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Monday, October 02, 2006

Notes on De-guesting

A few final strings to tie up before leaving. In the meantime, thanks as ever to all the uber-prawfs responsible for this here thing, and to the commentors (anon and non-anon) who keep things lively.

On meat-market ethics: I thought the comments (and some later posts, including Paul's) raised all the right issues about the value for candidates and faculties to think broadly and ethically about the process.

On mentoring: The term has as many definitions as there are relationships between senior and junior professionals. My one caveat about the term is its mythological value as the supposedly magic tool to solve all problems and bridge all gaps: To help young'uns establish a research agenda, proceed towards tenure, and just figure things out, a program or law school needs to establish a formal mentoring program and junior folks need to partner up with senior folks, because the verb to mentor produces the nouns research and scholar. (Note: that wasn't Bill's original point, but my own characterization of the way "mentoring" gets used.) My point was not that advice and support can't help get you there, but that they're neither necessary nor sufficient to getting there. YMMV, as they say.

On specialization: Josh Wright has a really fine post on Truth on the Market reporting and thinking out loud about what it means for a junior faculty member to be at the closest thing we have to a "specialized" school, GMU. Two quick thoughts on Josh's post:

First, I wonder what relationship, if any, the notion of methodological and theoretical diversity on a faculty has to the notion of political diversity on a faculty (Josh cites a Henry Manne post from December on the latter issue, which argues that political diversity is a foolish and impossible ideal to pursue). Folks trained in particular methodologies can wind up with significant preferences that are as strong as political prejudices, so I suppose there are parallels. And in a previous academic career, I was in a department in which political simpaticos were in a blood feud over their methodological differences. But -- and I suppose this is evidence of my fuzzy-headed thinking and my training in qualitative methodologies -- that seems so foolish, and an indication that folks are being ruled by the epistemology that they were trained in as 20-something year olds. Each set of methodologies has its strenghts and blindspots; each is limited in the questions it asks by the way it frames its efforts to obtain answers. It's a sad truth of academics that methodology can begin to look like a zero-sum game and battle for supremacy. This isn't a necessary state of things, but one of the dangers of specialization, and a cautionary concern for the cluster approach that Larry Solum advocates (and that I also find attractive).

Second, I think Josh may underestimate the curricular effects of specialization. Law is instrumental, certainly; students need to be taught to think and argue instrumentally; and economics is currently the leading discipline for deriving answers to instrumental questions. But that's not all that law is, and instrumentalism certainly doesn't exhaust the rhetorics with which lawyers need to have facility. That is, there's a lot more to being a litigator, administrative lawyer, transactional attorney, etc., than economic arguments -- just as it's more than the rhetorical and intellectual arguments that any single method or theory can offer. I'm confident that Mason students get the basic rhetorical tools they should, so at this point I'm just thought-experimenting about a world in which all law schools specialize, and to an even greater degree of GMU. Would this leave a profession composed of attorneys who are coming out of different methological or theoretical schools and who have no way of communicating with each other -- in the same way that graduate students who come out of different programs have limited commonalities in methods, traditions, and conceptual terms?

Posted by Mark Fenster on October 2, 2006 at 10:36 PM | Permalink


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