August 03, 2006
WHY DO SCHOLARSHIP?: The Empirical Legal Studies blog had an on-line discussion (which starts here) about Tennessee law professor (and my buddy) Ben Barton's paper, which concludes, on the basis of data he painstakingly collected, that there is no correlation between teaching and scholarship. In other words, just because one is a prolific scholar, that doesn't mean that person is a good teacher. Much of the discussion has centered on whether using student evaluations is a good proxy for measuring teaching effectiveness. I think that Ben makes a great case for using them. However, one of the most interesting questions raised by Ben's paper is whether (assuming that his findings are true, or are largely true) the legal academy needs to come up with an independent justification for the production of scholarship. The ABA and the AALS require that law schools hire full-time teacher/scholars, and require that vast resources be devoted to facilitate the production of legal scholarship. (Query how much this focus on scholarship and the resources that need to be devoted to it push up the cost of legal education?) Before Ben's study, my sense is that many scholars would have bet there was some relationship between good teaching and good scholarship. Now that he's called that into question, should we be asking ourselves whether we need to justify scholarship on other grounds? Don't misunderstand, I am all in favor of scholarship. I like writing and thinking about problems in the law and (I hope) advancing the discipline in my own modest way. But my interaction with alumni (among other groups) suggest that we in the academy treat the need for scholarship as self-evident when it is not necessarily apparent to others. Perhaps Ben's paper could (among other things) begin a converstation on that topic as well.