Workshops, & What Floats Your Intellectual Boat?

Law professors find intellectual stimulation in many places – the classroom, writing amicus briefs, chatting about current events, and producing new scholarship. Of course the writing process can be solitary and tortured. My wife knows that for every new paper there is at least one time I will throw up my hands, declare myself a fraud and my ideas worthless, only to be followed by similarly passionate declarations that I’ve seen the light, overcome the hurdles, and am in the process of producing groundbreaking legal scholarship. (Neither is really accurate.) Tortured as the writing process is, I do enjoy it so.

But perhaps even better is the faculty workshop – where ideas wrestled with in private find their way into the public. Whether I’m the presenter or a participant, the chance to engage on cutting-edge scholarship is probably my greatest professional delight. There’s nothing better than a long day where ideas are bantered around and fires glow in the eyes of all involved. I know some who see multiple workshops a week – e.g. the base faculty workshop series supplemented by specialty series in law and economics, law and humanities, legal history – as a burden. I see them as the best thing about going to work.

Over at Conglomerate, Christine Hurt asks whether workshops will be on the chopping block in these tough economic times, or perhaps change to an online format. While the online format can work — look no further than Christine’s junior scholars workshop on the Glom each summer — I certainly hope (and think Christine hopes) that this remains the exception rather than the rule. Am I alone? Would you miss the workshop in its present form as much I would? What floats your intellectual boat?

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2 Responses

  1. Dan Markel says:


    I completely agree. My experience has been generously enhanced by the rich workshop culture at FSU–even in many of the instances where I haven’t had the chance to read the paper by the presenter. I do think, however, that the quality of conversation (at least from the presenter’s point of view) is immeasurably better with an audience that has read the paper or at least a good portion of it, and I’m a bit puzzled as to how to increase the likelihood of having that happen.

    Perhaps schools should qualify their support for the workshop in these economic times by underwriting the cost of lunch for those who read the paper in advance and force those who are coming to listen w/o having read to pay their way or bring their own lunch!!

  2. Darian Ibrahim says:


    The idea of providing lunch only to those who’ve read the paper has been floated at both of my schools (Az & Wisc), yet not implemented so far because of the fear that faculty who don’t read will end up not coming to the talk at all. (I suppose you wouldn’t want to signal your slackness by sitting there with a bag lunch or no lunch!) The thinking has been that it’s better to have some active participants along with other warm bodies so that the visiting speaker doesn’t make the trek to have 10 people in attendance, which looks terrible for the host school. I have noticed that on occasions when lunch is provided for external speakers but not internal speakers, the internal speakers draw less of a crowd. Maybe it’s other factors, but it might also be the lunch.

    I completely agree that there need to be incentives to encourage reading. Changing institutional norms to where (most) everyone reads would be ideal, but difficult. At Az we went about putting hard copies of the paper in every faculty mailbox for a while, but that seems wasteful in bad economic times & not too environmentally friendly. What about offering those who have read the opportunity to ask the first questions in Q&A? Only when their questions have been exhausted do we move to the non-readers. I’m not sure if it’s much of an incentive, but it might result in more intelligent questions and a more valuable experience for the speaker. Again there’s an enforcement problem, but perhaps it’s an alternative to the no lunch solution.