July 10, 2012

The fear of on-line "rock star" law professors.

Kevin O'Keefe writes:
I was having dinner this spring with, among other folks, a couple law school professors who taught at a good state school in the Midwest. 
Wisconsin?!
I asked them if they had fears and trepidations like lawyers and business people do as to what they future may hold. One of the law prof’s said absolutely, online education....
What made him most afraid was his belief that we were going to see rockstar professors being paid handsomely for teaching huge online classes. If we can have rock star athletes like LeBron James making millions, he said why not professors making millions by attracting large enrollment.
LeBron James proves his worth by applying his skills against others, contributing to wins achieved through specific rules of a game, and drawing spectators who pay for the entertainment of the particular game they paid to see.

How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?

52 comments:

Synova said...

I don't see the problem. I would think that more access to the "rockstar" professor in any field would be an excellent thing for students.

It would seem to be a good thing for the school involved, too. After all, tuition isn't adjusted as a ratio of students to instructor. (Though additional grad students to manage the class size cost more.)

Patrick said...

What made him most afraid was his belief that we were going to see rockstar professors being paid handsomely for teaching huge online classes.

Why fear it? Why not capitalize on it? Why not be willing to demonstrate your value?

How is that value demonstrated? Well, for future attorneys, I would think they want the best path to a good job, and the skills to obtain and keep it. Start with employability. Anything else is beside the point when they are paying upwards of $30K per year.

chickelit said...

How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?

Follow-up question: Who would you rather take online ConLaw from? Reynolds, Althouse, Volokh, or Jacobson?

Maybe there could be a cruelly neutral poll?

edutcher said...

Well, now we know what's driving them.

Besides bruised egos from Bloody Sunday.

Scott said...

In my misspent youth, I took an intro macroeconomics course at the U of Minnesota, taught by rock star professor Walter Heller, who did his economics thing in the Kennedy administration.

The lecture sections were in the big auditorium on the West Bank. Heller would just spin away, punctuating his lectures with references to his Kennedy years.

As I recall, what he was yammering about was completely irrelevant to what the TAs were teaching. Heller was a waste of time. But then again, I was drinking a lot back in the day, so everything was a waste of time. :)

Microecon was taught by a really cool Iranian prof who got me thinking about the topic. I think that's why I ended up a libertarian.

1e89eb18-2fd8-11e1-9bcc-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Online schools could care less about research, publication or faculty prestige. They only care about whether they provide the basic level of instruction they promised. Because the marginal difference in instruction quality between someone who is barely literate reading off a script and Rockstar Professors is really small, market pressures will push toward the former equilibrium, not the latter.

shiloh said...

How can a lawprof demonstrate his value? Blog hits. :-P

Hey, Althouse mentions it regularly, so it must be an accurate measuring stick.

Supply and demand like the hula hoop lol.

bagoh20 said...

WE FEAR CHANGE.

"How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?"

My grass needs cut.

traditionalguy said...

Two ways come to mind for displaying value. First, for men wear a bow tie and smoke a pipe. Entertainment value starts in the costume. Second, for the women, attractive blondes with above average breasts. It works for Fox News, and all of the others too except for Rachel Maddow who is more outlying with the fems.

Seriouly, what he is fearing is celebrity value. It will be a new world where better communication skills will count like Roger Ailes uses everyday on TV.

You could call the classes Survivor Con Law or the Legal Apprentice and throw out bad performing students every week.

And somebody alert The Mittster Mormon to give this skill a try. Either that or Anne Romney will have to do it all for him.

Ann Althouse said...

A law school class really shouldn't have a "rock star" character in front of it. To do it really well, you should be in a deceptively modest persona interacting with students in a way that isn't showy and that has value that is revealed over time to the students as they work their way through the problems.

Rabel said...

No writer who leaves the "of" off after "couple" should be taken seriously.

Unless he changes his name to Kevin Keefe. Then he would get a pass.

