posted by Jason Mazzone
Candidates for law school faculty positions often present a “research agenda” in which they set out the projects they plan to undertake during their first years as a member of the faculty. Many of these research agendas are more heavy on agenda than on research. Candidates write things like this: “I plan to research how the political process systematically disadvantages members of minority racial groups and why voting laws need to be changed.” Or like this: “In this project, I will research how bloggers intimidate women and explain why the First Amendment should not protect certain kinds of blogging.” This isn’t research. It is a statement of a conclusion that has already been drawn without the benefit of research. It always surprises me when intelligent, educated people committed to an academic career have managed never to learn how to frame a research topic. One of the problems, of course, is that the JD isn’t a PhD. Graduate students in other fields of study learn the methodology of academic inquiry. Another problem is that our own profession often encourages the agenda over the research. The AALS Annual Meeting often has a theme that suggests an agenda. Last time I attended (two years ago in New York) the theme was something like “Reassessing Our Role in Light of Change.” More substantive national conferences also have themes. At Law and Society this year, the theme is “Law, Power, and Inequality in the 21st Century.” There will be plenty of great papers that don’t have anything to do with that issue but it’s too bad that participants are officially organized under this slogan. And it is little wonder that the prospective (or new) professor might get the message that promoting an agenda is what legal scholarship is about.