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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is Creative Writing About Law an Academically Worthy Interdisciplinary Endeavor?

Let's face it, we're all interdisciplinarians now.  Even if we aren't.  But what other disciplines count, such that if you put them together with law, you get something that law schools consider worthy?  Obviously, the mainstays of interdisciplinary work--law and economics, history, philosophy, and political science--are here to stay, and these days we're happily seeing other disciplines added to the mix--anthropology, religious studies, various hard sciences, and the like.  But what else should count, be welcomed into the legal academy with open arms, respected at tenure time, attract the attention of appointments committees, and so on?  At Boston University, our schools and colleges grant degrees in over 250 disciplines, from archaeology to journalism to sculpture to oral and maxiollfacial surgery.  Should we be looking to start hiring in the field of law and sacred music?  Should we at least signal somehow that this is something we would be happy to consider, were somebody to show up with such a specialty?

Specifically, I'm wondering about whether Law and Creative Writing should "count" as a serious interdisciplinary endeavor.  About 200 universities and colleges offer creative writing programs that teach students how to write fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction.  Some of these programs exist within English departments; others stand alone.  All, I presume, see their mission as a serious academic one that deserves respect and support from their universities.  As an example, here's a beautifully written statement of purposes from a top program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Clearly, many law professors engage in creative writing endeavors.  Some write stories.  Some write novels.  More would probably write novels if they thought that their schools would value such work.  Of course, to "count," the novels would have to be good, as measured by those who are professional creative writers.  A tenure letter evaluating a novel about law would have to come from Joyce Carol Oates, not your friend who is a fifth year associate at Debevoise.  But I get the sense that even strong creative writing about law is presumed not to count.  For example, look at page 144 of the Green Bag's introduction to its "Deadwood Report" project.  The piece says that, in reporting on scholarship listed on the web pages of law schools, the Report will be "taking account of "scholarly books and articles in scholarly journals.  Not novels."  Now, the piece does thoughtfully go on to note that if the school's website includes official regulations stating that works of fiction count for tenure, and if further inquiry reveals that the school has in fact granted tenure on the basis of such work, then the Report will consider those works in its faculty measurements, "with a flag and a note about your interesting tenure policy."  My sense is that this document accurately encapsulates the academy's view about law and creative writing--absent super duper exceptional circumstances, it doesn't count as an academically worthy interdiscplinary endeavor. 

But of course, creative writing can help us see and understand the world in ways that academic writing cannot.  There are some truths that cannot be conveyed by traditional expository writing.  This has got to be the same for law as it is for other potential subjects of fiction and creative non-fiction.  Try and express what Kafka gave us with The Trial in a law review article, I dare you.  It's an extreme example, of course.  But then again, one wonders whether, if Kafka were coming up for tenure at an American Law School, his classic novel would  be considered a "plus in the file."

Posted by Jay Wexler on October 20, 2011 at 10:52 AM in Jay Wexler, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I think the authors of the Deadwood Report are trying to prove their point.

To answer the question, though, I do not think that creative writing should "count as an academically worthy interdisciplinary endeavor." Not because it isn't potentially worth a lot, but rather because obtaining anything of any quality would be a happy accident -- law professors are not selected for these skills, and hiring and promoting colleagues would be terrible at evaluating talent. I also doubt the value to students, since even those achieving literary or other creative successes aren't necessarily skilled at teaching what it takes.

Posted by: Ani | Oct 25, 2011 4:24:05 PM

This may be off-topic, but what has happened to the Deadwood Report? I hadn't heard about it until your link above, so I googled it and all the articles and information are from 2008. Is the Green Bag still planning on producing it? If so, does anyone know when? It seems like an interesting exercise.

Posted by: Stuart Ford | Oct 20, 2011 11:41:47 AM

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