Marshal said...

"Despite the majority of professors believing online classes have resulted in inferior education"

Competition suppression is always justified with accusations of deficient quality.

Scott said...

But can profs at the big land-grant universities advance their careers merely by excellent pedagogy?

Marshal said...

"Ann Althouse said...
A law school class really shouldn't have a "rock star" character in front of it...isn't showy..."

Is this what the phrase means, showy? Or does it mean someone popular enough that outsiders judge their competency without guidance from insider opinion leaders.

Anthony said...

There's an obvious limitation to online class size for law schools: grading. Nobody will take me seriously if I say "I watched lectures by Richard Posner/Larry Tribe, any more than if I said "I've read this textbook/Blackstone's Commentaries". Certification requires testing, either exams or a period of observations. Some subjects are more amenable to mechanized grading than others, and law school, as I understand, is not currently one of those.

Saint Croix said...

A law school class really shouldn't have a "rock star" character in front of it. To do it really well, you should be in a deceptively modest persona interacting with students in a way that isn't showy and that has value that is revealed over time to the students as they work their way through the problems.

Yeah, that's pretty much the Althouse blog. But if you start charging us, I bail!

Michael K said...

Online education will probably evolve into a good lecturer and TAs dealing with discussion sections. Maybe the latter face to face.

When I went back to teaching at a medical school 14 years ago, I was astounded at the number of students who don't attend class. It would have been unthinkable in 1962 when I started. Now, the lectures are online as powerpoint presentations.

Law schools are in trouble. Two of my kids are lawyers so they got some of my money but all of university education is in deep trouble. My youngest is still an undergraduate. We are not getting our money's worth.

My middle daughter is in a PhD program that is paying her and paying her tuition so she hasn't a problem but she is getting a bit restive at the time it is taking.

Rabel said...

Anthony,

Previously only Glenn Reynolds has shown a productive capacity that would enable him to grade 160,000 conlaw exams.

Professor Althouse's work today tells me that she might also be up to it.

Michael K said...

My undergrad daughter just posted this on facebook:

"my teacher is eating a banana with mayo on it... mayo all over his mouth."

He was lecturing at the time. She was obviously posting on facebook while he was lecturing.

Enough said.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Is the idea that all his work is going to be outsourced to Alan Dershowitz?

I'm not sure what's meant by "rockstar" here. There aren't an awful lot of law professors who have much name recognition among people not studying or practicing law. Dershowitz is probably it, in fact, apart from John Yoo (for not very complimentary reasons).

It could mean the prolific and oft-cited (Tribe, Posner, Dworkin) or maybe the suddenly newsworthy (Randy Barnett).

JackOfVA said...

First, how would the Socratic method work with a class size of thousands?

Assuming a lecture approach works, then let market forces work. Bid and asked prices for registration, not the normal "list price" approach to tuition.

At the moment, credentialism is applied via the school -- its ranking. In a "flat" world, to use Friedman's phrase, the replacement would be the particular boutique professors of the subjects studied. That's much more difficult to evaluate.

Jack

bagoh20 said...

"Rock star" is a very imprecise term almost useless beyond it's literal meaning.

I assume you would get famous for being very good at teaching online with the best presentation and best results. If graduation requires passing a difficult and appropriate test, then the star professors who get people's money will be the ones who teach you to pass that.

The only challenge is making the test a good one. Then becoming a good lawyer would mean knowing your stuff rather than all the extraneous hoops involved now. Of course this means a larger supply of competent lawyers and lower pay for them, which will lower pay available to the star professors eventually.

Again as Shiloh unwittingly alluded to, the consumer will win out. Lawyers are wildly over-priced right now: both becoming one and using one.

Peter Ryan said...

"How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?"

By properly managing the written coursework, producing students with high scores on their respective state bar exams, and subsequently earning high salaries with prestigious law firms.

