Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Those Who Can't, Teach"

So goes the refrain of an old saying: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Considering the number of people throughout my extended family who work in education, both on my side and my wife Serach's, and knowing how talented they are, I know just how wrong this quote is.

However, I have had enough poor professors who were somewhat unsuccessful in the "real world" to acknowledge that there are plenty of people teaching because they were not able to put their knowledge into practice. The best teachers I have had were all also quite successful in their fields, and I think that is the biggest difficulty schools face: Many of the best and brightest will never even consider teaching, as they can be far more successful by actually working in the fields they have studied. Add in the fact that many simply have no interest in putting up with students, and there's a dearth of quality teachers out there.

One would expect, however, that top law schools would have top professors: Experts in the law who are able to handle the often brilliant and difficult questions that the nation's top students will be asking during a lecture. And I think that this is usually the case - most law professors in places such as Harvard, Yale, Cornell, NYU, etc. are probably the creme de la creme. Prestigious - and wealthy - law schools such as the ones I mentioned are undoubtedly able to shell out the money necessary to draw successful lawyers and brilliant legal scholars into their classrooms, and I am certain that it is a worthwhile investment for those schools.

So how could a fiasco such as the one that occured Monday happen? The Supreme Court voted unanimously against a large group of law professors: 45 professors from Yale Law School, presumably among the top law professors in this country. 45 professors including Law School Dean Harold Koh. These are not English professors, philosophy professors, or even political science professors; these are law professors who are responsible to educate some of the brightest prospective law students of this country about the laws of this country - and they were all wrong on the law. Is this not striking?

James Taranto noted that only one law school filed a brief that agreed with the Supreme Court's decision.
Only one law school, George Mason in Arlington, Va., filed a brief on the winning side. Given that not a single justice agreed with the views put forward by profs at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, NYU, Chicago, Penn, etc., it seems fair to say that George Mason has the most competent professors of any law school in the nation.
Should we be worried that the majority of the supposed top law professors in this country are so disconnected with the actual law? Many liberals I know, despite their disagreements with the military's policy regarding homosexuals, felt that the Supreme Court was absolutely correct - yet the top law professors from the top law schools in the country did not. Unanimous decisions by the Court are fairly rare, and it is surprising that such a rare decision should happen when the defendants are such prestigious and quality law professors.

Has academia swung so far to the far-left fringe as to be out of touch with reality? How does this reflect on the top law schools of this country - are they too focused on law theory, philosophy of the law, and politics to be trusted to properly give over the actual law to the next generation of lawyers?


  1. You aren't "wrong" before a decision is laid down.

    The professors were just advocating a particular side. Most likely for political reasons.

    I'm sure they are able to explain the law just fine.

  2. They weren't just advocating; they were arguing the case on a legal basis - and they turned out to be horribly wrong.

    It's not as if they were simply stating opinions; they felt this was a matter of law, and were way off. That's troubling.

  3. Law is just politics... on paper.

    Don't quote me on that! ; )

  4. LOL, Irina - but you're now on record... :)

  5. GT - That's simply not true. There was a study that CWY (and I think I) linked to a few months back that analyzed law schools; most lean heavily to the left.

    This case has nothing to do with how one feels about the government or military being involved in a public institution; this has to do with accepting federal monies.

    Not every kind of intellectual is a lefty; that's a liberal myth, that they're the "enlightened" ones. They do count an extremely high percentage of professors and journalists among their ranks; most other professions lean to the right.

    I think it's an excellent time to be a smart person in this country - I'm not quite sure why you don't think so...

  6. In their capacity as professors, they are serving as judges. In their capacity as appellants, they are serving as lawyers. When they start confusing the two we are all in trouble :)

    Oooh, that's a great line!

  7. I don't think that's the case; I think the reverse is true. Liberals were trying to paint Bush as stupid, and people simply didn't buy it. He's a very smart person, and he's smart enough to recognize that speaking as an intellectual and talking down to the American people simply isn't wise. I think most people recognized that; I don't think people vote for someone because he's stupid; they vote for him because he's smart enough to speak to them as one of them, and still show the intelligence of his plans for the country.

    The backlash against Kerry and Gore was not that they were smart; it was that they were out of touch. They weren't out of touch because they were smarter than everybody else; they were simply not smart enough to recognize that they are speaking to regular people who may not be well-versed in political theory or economics. People aren't stupid, but not everybody is an economist. Unless you explain what you're saying so that they can understand, you will fail miserably.

    (Yeah, this was unclear. Exactly what I'm talking about. Brilliant, Ez.)

  8. As a side note, the genius of Bill Clinton was his ability to speak to the audience. His charisma certainly helped - a lot - but it would have been worthless without the ability to speak to the people. He had that ability.

  9. Ezzie, consitutional controversies before the Supreme Court are all about pushing the law this way or that. The Supreme Court is the only court not strictly bound by any precedent where people are free to make argue for a change or extension to existing law. You're analysis that these law professors are somehow misinformed about the law is wrong.

  10. I disagree. I think a unanimous vote is a stunning rebuke to their understanding of the law; they were trying to create special terms when it fits within their own political views (helping recruiters for companies, but not those of the military). From my (limited) understanding of the case, it seemed obvious that the Court would - and should - rule against them; and I think even most liberals would agree. It's a matter of law, and they failed miserably on the law. I *do* think that says something.

    Also, read the Yale link - within Yale, there were a few professors who did not join, essentially citing these same reasons. As much as they disagree with the policy, they said that as a matter of law, it was correct - and they refused to join in signing. I think that such professors are in a heavy minority, however.