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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Law schools and universities

An issue that, I gather, comes up a lot during faculty meetings and among law profs is the relationship between a law school and its university.  (Some law schools, of course, are stand-alones, and do not have a formal relationship with a university.)  How much control / oversight / supervisory power over a law school's fund-raising, hiring, spending, tenure-and-promotion practices, etc. should the university's administration have?  In which of these (or other) areas should the law school dean, administration, and / or faculty have relative independence?  What are the costs and benefits of relatively close, and relatively distant, relationships, respectively?  Any thoughts? 

Posted by Rick Garnett on August 5, 2006 at 01:19 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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I think many of the same dynamics at work in the oft-discussed relationship between legal academic scholarship and scholarship in other disciplines is at play in the law school/ university relationship -- and as with the scholarship relationship, I'm of two minds.

On the one hand, law schools work from a fabulous position of privilege in terms of autonomy and resource allocation. Hey, our department chair is also a dean! We have our own library and librarians! Our own building(s)! A quite distinct T&P process (at my school, promotion to associate after 3 years, to full upon tenure; marginally lower standards of publication). And to the extent we get to capture tuition and have a separate or somewhat separate endowment, we have a great ability to hold some pretty gilded purse strings. My wife teaches in a humanities department. I'm reminded of my privilege pretty much every day over dinner.

That said, I think we do lose something from this administrative separation, which typically accompanies a physical separation from the main campus in most law schools (certainly mine). Beyond facing resentment -- especially from the non-professional schools -- I think our administrative distance matches our intellectual and physical distance. This means that it requires more work for the law school and its faculty to be taken seriously by folks from other parts of the campus.

Perhaps that's as it should be. (I'm not whining!) It's the price of exceptionalism. In the same way that mere placement in a law review, or even in an elite law review, is not itself a marker of quality, so being a faculty member in a law school doesn't necessarily earn you respect across campus. It'll be interesting to watch what happens if (when?) legal academia is more intellectually integrated within the academy as a whole, as the trend towards JD/PhDs continues and fully matures in a generation or so. At that point the administrative distinction will likely still be there (as will pay disparities, although who knows about P&T disparities?). I assume that, as a professional school housed separately, law schools will continue to be administratively separate, as well as physically separate. Will the other aspects of law school exceptionalism still exist?

Posted by: Mark Fenster | Aug 6, 2006 9:07:10 AM

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