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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teaching vs. Scholarship vs. Influence

A lot of discussion has been had about spending time on scholarship vs. teaching.  Scholarship is, of course, the activity that makes our Deans and peers happy and drives our promotion and tenure packet; teaching (and teaching well) requires a lot of time, but is something that some (but not all) of us enjoy.  One main issue is that too many new faculty spend too much time on teaching prep and not enough of their scholarship, leading to major stress as their promotion deadlines appear.

Now that I've had tenure a few years, I'm looking again at how and where I spend my time.  I love to teach -- it's invigorating and I truly enjoy working with students.  I love to write (except when I'm in that "pit of despair" stage of writing that happens all too frequently).  But lately I've had a few opportunities to work in what I'll call "influence."  I was asked to come give a briefing at the Senate building on patent troll legislation -- currently dead or dying, by the way!  (N.B. I have no delusion that I am the cause of the bill's demise...)  I've written some op eds on a few pending Supreme Court cases.  I've been interviewed by reporters on current issues, such as language being used in the net neutrality debates.

Given that there are only so many hours in the day, I need to make choices about where to spend my time.  (And I apologize if this is a path that has been well worn - the opportunities to engage in the world outside of teaching and scholarship is relatively new to me.)  Many of these influence opportunities arise based on my scholarship, but to participate in these influence activities means that I may write a little slower (or, heaven forbid, spend less time prepping for a class session).  

Certainly there is value that can come from all three of these activities, but I get the feeling that influence activities, while exciting and important to me, may not be viewed as important by others, such as students or peers or maybe even the people who adjust my salary every year.  It's a lot harder to qualitatively judge the influence activities -- right?  My students regularly provide a rating that, in theory, indicates the value and quality of my teaching.  My articles are placed in journals that can be rated on any number of ranking metrics.  But how can you evaluate how well I influenced?  Is this why it may be viewed as less important than the other two?

It's nice to think that something I'm doing may have some influence on the outside world -- and maybe some folks' mainstream scholarship does that...but is the cost of engaging in other influence activities worth the potential costs to teaching and scholarship?  

Posted by Kristen Osenga on May 22, 2014 at 10:48 AM in Life of Law Schools, Scholarship in the Courts, Teaching Law | Permalink


I think influence activities, especially if related to one's scholarship, can add to one's reputation as a scholar. The best kind of influence is when it directly tracks the scholarship -- your article proposes a particular reform or doctrinal change, and you testify, are interviewed, or write an op-ed making that same point (with fewer footnotes). So I do not think of them as directly separable. However, the "influence" can take on a life of its own, and when it is more important to be quoted, rather than what one is quoted about, that's when one might get into some tension between the two.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | May 22, 2014 9:26:44 PM

"Isn't small," rather.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 22, 2014 3:37:35 PM

I have to say that although there are doubtless people who don't enjoy teaching, I have to say that I haven't actually met many, or possibly any, people for whom that is actually genuinely true. Granted, many of us sometimes like to complain about teaching, which is more or less a standard academic affectation, like undergrads making with the Sartre and clove cigarettes. And a few people *look* as if they don't enjoy it. But I'm not sure the number of professors who don't actually enjoy teaching is small. I certainly hope it is! As for prep, I'm less worried about the amount of investment on the front end than about people not investing enough in re-prepping down the road.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 22, 2014 3:35:21 PM

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