“In the Company of Scholars”

Our intrepid library director, Professor Betsy McKenzie, set a note to our faculty a few days ago, and it included a reference to the above-titled book, a personal reflection by Professor Julius Getman of the University of Texas Law School on the status of higher education. I had heard about the book before, and meant to get to it, because my first encounter with a law school class was Jack Getman teaching our small section of Contracts at Stanford in September, 1976.

I recommend the book heartily. Indeed, I read the following passage on the T home last night, and it expressed exactly how I had been feeling in the midst of a peroration on agency and partnership only an hour or so before: “Bruce Mann, who now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, told me that in his first year, ‘I was constantly afraid that someone would come into the classroom and arrest me for impersonating a law professor.'”

This also struck close to home (and I mean me, not anybody else, even if I’m not young):

… I realized that many students and young faculty members behave in self-defeating ways. . . . They do not believe that they have anything of value to contribute to a high-level academic debate. Often this feeling prevents people from publishing or teaching effectively and sometimes it makes them pedantic, overly abstract, or unnecessarily elegant in the presentation of their ideas. Sometimes I think that the great majority of young academics fall into two categories: the unnecessarily diffident and the infuriatingly arrogant. In more reflective moments, I realize that the two categories are essentially one. Underneath the arrogance so common among young academics, there is generally fear of being exposed as an intellectual charlatan. The feeling is almost universal. The fear reflects, among other things, that deep down almost all of us are aware of how little we know about the subjects we teach. One of the ablest law professors I have ever known, Charles Black of the Yale Law School, told me that whenever he finishes a well-received class, he usually feels one thing: “Well, I fooled them again.”

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1 Response

  1. Paul Horwitz says:

    Jeffrey, I second the recommendation of the Getman book. May I offer up a self-serving cite to something short I published in the Connecticut Law Review’s online supplement this past year, which draws substantially on Getman’s book: http://www.conntemplations.org/pdf/horwitz.pdf