Getting into the Same Room
Over the summer I organized a reading group on the current financial crisis. We met once a week over lunch. One member of the group would have chosen a reading and would lead the discussion. On the whole it worked well. We had participants from the law, business, economics, political science, public policy, history, and physics (they were interested in the models used by the quants). I enjoyed it and learned a great deal from listening to people from several different disciplines chew over the same readings and issues. Talking with participants afterward, I was surprised by the number who informed me that this was the first time they had ever participated in an event like this with faculty from another department. It has got me thinking about the best of overcoming the problem of geographic and logistical ghettoization. Most of the law professors I knew are intellectually ecclectic souls. It is the great fun and virtue of the legal academy, I think, that we feel free to read and borrow from other’s disciplines. Indeed, the decline of law as an self-confident autonomous discipline and the rise of “law and…” scholarship makes cross-disciplinary reading something of a professional necessity. I wonder how well we do, however, in actually getting into the same room with scholars from other departments. Of course, for many law schools the room is physically located in a different building, sometimes on a different campus, and occasionally in a different city. At William and Mary the law school is off the main campus, down the street, and around the corner. I wonder if something as simple as architecture is driving our destiny.
I did, however, discover one great advantage of the legal academy in bringing scholars together. With the possible exception of the business school, we can offer better food.