On Showing Up

My post on the challenges facing the law school Research Dean contained an implicit and unexamined assumption regarding a gap between the interest of the individual faculty member in producing and distributing research and scholarship, on the one hand, and the interest of that faculty member’s law school in the research and scholarly activities of its faculty, on the other hand.

I’m convinced that these interests are distinct, though they overlap. Here’s a possible example of the gap in action: At your law school, do faculty members regularly attend and participate in workshops presented by speakers who specialize in fields other than their own? Do they make, in other words, what might be characterized as “karmic” contributions to the intellectual life of the school? Are they good scholarly citizens?

Not everyone is always available to show up, and having too many people show up could undermine the value of the workshop. Yet there are folks who don’t show up because they don’t care, or can’t be bothered, or don’t see the value in taking time to kick around the ideas of someone who can’t help them with their own work. I believe that the interest of the individual (absent) faculty member may be served by that judgment, at least in a sense, but the interest of the school is not. A lively workshop culture means an intellectually engaged faculty, which can have tangible benefits for those local faculty; which can generate reputational benefits among other law schools; and which can have payoffs in the classroom for students.

In short, I’m aware of a kernel of Chandler’s Visible Hand at work in my Research Dean-ing. Other things being equal, I’d like to get more colleagues to attend more workshops.

Am I overstating the case? Have my metaphors run roughshod over important distinctions?  I admit that I like going to workshops, even workshops in fields far removed from mine, and not just because it’s part of my role as Research Dean. It’s entirely possible that my view of the matter is colored by my own idealized vision of an academic community. I also recognize that by putting “karmic” participation in the life of an institution onto the table, I complicate the sizable expectations that already confront would-be and new professors. Institutional interests have distributional consequences.


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3 Responses

  1. Howard Wasserman says:

    Several of us were having this conversation yesterday at lunch. On one hand, I am glad to see it is not a problem that is unique to us. On the other hand, one of my colleagues suggested doing something to make participation (along with having to present once a year) mandatory, tied to summer research money. A bit paternalistic, I know, but intriguing . . .

  2. Jacqueline Lipton says:

    I would also like to respond from the other side of the coin ie as the presenter making a presentation to a general audience. I’ve always found having the opportunity to go to other schools and present workshops to general faculty, as opposed to groups of colleagues in my own area, extremely illuminating for me. Often, issues are raised that I have missed because I just regard them as too obvious (“goes without saying” etc). So comments from a more generalist audience can really make you think about your own work from a more foundational perspective, as well as helping you to construct even specialty pieces that will likely make more sense to those second year law review editors who may not be specialized in a particular field (particularly if aiming for publication in a general rather than a specialty journal). So I encourage Mike and other research deans to encourage faculty to show up and help those in other areas of scholarship to make their work even better.

  3. Hammer says:

    I think attending research workshops is part of the job and should be required — as should attending job talks and faculty meetings. Not everyone has something to say at every event (but being there and staying mum has value too), and sometimes conflicts will arise, so the most that can be hoped would be a healthy attendance record during the academic year. This is no more paternalistic than requiring that professors show up in the classroom.

    The simplest mechanism would be to circulate to your faculty a comprehensive list of events during the previous year asking them to tick off the events they attended (while more benignly soliciting their views as to what would increase the odds they would attend future events). Then hound them until you get results. Some auto-shaming may result.

    Better yet would be to require that such a document be attached to any year-end report that is filed, so that at least a hint of salary repercussion is felt. Best would be to solicit that input and make explicit that it will be considered in relation to any raises.