SUNY Buffalo disbands controversial center that studied fracking

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SUNY Buffalo ends center that was accused of failing to disclose the corporate ties of its scholars.

Science Groups Draw Attention to Impact of Sequestration

A new website, Science Works for Us, has been launched to document the impact on federally supported research of the possible across-the-board budget cut (or sequestration) that looms if President Obama and Congress don't reach a budget deal. The site was created by the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Science Coalition. Among the features is a state-by-state map showing how much money would be lost to university research if sequestration goes forward.

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Wisconsin Governor Seeks Shift in Higher Ed

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, announced in a speech Friday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California that he plans to propose major changes in the funding of technical colleges and University of Wisconsin System, The Wisconsin State Journal reported. Walker said that funding needs to shift so that higher education institutions are funded not on enrollment or even completion, but on completion in programs that train students for jobs that the state needs.

"We’re going to tie our funding in our technical colleges and our University of Wisconsin System into performance and say if you want money, we need you to perform, and particularly in higher education, we need you to perform not just in how many people you have in the classroom.

"In higher education, that means not only degrees, but are young people getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us, or degrees that people want to give us?"

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/gov-scott-walker-unveils-agenda-for-wisconsin-during-speech-in/article_a35a1378-31ed-11e2-bb6c-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz2CexPSEjE

"We’re going to tie our funding in our technical colleges and our University of Wisconsin System into performance and say if you want money, we need you to perform, and particularly in higher education, we need you to perform not just in how many people you have in the classroom.

"In higher education, that means not only degrees, but are young people getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us, or degrees that people want to give us?"

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/gov-scott-walker-unveils-agenda-for-wisconsin-during-speech-in/article_a35a1378-31ed-11e2-bb6c-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz2CexPSEjE

"We’re going to tie our funding in our technical colleges and our University of Wisconsin System into performance and say if you want money, we need you to perform, and particularly in higher education, we need you to perform not just in how many people you have in the classroom," he said. "In higher education, that means not only degrees, but are young people getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us, or degrees that people want to give us?"

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, a Democrat, said that Walker's plan sounds like "social engineering" that would force students to study "what industry wants" rather than what students want.

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Essay criticizing law reviews and offering some reform ideas

At a conference for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the summer of 2011, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. took a few potshots at legal academe. "Pick up a copy of any law review that you see," he said, "and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar." Roberts’ comments ignited a firestorm of righteous indignation among law professors, a number of whom were quick to point out the benefits of legal scholarship and the fact that the Supreme Court (including the Chief Justice himself) has cited law review articles in roughly one-third of its decisions over the last 61 years.

But Chief Justice Roberts has a valid point, and he’s far from alone in making it. In a 2008 speech, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer observed that "There is evidence that law review articles have left terra firma to soar into outer space." Meanwhile, U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Justice and intellectual heavyweight Richard Posner has sharply criticized law reviews for "the many silly titles, the many opaque passages, the antic proposals, the rude polemics, [and] the myriad pretentious citations."

The fact of the matter is that there is much that is wrong with law reviews, starting with their relevance. Ask a law professor for some of the chief reasons for writing law review articles (other than to abide by the "publish or perish" mentality of most law schools and universities), and he or she will likely point to the opportunity to be cited by a judge or an appellate court and, therefore, to become part of the law’s interpretation of a given issue. Yet, according to one study, 43 percent of the law review articles in the LexisNexis database had never been cited anywhere -- not in appellate opinions, not by trial courts, not even in other law review articles.

Why, then, do we even have law reviews? Because everyone loves a benchmark. In good job markets and bad, law students seek the credential of working on a law review in order to burnish their resumes. Law professors seek to publish their latest academic opus on the way to becoming tenured members of the faculty. And law schools point to the scholarly output of their faculty members as part of touting the institutions to prospective students, new hires, and donors, while ranking services such as U.S. News & World Report measure it as well. In some respects, this has resulted in a kind of intellectual arms race in which top law schools (and those aspiring to be) have neatly expanded their journal offerings to encompass a dizzying variety of subjects.

Consider this: according to the Current Index to Legal Periodicals, in 1960 there were 118 law reviews in the United States. Today, there are over 600. Georgetown alone has 11 journals, while my alma mater, the University of Texas School of Law, has nine. Over 10,000 articles are published each year by these academic journals, and the overwhelming majority of these articles will be rarely if ever cited. Only a fraction will influence judicial decision-making or advance the legal profession. Most will simply pad the resumes of the professors authoring them. This is hardly a new trend. Fifty years ago, legal educator Harold Havighurst astutely observed that "Whereas most periodicals are published primarily in order that they may be read, the law reviews are published primarily in order that they may be written."

