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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Listen to the Codgers: Tushnet and Seidman on 50 Years in the Legal Academy

Better than late than never, let me urge on readers this fine dialogue between Mark Tushnet and Louis Michael Seidman, On Being Old Codgers: A Conversation About a Half Century in Legal Academia. It is dated 2019; I'm not sure why I didn't see it earlier. It is charming, useful, and insightful. Perhaps because I worry over these issues plenty and because I tend to agree with Mark on a number of issues, I don't think the insights are shocking. But they are useful, and I suspect some people who are less historical or institutional in orientation think about them less and might find that they are new to them. There are some statements here--for instance, "Our role is not to change students’ minds, but it is to get them to hold the ideas they have in the most sophisticated form that they can be held."--that many or most of us would take to be self-evident but for which I suspect that there would be some genuine divisions (political, generational, institutional and so on) and that some might even take to be clearly wrong. (It is actually clearly right.) The discussion about the reality or perception of a decline in general agreement about and faith in the seriousness of the enterprise is interesting, and so is Tushnet's suggestion that the brief establishment of a commune in the yard at Yale Law School in the early 70s, and the cultural challenge it represented, was ultimately "more significant than the directly political stuff that I was interested in." So is the discussion of scholarship. The whole thing is well worth your time. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on February 25, 2021 at 03:02 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


Insufferably arrogant elitists.

Posted by: Anonymous | Apr 2, 2021 7:26:06 PM

Surely the "not to change students' minds" remark depends on what the students' minds are to be changed about. For example, if a student comes to me thinking that Congress is composed of 3 houses, or that plaintiffs who have unusual physical vulnerabilities can't recover in negligence for injuries exacerbated by those injuries, it absolutely is my job to change their minds...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Feb 27, 2021 8:13:14 PM

Prof Horwitz -- This is great. Thanks for sharing it. I love the big picture insights and the format.

"hardreaders" -- I think I read the article a bit differently than you do.

I don't think Tushnet and Seidman mean that all ideas are equally meaningful or worth discussing. I think "the ideas they have" is shorthand for something more specific than the literal import of the phrase, but am having trouble coming up with a better one at the moment.

I also didn't take the "self-evident" statement as self-serving, and am curious what responsibility you think law professors have to persuade students of moral or political propositions, as opposed to teaching.

Posted by: anonymous | Feb 27, 2021 12:15:04 AM

The example statement held up as "self-evident" comes across as more self-serving to me. Sort of like "Don't blame us for anything bad that happens, we just work here." To be sure, I'm not asserting the exact opposite is true—that it would be entirely their fault. For example, going outside the legal academy somewhat, it's not as though all the blame for Josh Hawley lies at the feet of his undergrad professors/advisors. But I don't think you can just completely absolve yourself of responsibility like that. It's not so simple. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the import of the statement though.

I would also dispute a little the suggestion that everyone shows up equally with meaningful "ideas" worth discussing, or that are amenable to being put in a "sophisticated form".

This is all coming from someone with no particular ties to or insight into said legal academy, so you can raise the salt levels as needed.

Posted by: hardreaders | Feb 26, 2021 1:43:15 AM

What would have been great is if Larry Alexander had been the third participant. (Not that I'm calling Larry a "codger"!) I remember, at a conference meal, sitting between Alexander and Seidman as they were debating the content, causes, and implications of "the Sixties" in legal education. Fascinating.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 25, 2021 4:25:52 PM

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