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Scholars, Friends and Otherwise

George Pierson once wrote of Yale that it “is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.”  Do we need to know more than that about aspirations for the modern university professor?  There is an interesting dialogue at Prawfsblawg and Concurring Opinions regarding what I’ll call (without consulting any of the prior posters) “best practices for law professors.”  I find much more common ground than disagreement among the posters and commenters.  A professor occupies a social space; if the dialogue doesn’t reduce to Pierson (a 20th century commenter if ever there was one), perhaps it reduces to the fundamental rule of social spaces.

I do find the focus on what an individual scholar should do less interesting than the relative absence of commentary on what the community of scholars should do, whether in the pursuit of civility, ethics, career advancement, or anything else.  That is to say, what happens inside the social space of the university is one thing, but what happens at the intersection of that social space and the rest of the world may be more important.  University faculty get a lot of privileges in this world; what (if anything) is rightfully expected of them?  On my faculty, there is little gnashing of teeth over the “inside” question, but as Research Dean, I wrestle a lot with the latter one.  Can a good answer to the “intersection” question lead to a good answer to the “inside” question? 

I think so, but I’ll save my thoughts — which are, inevitably, tentative – for a later post.  For now, and in anticipation of next week’s Prawfs/Co-Op meetup, here are two more of my favorite quotations.  Maybe they are relevant (“Pierson + Wordsworth + Shakespeare.  Discuss.”), maybe not:

Wordsworth, describing King’s College Chapel at Cambridge, and perhaps Cambridge itself:  “this immense/And glorious work of fine intelligence.”

Shakespeare, from The Taming of the Shrew:  “Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.”

1 thought on “Scholars, Friends and Otherwise”

  1. Fantastic point. The questions about interpersonal relations can only be answered within a larger understanding of the nature of the legal academy. I find Bill Readings “The University in Ruins” a great first step toward understanding problematic (if widely held) understandings of the academy as merely a place for the pursuit of “excellence.”

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