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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Par for the course

The hoopla over the USNWR rankings is now (week) old news, but the anxieties it provokes linger.   Admit it -- we are all obsessed with measuring ourselves in some way, shape or form.  So we ask ourselves, what is my school ranked?  How many downloads do I have?  Where did my last article place?  How do my students grade me?  How did I do in my pool?

We know, however, that although these measurements are not wholly irrational, they are imprecise.  Plenty of wonderful articles appear in journals other than Yale or Harvard.  A few disgruntled students can lower the mean of a fabulous teacher.  And, of course, the rankings can be gamed.

Unfortunately, as far as visible measurements of professional success go, we don't have much else to turn to.  I wonder if this pushes us to seek more concrete, tangible, and less manipulable ways of measuring ourselves in our personal life. 

More after the jump ...   

For example, I am an obsessive golfer.  One thing I like is that I can set a goal (shooting a certain score, for example),  work toward it, and the result depends on me and me alone.  I can't make any excuses for failing to meet my goal, but by the same token, I know that achieving the goal also depends solely on my efforts.  That score doesn't depend on my letterhead, or the catchiness of my article title, or whether my students like detailed syllabi or not.  My golf scores give me a concrete way to measure myself. 

A colleague of mine recently ran the Chicago marathon in under 3 hours.  She expressed similar sentiments about relishing meeting such a tangible goal, when so much of what we do as professors is intangible and unmeasurable.

Have you noticed a connection between the intangibility of our profession and finding outside interests that allow us to measure ourselves?  How do you measure yourself outside of school? 

Posted by Miranda Fleischer on April 4, 2007 at 01:23 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink

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» By Any Measure. . . from Legal Profession Blog
Miranda Perry Fleischer over at PrawfsBlawg has invited us to think about the relative incommensurability of being a law professor and the ways we substitute other measurements outside of school life. This is a challenge I can't pass up, particularly [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 4, 2007 8:20:02 AM

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My list:
1. Amount of hair sloughed from head after combing
2. Days of week I rode my bicycle to school
3. Pieces of mail received that are not 'junk-mail'
4. Times I cleaned out the cat litter box (towards goal of doing my fair share...)
5. Trips to the kitchen during off hours
6. Daily naps that exceed one hour
7. Days I don't care if my socks are color coordinated with what appears above
8. Number of successive days I've failed to clean the toilets (toward goal of not doing my fair share...) while simultaneously not thinking of how Gandhi chastised his wife when she refused to take her turn at 'night soil' chores in their communal household in South Africa
9. Length of time elapsed from last time I checked for e-mail
10. Number of years still married to my infinitely patient wife (27 yrs.+)

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 4, 2007 9:39:20 AM

I should have mentioned I'm not part of your profession, so I simply answered the question 'How do you measure yourself outside of school?' And if it counts for anything, I'm a tad more than an inch taller than Jeff Lipshaw with my socks on (see: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/)

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 4, 2007 9:53:52 AM

In other words: a metric based on tangible personal achievement rather than comparison is always better.

Can't disagree there. But I can point out that most if not all law schools grade on a curve, and thus from day one achievement is defined by comparison. This attitude permeates the profession far after graduation.

If you had been, say, an literature professor making this post I would have been inclined to take you more seriously. As it is though, the fact that ranking is something of an obsession post law school is hardly surprising given the obsession over ranking DURING law school.

Posted by: jps | Apr 4, 2007 9:59:16 AM

I guess I should also be more specific: I'm talking more specifically about lawyers generally and not those involved in law school academics.

I do agree with your basic point: Measuring how a professor (or any teacher performs) is very difficult, if not impossible, to do accurately given the subjectiveness of whatever metric you choose to compare. For an example, ask any grade school teacher about No Child Left Behind and get an earful about how stupid it is.

If I were a professor, I'd rather be measured by the success of my students than anything else. I have a different idea of success than many of my peers at law school did however.

Posted by: jps | Apr 4, 2007 10:05:17 AM

I am not good enough in HTML code to get all the special effects in comments so to see my response you have to go to Legal Profession Blog.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Apr 4, 2007 11:00:10 AM

Lawyers are mostly resume whores. There's nothing wrong with goals and wanting tangible achievements, but lawyers take it to another level. xoxohth.com and David Lat (entire persona = bitter Supreme Court clerk reject) don't really exist in other professions. What businesses other than law firms have condensed versions of each employee's resume posted there? What other part of academia has downloadable CVs of each faculty member on the school's website?

The only thing similar I can think of is professional sports, where ESPN and others compile up-to-the-minute statistics on everyone and post them on websites. But lawyers bear little resemblance to professional athletes, and it would be a sad day indeed if some trading card company made lawyer cards that you could flip over and find out whether the pictured lawyer was on the editorial board of his law review.

Posted by: wb | Apr 4, 2007 11:00:17 AM

Cooking. It's tangibly either edible or inedible. And the verdict comes in pretty quickly. (Leaving aside more intangible assessments of just how edible it is).

Posted by: Annecoos | Apr 4, 2007 4:34:29 PM

Judge Smails: "Ty,what did you shoot today?"

Ty Webb: "Oh, Judge, I don't keep score."

JS: "How do you measure yourself with other golfers?"

TW: "By height."

Posted by: anon | Apr 4, 2007 9:46:00 PM

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