LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Week 11: The Professor Problem

Week 11: The Professor Problem

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A little on-the-nose? MAYBE

Is there any creature on the green expanse of our globe so soft, so complacent, so bloated with the poison of its own self-regard as the law school professor?

(But you know what? Before I write even a sentence further, I ought to say a couple of things:

  1. I’m no less angered, no less dismayed, no less uncomprehending about yesterday’s mass shooting than I was about each of its precedents. But I decided that if I wrote my anger out every time there was a mass shooting in this country, I’d have a mass shooting anger blog, not an LSAT or a law school one. So I’ll just refer you to my feelings here, which have not changed.
  2. Maybe the foregoing has had some impact on my writing style and content in today’s post.
  3. It’s not all law school professors. In complete candor, I have some professors who I find to be perfectly lovely, intelligent people. So, yeah, I’m not talking about everyone.)

There are reasons for this; siloing your knowledge base detracts from your ability to develop wisdom and is corrosive to your intelligence. Never being challenged on any of your opinions is corrosive to your humanity.

Law professors are nearly unique in this combination of factors. Of course nobody challenges judges’ opinions (except appellate judges!), but then again, judges do not (for the most part) have the luxury of working only within one tiny field of law. 

Practicing attorneys, on the other hand, often do silo their working knowledge, but they live under constant threat of approbation from their clients, their bosses, and of course from those judges.

Doctors’ work—even when narrow—is constantly subject to minute inspection under threat of litigation.

Scientists publish under peer review, writers have editors, primary teachers have principals, everybody has a boss breathing down her neck (and I didn’t mean that in a Hollywood-misogynist way, but there’s that, too).

But not the tenured law professor! No, no! The Professor at work finds herself unencumbered by oversight, never challenged, yet in possession of just the tiniest sliver of knowledge, without any inducement to know more, to be better, to think laterally.

All the thinking is vertical, cordoned off as it is within that silo of specialization. Asking your Con Law professor about Torts will get you a shrug and some mealy-mouthed deferment about “areas of expertise.”

And hey, yeah, sure there are areas of expertise. It makes sense to have a narrow range of focus. But it doesn’t make much sense to have so limited a knowledge base that you can’t even deign to hazard an answer on any topic outside the scope of that day’s lesson plan. I mean, most of the questions 1Ls have about their subjects—and particularly those questions that they’d pose to someone other than their instructor for the subject—should not prove so taxing on a professor of law as to be unanswerable, is what I’m saying.

And you know what? That’s fine. It’s fine. It’s just part of the game. You go into it knowing that your professors are going to be this way, and then they are, and even when they don’t seem like they’re trying to make life harder than it even has to be (and what with the actual Nazis parading in our streets, and the bullets whizzing past and the cops choking unarmed black people to death all over the place, life is pretty fucking hard already), but even when, as I say, they don’t seem like they’re actively trying to add to the misery, still you look at the situation and you wonder if there isn’t a way to make it better.

Or if there’s not, well you better believe I’m at least going to complain about it in a blog post.

This week, I’m going to give some undergraduates a tour of campus, and I’m going to a panel discussion on the racist name of the Washington, DC professional football team, and I’ve got an informational session on my state’s board of law examiners. There’s lots of cool stuff to do as part of this process, is what I’m saying. I’m saying that because I’m trying a thing where, if I criticize, I have to also find something nice to say, or have a way to fix whatever I’m criticizing (it’s what I expect from my children. I should expect no less of myself).

If any of those events are worth writing about, you’ll see it next week.

Questions? Comments? Complaints? Post them below, or shoot me an email.

Be good to one another, for we need it now more than maybe ever,


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