April 13, 2005
Gordon Smith on Law School Teaching Loads
Gordon Smith at Conglomerate has prepared an outstanding post listing the teaching loads at various law schools. His table shows overwhelmingly that the top-ranked law schools have moved to a new standard of 10 units/year as opposed to the more traditional 12 units/year.
He makes a number of insightful points about the chart, but the one that resonated the most was the chasm between the “have” and “have not” schools. It simply is not possible for a person teaching 12 units to match the scholarly output (quantitatively or qualitatively) of someone teaching 10 units. So long as the top-ranked schools are at the lower standard, they will continue to produce more scholarship that will improve their academic reputation under US News rankings, which will further cement their top ranking. I can’t see how lower-ranked schools can overcome this virtuous cycle without moving to the lower teaching load. A lower teaching load would not guarantee rankings improvements, but with higher teaching loads, it’s not even a fair fight.
As for me, I have mixed emotions about the lower teaching loads. On the one hand, one main reason to become a professor was because I love to teach, so I cherish my time in the classroom. On the other hand, I could be a better teacher and a better scholar with a lower teaching load.