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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Have you ever taken a class at your university?

One very nice benefit that Boston University gives to all of its employees is the opportunity to take classes for free pretty much anywhere at the university.   Despite its greatness, I had not availed myself of this opportunity for my first nine years here.  Nor was I alone in my nonavailing.  As far as I know, very few if any faculty members had taken a class here during that time (of course, it's possible--quite possible, actually--that I've just been oblivious).  Last summer, though, I took first semester Spanish during the summer session.  I have various personal and professional reasons for wanting to learn Spanish that I won't bore you with here, and the timing worked out well, and, as I mentioned before, the class cost me exactly zero dollars, so I took it.  It was a blast.  Apart from one other person who was around my age, everyone else in the class was 20.  I kept waiting for someone to ask me to buy them beer.  I made flash cards and studied them.   I got stressed about upcoming exams.   I tried to work the phrase "I like to ride a horse" into every class session.  It was all very fun.

I also have to say that's it's a great change of pace to be a student again instead of teaching, and you get a little bit of a feel, anyway, for what it's like to be a student these days, which is probably a good thing because it's easy to forget.  I can't help but think it will make me at least a tiny bit better of a teacher. 

I wonder if anyone else out there has done a similar thing at the school where you teach.  Do most/none/all/some schools give a similar benefit?  I would think that if you wanted to get all interdisciplinary and what have you, taking courses in the relevant other discipline would be a good way to get started on that.  Indeed, maybe this could tie in to some of the other discussions going on here at Prawfs and on other blogs about what AALS candidates should ask in the last 5 minutes.  "I was thinking of doing some cutting edge work in law and epistemology.  Could I enroll in Epistemology 101 at your university for free?"

Posted by Jay Wexler on October 13, 2011 at 12:13 PM in Jay Wexler, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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The University of Illinois has a great language program in addition to the regular curriculum. Intensive language classes are offered for two weeks in May (after finals but before summer) and January (between semesters). Some students attend, but I think it attracts mostly faculty and staff from around the university.

I know from experience that there is a real limit to the amount of Chinese that can be learned in two weeks. On the other hand, I wouldn't have done it otherwise, it was a change of pace, and it gave me the chance to meet great people from parts of the university outside of the law school. Many students used it to prepare for trips or to help them in their jobs. Some to brush up on languages they already knew. Yay Illinois!

Posted by: Verity Winship | Oct 14, 2011 12:31:30 PM

But did you get to ride a horse?

Posted by: Holling | Oct 13, 2011 2:59:39 PM

It goes the other way, too. I know personally two Ph.D.s who, while tenure-track faculty, completed J.D.s at their respective universities' law schools. One entered private practice and then politics. The other leveraged the degree into a law professorship.

Posted by: Abe Delnore | Oct 13, 2011 2:57:40 PM

Those working at state universities may have an even better benefit -- taking classes for free at any university in the state system. My school is 20 minutes down the highway from another state school, so someone contemplating a program offered there but not at my home school has even better options.

A few colleagues have taken language courses, but I think overall the rate of utilization is, as you note, fairly low. My guess is this is because law professors have a lot of other demands on their time -- and particularly for untenured folks, anything that isn't scholarship or teaching is probably a risky use of time. (I think your AALS suggestion is in jest).

The more important benefit might be spousal tuition waivers. This ties in to the dual career posts that have been around the last few weeks. Many spouses are giving up employment to "trail" to a first academic job setting. Having a generous spousal tuition waiver can ease the impact of that move -- especially if graduate or licensing programs are covered. A spouse might have always thought about, say, a high school teaching license, and giving up a high-powered post might be more palatable with some low cost or free education on the horizon.

Posted by: Geoff | Oct 13, 2011 12:50:35 PM

Even if this is not a formally available option, I bet that most professors would let you audit any class if you ask them directly.

I know of some faculty members who have taken graduate-level classes in other departments (e.g. a law professor taking a political science graduate seminar), but I've never heard of someone taking an undergrad class before.

Posted by: Hanah | Oct 13, 2011 12:27:27 PM

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