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More Sophisticated Than What the Clientele Wants

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5 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    I think this kind of misses the point. People pay tuition for an education. When some of that tuition is spent on research and scholarship, instead of educating them, they’re not getting a “more sophisticated” product than they wanted.

    The tuition money spent on that isn’t providing them with product at all.

  2. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Excellent post. It’s also true that participating in scholarly discourse, even if student demand for it cannot be plotted on a microeconomic curve, enhances the quality of teaching, what they experience in the classroom.

  3. BDG says:

    Or, to put it another way, both higher education and quality news provide two goods: one, a private good for direct consumers, and two, a public good everyone shares in. Understandably, consumers only want to pay for the private good, but if they get their way, society loses.

  4. Michael Kang says:

    Thanks for these comments. I guess it’s worth spelling out more explicitly what I take to be the assumed connection between scholarship and the “more sophisticated” teaching product offered at top-ranked schools. The assumption is that faculty engagement in scholarship immerses faculty in the world of top-level legal thought that they then bring to their teaching, as Larry says. I think this is why legal education at a top-ranked school like Yale can be understood as superior (at least by some, if not by all)—student exposure to academic superstars distinguished by their scholarly credentials more so than by their practice experience.

  5. A.J. Sutter says:

    The scamlaw economics-based argument is flawed internally. But the counter-argument in defense of current scholarship also has problems.

    Professors are already exposed directly to market forces. Their “customers” are the universities who hire them — the ones who “support those professional values by judging faculty largely on the basis of those values through a complex set of institutions, including peer review for publication, promotion, and tenure.” This is especially true of law professors.

    Law schools are also exposed to market forces. Demand from students for law degrees seems to be high. Some might claim there’s a market failure here: it’s a favorite trope of this blog that if the ABA’s monopoly on accreditation were shattered, the cost of legal education would come tumbling down. But the recent exchange between Erwin Chemerinsky and Brian Tamanaha at Balkinization points up some reasons why new institutions might choose an expensive path, regardless. For one thing, even if students want a school to prepare them for passing the bar exam, they also want to get hired. Even some lower-paying jobs, such as in the public interest, are very selective about whom they hire. The result is that even a school that isn’t targeting giant corporate firms needs the material wherewithal to acquire a good reputation, in order to provide students what they want. Market forces, again.

    OTOH, while faculty devotion to scholarship and the “offer[ing] [of] a refined product that much of the market doesn’t always quite appreciate and value at the same level” might seem very noble, that nobility shouldn’t automatically be imputed to whatever gets “produced.” Many of the greatest and most learned minds of the Middle Ages worried about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. A lot of legal scholarship today is comparable. That partly mitigates an outsider’s sympathy for the tensions to which faculty are subject these days.

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