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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Home-Institution Benefits of Visiting Stints

I enjoyed Josh Blackman's post on look-see visits. I have done only one such visit, so I am no expert. I only wanted to add a small point to the discussion.

Josh writes, in response to some of his commenters, "It is fairly common for people to travel a lot within their current jobs, often for weeks or months at a time. Such roles, however difficult they may be, are designed to create opportunities for upward mobility within an organization. Look-see visits are different. The professor is not traveling to promote opportunities within the home institution; rather, the professor is leaving the home institution to try to find opportunities elsewhere. It is difficult to think of any non-academic jobs, in which employers allow employees to embark on a 6 month interview at a different firm. Moreover, at the end of this 6-month interview, there is a very low chance of success for promotion; at that juncture, the professor simply returns to the home institution."

I understand the point, of course. But I think it would be a mistake to view things entirely in this way. (Assuming it to be a mistake, I'm not saying it's Josh's own view; but I do think it is probably one that is made by others, both by visitors and by home and visiting institutions.) A visit does benefit the visiting professor's home institution--and the professor qua professor (that is, in his or her teaching, scholarship, and institutional service), even if no move results. Owing to a fortuitous lack of greatness and/or stability, I had the pleasure of teaching at several law schools before landing at my home school, and one post-lateral visit elsewhere. It is tremendously useful to see how other professors and institutions do things; to learn something about the different capacities of students at different institutions and the ways in which different law schools succeed or fail at exercising and enlarging those capacities; to see what a different curricular structure looks like in practice; to see what faculty governance (or dysfunction) looks like in different places; and so on. Law school travel, in short, broadens the mind. Some people start and end their careers at the same institution; the advantages in institutional memory and loyalty are real, but so is the possibility of being cocooned or losing a sense of alternative ways of doing things. Some of the things I learned from visiting or teaching at other institutions have affected both my own teaching here at Alabama and my sense of what things my institution as a whole could and perhaps should do differently. (The University of Alabama, among other things, is very poor on freedom of speech and academic freedom, and could learn a lot from some of the things that the faculty senate at Emory instituted in the wake of some speech controversies there.)

Not every visit results in an offer, or does so in the short run, so the visitor can indeed bring back what he or she has learned and make use of it. Whether they do so now or not, home institutions should welcome this and make some effort to "debrief" the returning colleague. I would add that we could get some of those benefits from podium visits, and students in individual classes may in fact get some of them; but even more than look-see visitors (who often find a less welcoming environment than they ought to), podium visitors often don't get much integrated into the life of the school they're visiting at all. And I would add that the fact that a look-see visit can confer benefits of this sort does not mean that look-see visits make much sense. I'm not sure they do. Josh quotes Mike Dorf on several other possible visiting formats, all of which (if undertaken in a conscious fashion) would confer the same mutual benefits. The idea of an "enrichment" visit, in particular, makes some sense. So do short-course programs and intersessions, which probably convey less benefit but also are less burdensome for those with family or other obligations.       

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 8, 2020 at 02:13 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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