Friday, January 13, 2012

So You Wanna Be a Law Prof But Not Really?

All you really knew is that you did not want to be a lawyer. So you got into teaching and what did you find out? Law teaching meant teaching law or at least how to be a lawyer. That is not so hot either because actually law is not interesting to you. Do not fear, a whole generation of new courses for the law teacher who wants no part of law has evolved. Here is a recent proposal just received:

Dear Curriculum Committee:

I would like to propose a new course, Law and Life, to be taught by me. I have attached the proposed syllabus. The course will work best if capped at zero students. Because I feel it is important enough to make it available to others, I have decided to cap it at six.

Thank you Tristan

Law and Life
Professor Tristan & Professor Gold (Music Therapy Department)

Materials needed: 1)A Prune
2) My law review article in any of the seven forms I have published the same article.
3) Dancing slippers
4) A gender-neutral Teddy Bear
5) (Optional) Pancake syrup.

We meet every Tuesday evening from 6-8 unless there is a full moon.

Your grade will be based on the weekly assignments as described and a machine graded, multiple choice, take home, open book (if there were one) exam.

Week One: Birth

Prepare for presentation to the class a limerick that describes how you felt while being born. How is this like a new law? Or is it? Dr. Madelain. a recent graduate of our law school who also once read a book about birth will first present a lecture on "What it feels like to be Born and the Law." This class will not be graded. Instead, each student will be given a laminated photocopy of my Harvard degree. I have thousands so do not worry. This means if I forget to mention where I went to school (and I rarely do) you can refer to the card. It is wallet sized.

Week Two: Telling is Feeling and Client Confidentiality

In this class you must tell the rest of the students the one thing you would least like them to know about yourself. You also must tell something about your best friend that you believe would make your best friend mortified. The goal of this exercise is to allow you to experience how a client would feel if you violated his or her confidence. Students telling the most embarrassing things about themselves will receive an A. All others will receive another laminated copy of my diploma.

Week Three: You and the Prune

Please visit the restroom before class. In this class you will sit quietly and observe a prune for sixty minutes. The music in the background will be John Cages 4 minutes 33 seconds. While observing the prune you are required to adopt the perspective of a cat. What do you feel? Please purr if you are so inclined.

In the last hour of the class, you will share the feelings you experienced. This must be whispered. The lights will be dimmed to enhance the darkness. The best presenters will receive and A as well others in the class.

Week Four: Sex and Negotiation: First Experiences

Prepare a 30 minute detailed description of your first sexual encounter. You may use power point. Your first sexual experience, whether you realize it or not, was a negotiation. Think of the steps of that negotiation. Since there are six of you and only 120 minutes, two students will be picked at random not to participate. They will receive a grade of A. This class will be videotaped by a very small person.

Week Five: Self Defense and the Law

Steven Thog, a guy a met while walking my collie, Jung, around the park will present some really good moves to use on unruly clients. There will be role-playing with each of you taking the role of an abusive client and Steven will play the role of you or what you would be like if you were Steven. All students who do not tell the dean about this class will receive an A.

Week Six: Client Movement

You are required to wear dancing slippers. Each of you will have 10 minutes to display the feelings of a client through movement. You may not speak. Is she happy or sad, tall or short, skinny or large?

The second hour of class you must critique the interpretations of your classmates also through movement only. Important: no levitation is permitted during this class. Students who are more expressive or wear the most colorful costumes will receive an A. Students who would have their feelings hurt if given less than a A will also receive an A.

Week Seven: Attorney Movement

You are required to wear dancing slippers. Each of you will have 10 minutes to display the feelings of a attorney in a case involving a legal name change. You may not speak. Through movement you must exhibit your feelings about the client's new name without revealing those feelings to the client.

The second hour of class you must critique the interpretations of your classmates also through movement only. Important: no levitation is permitted during this class. Students who are the quietest dancers will receive an A. Students who would have their feelings hurt if given less than a A will also receive an A.

Week Eight: Review

This week will be devoted to a discussion of which of the prior classes you liked best. How did it make you feel.?How do you think I will feel if you did not love them all? Special guest lecturer is Bubba Henson author of the brilliant article, "Law: So What?" an unpublishable manuscript now in his file cabinet.

Week Nine: Waffles

Thema Henson, Bubba's mother and waitress at the 3rd street Waffle House will be our special guest lecturer. Special treat: She will bring strawberry waffles for all. Her lecture will cover the perils of late night attorney-client relationships. She is not a actual attorney but once waited on a table of 4. Two had BLTs and two had grilled cheese with onions. After the lecture we will think really really hard. The hardest thinkers will receive grades of A. Each of them may keep the A or give it to someone else in the class.

Week Ten: Princeton and Dreams

There will be no class this night. I will be attending the Princeton reunion. The class will be made up between 2 and 4 AM when you are required to dream a dream of your law professors dancing. A's will be awarded to all those reporting they had the required dream. A's are also available if you promise not to tell the dean we cancelled class and did not make it up.

Week Eleven: Multiple Choice Exams

I will mime a 30 minute lecture on why I use multiple choice machine graded exams. Over the next 90 minutes you will each write an essay on "Why Machine Graded Multiple Choice Exams are the Best Way to Evaluate Student Performance." You will mail your essays to the dean.