Then the students will affirmatively demonstrate the law prof's value for her by signing up for her online courses.

Zach said...

A law school class really shouldn't have a "rock star" character in front of it. To do it really well, you should be in a deceptively modest persona interacting with students in a way that isn't showy and that has value that is revealed over time to the students as they work their way through the problems.

That might change if people had more access to truly top notch lecturers.

The absolute hands down best lecturer I have ever seen or will see taught theory of computation at Harvey Mudd College. It was a real class, too -- required for the CS major at one of the most rigorous schools in America, with several hours of proof based homework per week. He was energetic, enthusiastic and funny -- and not just comedy, but actually funny about theoretical computer science.

It's possible that people are underrating the possibility of rock star lecturers just because they've never seen any.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Michael K,

I'd say a guy who can lecture with a mayo-covered banana in his mouth (um, ewww) has rockstar potential. It's not quite up there with biting the head off a live bat, but you have to work up to these things.

bagoh20 said...

" To do it really well, you should be in a deceptively modest persona interacting with students in a way that isn't showy and that has value that is revealed over time to the students as they work their way through the problems."

With a little creativity, this is possible via media, and more efficiently. I don't know personally, but I bet there is not a lot of two way interacting going on now.

And a great way to be deceptively modest would be to cut my grass.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"cut my grass"

Is that a euphemism?

damikesc said...

Aren't "rockstar professors" already paid FAR beyond their actual worth intellectually?

Cornel West always seems to have a job in spite of being a low-level functional retard.

One of the law prof’s said absolutely, online education

Don't worry --- the clergy likely wasn't fond of the printing press either when it came around, but they got over it.

EDH said...

...you should be in a deceptively modest persona interacting with students in a way that isn't showy and that has value that is revealed over time to the students as they work their way through the problems.

Althouse sounds like the cliched aging stripper who's teaching the young how to work "the pole" and the "VIP Room".

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Zack, you went to Harvey Mudd? I wanted to apply, but my parents wouldn't let me because they'd never heard of it :-(

I sent a postcard around the time I was writing applications trying to find out if "whirling" was real or just a Harvey Mudd myth. I got a postcard back from the president of the college (!) basically telling me that yes, it has been known, but don't worry about it.

So I went to Berkeley instead. Some incredibly dull lecturers, a bunch of decent ones, a few greats. The late George Pimentel (chemistry -- the hall I took his course in has been named after him since), Otto J.M. Smith (electrical engineering), and Richard Taruskin (music history) are among the greats.

Saint Croix said...

It's possible that people are underrating the possibility of rock star lecturers just because they've never seen any.

Akhil Amar is really, really good.

But law schools aren't known for lecturers. "Authority tells you stuff, you write it down and spit it back on the test." Law school is pretty much the opposite of that. Issue-spotting, challenging authority. Fear, even, at least in the first year. "He might call on me!" There's an entire experience that really can't be replicated on-line.

The Paper Chase is a pretty good movie about what it's like.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Zack,

O, rats, I see that Otto Smith is also deceased. Damn. Granted, he was already an old man when I took his course ('86?) He died in 2009, at 91.

ndspinelli said...

One of the reasons sports are so popular is that w/ the advent of free agency, combined w/ exponential revenue increases, athletes experienced what few employees ever will, a truly competetive free market.

There is so much money @ stake owners will pay[and overpay] w/ the hope of winning a championship. There aren't many professions even close to this dynamic. This was evident even prior to free agency. Branch Rickey was a good man but altruism wasn't his main motivation in signing Jackie Robinson. Rickey was the ultimate competitor and he knew black players would give him a competetive edge. There's an awful lot of collusion in our so called free market system. It's just tough to prove.

Law profs aren't in great demand, nobody wants to pay to watch them teach, and there's no winning or losing..just churning out more fucking attorneys.

ndspinelli said...

chickelit, Your suggestion just set jitters throughout the ivy covered walls.

grackle said...

