On Showing Up

[Cross-posted from Concurring Opinions]

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.

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.