Weeks Twelve -Thirteen: Guest Lecturers

Yes, I am pretty much out of ideas and don't really like preparing for class so I am going to figure out who I can get to come and talk to you about whatever. It'll be great. Really! These classes are optional plus I will not be in attendance.

Week Fourteen: Aren't We Feeling Better

Tonight the entire two hours will be devoted to a class evaluation in which you will describe how you benefited from the class. Please emphasize how the class changed you for the better. Oh, not that it is relevant, but I have decided to give you all As and there is a plate of cookies at the front of class.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is Diversity Dead?

Maybe the better title to this should be "Was Diversity Ever Alive." When people think about diversity it is usually racial. To me, that "effort" at diversity was always a curious one. Most faculty I have been around really wanted the least diverse diversity candidates possible. By that I mean African American who went to fancy law schools, had middle class or professional parents. etc. But, I've covered this before and to the extent racial diversity is a goal, I see no changes.

Now, though, I realize I have misusing the term "intellectual diversity." In the past I and others have used the term to mean ideological diversity. It is obvious to most that most law schools are not ideologically diverse. There are few conservatives, perhaps fewer libertarians, and almost no leftists. Instead we have the (not) liberals. Most have an agenda (like I do) that is self-referential. I think of them a psycho-capitalists. Not psycho as in crazy but people who are rational maximizers of whatever makes them feel good. And, what makes them feel good is to be around people like themselves. Call it narcsi-pyscho-captalitism.

There is little hope for ideological diversity.

Intellectual diversity is something different. I could mean different levels of intellectualism -- different levels of pure curiosity and a willingness to go with ideas where ever they may lead -- law schools are not diverse (and not not diverse at a high level)

On the other hand, if intellectual diversity means different interests, it is true that some people really get into antitrust and some love teaching contracts with all of its history and puzzles. The problem is that for most law professors, the breadth of intellectual diversity seems to extend to different facets of law. To put it a bit too bluntly, except for knowing about non law things at a Jeopardy level, they don't seem to know much. Ever heard the subjects of conversation at a law faculty party? I can assure you the range is teensy. Just ask the non lawyer spouses who refuse to go.

I'd add one more element to this. This lack of this version of intellectual diversity seems most evident among younger faculty. It's a given that that vast majority of law professors are graduates of a handful of schools. Yet somewhere along the line it seems like those schools stopped teaching or stopped recruiting people a broad range of interests.

In the olden days of law teaching ,when I began, there were characters and eccentrics and people from fancy schools who could talk knowledgably about all kinds of topics. Now those fancy schools seem to select their students from a very narrow range of intellectual potential and then suck whatever potential might have been there right out of them. Some, thankfully, survive going to those schools but many do not.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Get Those Numbers Out of Here or I will Call the Authorities

The other day I spoke to a colleague about the fact that my school has two grading curves depending on the size of the class. I wondered allowed if we could study whether the 2 curves influenced course selection, class rank, and GPA. The response was not argumentative at all but more or less "I'm not that interested in numbers."

That is, in fact, a common theme in legal education and represents how far legal educators are from the applying various principles and measures that would follow from good educational policy.

The example I have given is directly related to the issue of student choices. Do we want students to select courses that will best prepare them for the practice of law (or tending bar as the case increasingly seems to be) or do we want them to be tempted to game the system.

The two curve example reminds me of one of the worse testing strategies around: Please select and answer any 3 of the following 5 questions. Yes, it's a policy that says to pick the test you would like to take. The student who would get an B on three quesitons and a C on the other two gets the same grade as the student who would get a B on all 5. Like the different curves, the testing method itself intrudes on the process in a way that is disconnected from the goal. But there too we get into numbers.

Something that also falls in the area where law professors do not venture is the reliability and validity of exams. Reliability is really a question of consistency. For example, you turn the hot water tap on half way for your bath and the water is always 90 degrees. You can count on it. But, you also say 90 degrees is just right for making your aching muscles feel better. That is a question of validity.

Suppose every time you write and give an exam, there is a nice bell shaped curve. You might say your testing is reliable: every time you give an exam X happens. But, do you know anything about the connection between what you hope to be testing for and the outcome? This question of validity is a different matter. I am far from an expert but, let's say you give machine graded multiple choice exams. How do you know the questions are valid measures of what you want to measure. There could, after all, be 5 reasons to miss a question or get it right and only some are related to what you are testing for. I would guess that any multiple choice question that does not require a student to explain his or her answer would have to undergo testing itself and perhaps trial runs and debriefings of the students so see what they understood the question to be asking and how the different choices could be interpreted.

And then there is the matter of student evaluations. What do they tell us? I'd say they are very reliable and valid indicators of what the students wrote down on their forms. Other than that, I do not know. The problem is that no one else does. Wouldn't it be nice to know what the evaluations mean as far as actual student learning? I've seen studies that indicate no correlation between evaluations and learning and even some that indicate a negative correlation.

But then again, to actually attempt to determine what the numbers mean would mean dealing with numbers.

Finally suppose you offer three or four credit course you would like to teach in 2 days. There are all kinds of studies on the impact of different class lengths on concentration and learning. I wonder if any law professors have looked at these "numbers."

Sometimes it seems clear to me that numbers are discounted principally because they may tell us something we do not want to hear. The main thing we do not want to hear is anything that casts a shadow over whether we should get our way.