I like the idea of market-driven online education as a way to control education costs. But testing should be done under direct supervision of a third party NOT beholding to or supervised by (a) the government or (b) the education institution. Perhaps at regional testing centers. I think that only in this way could the integrity of the testing be assured since in my opinion neither the government nor academia can be trusted. It has the added value of weeding out incompetent instructors since presumably their students would do poorly on the tests.

dbp said...

A lot of the value of elite education comes from fellow students. What you need then is a rock star professor, a dozen or so brilliant students to ask insightful questions and then a few thousand on-line students who just observe and take exams.

I think if you got really famous professors, you could pay them a million Dollars a year, charge 1/3 of what Harvard charges and still make a huge profit.

WineSlob said...

Most Law Profs Overfeed at the Trough
Looking for a One-L to Boff
These Legal Cast-Offs
Lazy Jack-Offs
Cringe as the Real Lawyers Scoff.

Rusty said...

The marketplace is a cruel world for those who previously held tenure.

traditionalguy said...

The current law schools does a fine job of creating memories of the class lectures and discussions. Will a online experience be as powerful?

And more importantly, the students form friendships afor three years mong a group which will become very valuable contacts from beginning till end of their same common careers. Online can not do that.

And I doubt that an impersonal online class will get across the sense of community standards of honor needed to create respect for what is left of Legal Ethics.

For a while a few of the antique road show lawyers like me will still remember the old standards; and when we say "Ready for the Defendant" our old friend on the bench will smile down and say a genuine, " Good morning, nice to see you again."

Zach said...

Michelle,

Whirling exists, but by my day it was almost entirely replaced by showering, where a bunch of students would gang up on someone who had done something particularly outrageous like high score a test and wrestle them into a running shower. (You had to stop if they asked, but it was considered poor form to shower other people but beg off of showering yourself.)

Mudd has lots of great lecturers, and I don't mean to slight them by singling out Ran. As they once said about Newton, we know the lion by his claw.

Hagar said...

In the old days - and in some places until not that long ago - the university would furnish classrooms and the professors would lecture to students who paid them directly at each lecture attended.

Good way to cut the sheep from the goats.

Jay said...

How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?

By continuing to tout tenure, obviously.

Jay said...

Ann Althouse said...
A law school class really shouldn't have a "rock star" character in front of it.


I wasn't aware that anyone is suggesting they should.

Mark Harrison said...

"How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?"

Having his own vortex is a great start!

rhhardin said...

I've watched a few seconds of the Feynman physics lectures and found him unwatchable.

Rock isn't everybody's taste.

sydney said...

Isn't this how higher education worked in the ancient world and early Middle Ages? Some philosopher or theologian would give lectures and he would attract students based on his fame. I seems to recall reading about some of these people who would get upset about a group they were with then go off and set up their own school, which was just basically them and some students. Abelard comes to mind. Funny how technology has taken us back.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Zach,

Yeah, I would've liked Harvey Mudd, from the sound of it. Besides, Claremont. Assuming air conditioning, what's not to like? (Well, possibly being in LA County, but besides that.)

And sorry for misspelling your name, twice.

ramcharanre said...

The fact that a lawprof is valuable to someone is shown by the fact that he and/or she is a lawprof.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

sydney, That's how teachers always gained followings, true, but what you're describing sounds more like the high Middle Ages than the early Middle Ages. The 12th and 13th centuries saw the founding of the great European universities, and the arrival of the legions of (literally) starving students who subsisted on scraps just to hear and learn from the great teachers.

This is one reason I bristle whenever I hear "medieval" as a pejorative. This and, well, Chartres. And York Minster.

elkh1 said...

How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?

By being as flexible as Roberts in pretzelling the Constitution.

chuckR said...

How can a lawprof demonstrate his value?

Occasionally I have insomnia....

Jose_K said...

Adanm smith was a lw professor who depended on having a public