Incentives to Teach not Publish

27 de agosto de 2017

Maybe your school does it differently, and if so, I would love to hear about it, but in my limited experience, this is what a student can expect going into law school.

Imagine this:

A large lecture room filled with 80+ students.  You fear humiliation should you be called on unprepared and called out.  Or worse, you have prepared, but your answer to the question leads to another question, which has no answer.  Or perhaps, you already experienced the humiliation of saying something “wrong”, and in your mind, you think all of your classmates are thinking “thank God, that one won’t be at the top of the curve”.   And, everyday, you pray it’s not your turn.

The class continues:

If lucky, maybe you’ll get a midterm to see what you have “learned”, or more like, to see how much of the Professor’s words and thoughts you can mimic on the topics presented so far.  However, for the unlucky and for the most part, midterms are not provided, and you will be faced with one final.

The final exam:

Usually, one massive final exam will determine 100% of your grade and often reflect (1) your ability to tediously outline, (2) your ability to use Gilbert’s or Emanuels or E&E at least a week before the exam, or if you are extra special and an adrenaline junky, a few days before the exam, or (3) your ability to panic, considering you spent an entire semester sparring with the Socratic method which often leads to high levels of confusion.

At this point after a few months of “learning”, you realize, you’ve had little to no professorial feedback to know what to expect on the exam.  Weeks (usually months) later, you receive a grade.  It often is not what you predicted and does not reflect your knowledge of the material and analytic abilities per se, but more, some matrix the professor has thought up which places you on the curve in comparison to your fellow classmates.

After the exam:

Perhaps, you are incredibly proactive and seek out the professor to go over your performance on the exam.  Most professors don’t have an incentive to actively encourage all of their students to approach them for feedback.  Who can blame them, as imagine a herd of 80+ students charging at them with confusion over what was on the exam and why they got (insert letter grade)?  Plus, remember, to move up, they have to publish, not teach!


What creates a system like this?  First, law schools make money by having professors teach large classes (more bang for your buck).  Second, professors often usually face only one student evaluation, and for tenured professors, this usually does not make a dent unless everyone in class writes scathing reviews in their own tears, sweat, and blood.  Third, professors must face two undeniable pressures (1) the need to publish and (2) the need to control the classroom.

Publishing machines:

As for publishing, how does that benefit students?  Maybe someone can enlighten me.  I would rather have a professor guided by an incentive to pay attention to their teaching abilities and impart knowledge and skills than one who is renowned for having been published in an esoteric journal on an esoteric subject.

Perhaps, publishing professors give your school an added boost in reputation, and this indirectly grants a reputational boost to students.  Is that enough?  An indirect benefit?  After a three year investment costing an arm and a leg, don’t students deserve a school which provides a direct incentive to professors to do quality teaching on top of (or instead of) an incentive to be publishing machines?  Or is that too much to ask?

Class control:

As for crowd control, professors often face the prospect of teaching a lecture room filled with 80+ law students who are on the defensive, like gazelles in the open, awaiting public humiliation and cold calling, ready to attack with all their gazelle strength when possible.  What professor in their right mind would admit to any weakness when facing a herd of fearful and aggressive gazelles?  What are some answers to this?

Smaller classes.  How about using tuition to hold smaller classes?  Cut out the curve.  Employers say they need the curve to know which students to hire.  How about we admit that the ability to score a grade on one final exam does not necessarily translate to working skills and instead start working with employers to provide work experience through more internships and externships?  This way, students can prove they can handle the job and fit well with the work culture, or prove that they cannot.  Both employers and students will benefit as they will have a way to discern ahead of time if the job is a good fit.


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