Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I. Toward a kinder, gentler (and more intellectually rigorous) law school--Introduction (rev'd 3/27/07)

March 20 Aardvark* proposal by Alan J. Weisbard

What sort of learning environment do we, faculty and students together, wish to create here at UW Law School?

As a member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Whitaker, recently stated (quoting Mark Twain in summarizing the attitude of many of her colleagues toward proposed reforms): “I’m all for progress; it’s change I can’t stand.”

Most discussions of educational policy are incremental to a fault. Motivated by our current circumstances, I would like to propose a more far reaching and radical discussion, taking us to the roots of our enterprise together.

My proposal is predicated on a particular view of that enterprise. We, the faculty of the law school, are training our students to function as legal professionals. Given the roles that lawyers have played historically in our society, and seem likely to continue to play for the foreseeable future, we are also training our students to function as public citizens. You, our students, will enjoy the opportunities and bear the burdens associated with civic and political, as well as professional, leadership and influence.

Lawyers and public citizens require courage, commitment and fortitude as well as technical competence. As lawyers, many of us tend particularly to our distinctive garden: the formulation and enforcement of legal rules of conduct. Here at Wisconsin, we also study and pursue the law in action. Both are necessary and important. But there is more: the cultivation, development and pursuit of lives of virtue and service to others.

From my perspective, we don’t do nearly enough to inculcate, reinforce or value these virtues as law teachers or as a law school. What we do in this domain, we probably do best through our clinical programs. More is required of us, not least in modelling for our students lives of integrity, courage, and service.

There has been much twaddle in American academia of adopting a “marketplace” model of the educational process. According to this model, students are consumers, seeking a credential to advance their careers; faculty are providers of a service. (Entertainment value is a bonus.) At its far extreme, we as students and teachers become mutually complicit in seeking to effectuate this bargain at least personal cost or bother. To exaggerate somewhat for effect, information flows from the professor’s lecture notes, through the student’s laptop, to the student’s blue book, with as little lasting or transformational impact on the student’s brain cells as is necessary to the credentialing purpose of the transaction. Then we go about the real business of our lives, outside the classroom, and we congratulate one another on a job well done.

This is not what I sought as a student. It is not why I, or most of my colleagues, became a teacher.

The times require us to articulate a better model of our mutual enterprise.


AJW said...

A personal comment on this draft, already written, will be made public after the March 20 meeting. TWB

AJW said...

*"Aardvark" is the designation for the ongoing series of workshops on teaching at UW Law School. The term's originator explains its use as follows: when done properly, "teaching is aardvark" (pronounced as "hard work"). Not my accent, but there you go.

Thanks to Talya for the inquiry prompting this explanation.

TWB said...

This revised version reflects changes (in some cases, restorations of earlier text) made after the March 20 law school "aardvark" forum. It now more fully reflects my unadulterated personal views, including some retrospective judgments on L'Affaire Kaplan and its lessons for our community.