Lisa walks off, muttering crazily and sighing]