Another aspect of the 4th issue you've identified [the rationalization in the face of law student and law graduate unhappiness that "The law is a learned profession and the study of it is a personally enriching experience, not merely a way to make a buck"] is that professors are likely out of touch with student dynamics. Law students are generally under the impression that doing anything other than kissing up and thanking profs for their transformative brilliance will result in a dearth of recommendations. Few of us are willing to see what happens if we tell our real-life profs what we actually think.
Law profs usually don't treat us like future colleagues who might have something to bring to the academy. Why should they, when they rely on the gate-keeping function of the job market to keep our pesky questions at bay? It's easy for profs to brush our discontent aside as a sign that we're potentially loony, obsessive, or unaware of "how things work." And, at least at my T-30 law school, profs' assumption that we'd be telling them if we really had doubts contains (unintentionally) sexist dimensions. Male students are just gunners if they want to talk to profs outside class, but female gunners also risk classmates' comments that we're trying to draw attention to ourselves and sleep with our profs if we dare to express anything dissonant. If we can't talk to you to tell you that our lives aren't getting sufficiently enriched given the lack of jobs, that we need to find some way to step it up a little for our $160k, we're going to be even more dissatisfied as graduates.
A legal academy without dialogue is inherently disrespectful to the study and practice of law. Law profs should be on the front lines of creating an environment where students and faculty alike can examine the problems confronting the field. Anonymous grading isn't enough because profs aren't doing the heavy lifting to apply it as a mechanism to support debate without retaliation. Before profs go about congratulating themselves on their successes, they should consider whether they've earned students' respect. Profs have to win our trust if they want us to tell them what's wrong while they can still do something about it.
It's a mark of genuine friendship, or at least common goals, if we decide to stop by office hours and break our silence. When profs demonstrate that our complaints will not be ignored or dismissed, and when profs have the courtesy to avoid drawing burgeoning lines of communication into the open, they actually make a difference. Blogging right before the academic year is also a very productive choice. I hope this project will continue to spark genuine discussion.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Other barriers to communication
The following comment from a law student isn't posting for some reason. I thought it was particularly perceptive: