Friday, October 19, 2007

Just Passing Through?

PSU Law's administrators and faculty are working hard to build a first class faculty. This is both commendable and necessary. As mentioned previously, a law school is only as good as its faculty. In the meantime, while the Dean holds out for prominent or promising scholars to fill the faculty ranks, students are treated to a heavy dose of visitors. An unspoken consequence of this process is insecurity.

When a visitor teaches a class, the relationship between student and professor is necessarily insecure. Students wonder: Will he/she be here next year or the year after that? The visitor probably wonders: Should I invest in these students (organizations, moot courts, journals, etc.) if I may just be "passing through?" This insecurity interjected into the teacher-student relationship would be fine if that relationship was only about conveying and learning the law. But it is about much more. The classroom experience and every aspect of law school helps students understand themselves, form new identities as lawyers, and cultivate relationships on which they will build their legal careers. The relationship is not only one way. Professors benefit from their interaction with and investment in students too. With a visitor, however, the payoff from investment in the relationship is insecure.

Visitors add value to law schools as they pass through. As the ratio of visitors to permanent faculty grows, the effect of insecurity in the classroom and elsewhere grows. The sensation is like standing on shifting sand for both law students and tenure line faculty members looking to maximize their investment in the school.

I'm thinking of the words spoken to the Israelites when they were in exile. Despite insecurity, we should try to make the best of even a temporary situation: "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile . . . because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

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