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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Greetings, and some thoughts on teaching at a new institution

Hello, readers, and thanks to Dan and the gang at Prawfsblawg for the return visit.  The last time I guest-blogged her, I was teaching at Iowa, but after seven years in the Midwest, I've just moved to Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.

This was a straight lateral move, without a semester as a look-see visitor, so I really am moving into a new environment, which leads to my first post -- some thoughts about teaching at a new institution.  Of course, all of us who went from whatever we did before teaching (private practice, government, public interest) were going to a "new" institution.  But at least then, the newness of the environment could be chalked up purely to moving from private practice to the academic world.  Here, the differences are entirely ones of school cultures.  To wit:

1) Dress code -- One can dress however one chooses (within reason) as a law professor, but even so, law schools no doubt have general dress code norms.  How much should one worry about not conforming to the new dress code norm?

For example, with few exceptions, I wear a suit and tie when I'm teaching.  This was on the dressier side of things at Iowa, but there were a fair number of others who dressed similarly.  There appear to be fewer at Lewis & Clark (though, contrary to earlier concerns I had, the number of others is not zero).  I wouldn't particularly to look like an overdressed slickster if it is a more casual environment, but then again, I also go through the effort of wearing a suit and tie on teaching days for the usual reasons of creating some distance between the students and me.  (Weirdly, I still get mistaken on occasion for a student if I dress like them.)

2) Length of Classes -- At Iowa, classes met for 60 minutes an hour, which meant that starting times advanced by 10 minutes per hour (i.e., classes started at 1:10, 2:20, 3:30, and so on).  Here, classes meet for 50 minutes an hour, and usually in two 1 1/2 hour blocks, which means for 75 minutes.  So some thought has to be given to whether to give a break in the middle, or to go straight through, either way making sure to finish well before the end of the allotted 90 minute block, because another class is going to be starting right away.

More importantly, this means that classes prepped for 90 minute blocks have to be adjusted to fit 75 minute blocks!  (That's a 16.7% difference in time. . . .)

3) Name of the New Institution -- I think the formal name of my new institution is "Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College."  But we seem to refer to it as Lewis & Clark Law School.  (That's also what it says on my business cards.)  Obviously, "Northwestern" gets confusing, even though in a rational world, the other Northwestern would be something like Midwestern or Northmidwestern or even Northeastern (though of course there's another one of those!)  Yet, the letterhead that came with my desk still reads Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College.  Who do I tell people I work for?

(With Iowa, I didn't have that problem.  But it did take me a while to remember that it's officially The University of Iowa, not the University of Iowa.)

4) Faculty meetings -- Generally not the favorite of law professors, but a necessary evil.  You get used to them at your old institution, though.  Is it acceptable to bring page proofs to an article to review?  Is it acceptable to bring a laptop computer to work on an article, or to blog?  Is it acceptable to grade exams?  And then, you have to figure everything out from scratch again.

Of course, in some ways, it's possible that I'm a sort of dinosaur in this regard, given the recent trend toward hiring VAPs at the entry level.  VAPs, of course, will have confronted issues 1-3 (and, if they're unlucky, issue 4!), so for them, starting on a tenure track is itself like a straight lateral move.

Posted by Tung Yin on September 2, 2009 at 01:57 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Re faculty meetings. "Is it acceptable to bring page proofs to an article to review? Is it acceptable to bring a laptop computer to work on an article, or to blog? Is it acceptable to grade exams?"

If the answers to any of those questions are "yes," I hope the issue of "laptops in the classroom" never comes up, or if it does, there's no double standard.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Sep 2, 2009 9:41:36 AM

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