Part of the reason why law reviews aren’t influencing judges, lawmakers, or practitioners as much as they should be can be discerned in terms of pure circulation numbers. For a generation, law reviews have struggled with dismal circulation. The Harvard Law Review, arguably the most prestigious and widely circulated law review, had a circulation of 10,895 in 1963–1964. By the 2010–2011 academic year, that figure had plummeted to 1,896.

Another reason for the failure of the law review mission lies in the same thing that has been sounding the death knell of the print medium for several years now: the Internet and the digital revolution. Discussion of cutting-edge controversies, significant court decisions, and debates over legal issues now take place in the blogosphere, which offers the immediacy, the broad audience, and the prospects for community reaction that no student-edited law review delivering an article months after its submission can hope to offer. For those who doubt that online outlets can possibly offer the same level of scholarly discourse, check out the discussion of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act (before pre- and post-decision) on sites like SCOTUSblog, Professor Eugene Volokh’s Volokh Conspiracy, or Professor Jack Balkin’s Balkinization. Legal blogs like the Volokh Conspiracy are not only providing commentary that is timely, but the nature of the medium forces commenters to be concise rather than rambling and pedantic. Not surprisingly, more and more legal blogs are being cited in lawyers’ briefs and judicial opinions.

Yet another reason why law reviews are in dire need of improvement is the content itself. Bryan A. Garner, arguably the preeminent authority on legal writing (and himself a distinguished research professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law), noted in a July 2011 New York Times op-ed that "Most legal scholarship is poorly written and is mired in nonpractical abstraction that few can understand and fewer still can benefit from." One look at some of the more esoteric titles — "Historic Injustice and the Non-Identity Problem: The Limitations of the Subsequent-Wrong Solution and Towards a New Solution," for example — confirms the validity of Professor Garner’s observation. One law review recently published a law professor’s opining about what rapper Jay-Z’s song “99 Problems” can tell us about Fourth Amendment doctrine on search and seizures.

Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate a clever, thought-provoking title as much as the next person. Titles are important; they need to capture the reader’s interest (not to mention the editor’s in the first place). For example, the area of organ donation law probably gained more interest with catchy titles like "She’s Got Bette Davis[‘s] Eyes: Assessing the Nonconsensual Removal of Cadaver Organs Under the Takings and Due Process Clauses" (90 COLUMBIA LAW REVIEW 528) or “You’ve Got to be Kidneying Me! The Fatal Problem of Severing Rights and Remedies From the Body of Organ Donation Law" (Brooklyn Law Review). And I have to admit, I chuckled at "The Internal Revenue Code as Sodomy Statute" (Santa Clara Law Review).  However, too many articles have heralded the "death" of this doctrine or that, showcased an intra-academy dispute ("A Reply to Professor Smith," "What Is Wrong With Professor Jones’ Neo-Aristotelian Approach to Legal Relativism," and the like), or fallen into the category of what David Segal’s scathing November 2011 New York Times indictment of legal education called "highbrow edu-tainment."

Finally, another problem with law review articles is the price tag that accompanies legal scholarship. At a 2011 conference on innovation in legal education, Hofstra University School of Law professor Richard Neumann shared the results of a study he conducted concluding that the average cost of a law review article written by a tenured professor at a top-tier law school approaches $100,000. Neumann’s analysis factors in the salary and benefits for a tenured professor at a high-paying school, the fact that such a professor would typically devote 30 percent to 50 percent of his or her time to scholarship, and that such a professor typically publishes one article per year. Even articles written by non-tenured professors at less prestigious law schools, Neumann calculated, come with a price tag of between $25,000 and $42,000. In light of the research estimating that 43 percent of law review articles are never actually cited, Neumann concludes that such expensive research doesn’t necessarily make law students (who, after all, are funding faculty salaries with their tuition dollars) any better off. "At least a third of these things have no value," he says. “Who’s paying for that? Students who will graduate with six figures of debt.” Faculty time, according to Neumann, would be better spent in the classroom.

So how can we improve law reviews? For starters, let’s have fewer of them. One reason for the proliferation of law reviews showcasing seemingly every different perspective and interest group (except, perhaps, legal issues affecting left-handed Inuits) is our societal obsession with inclusion. The Yale Law Journal even has the position of diversity editor. What does a diversity editor do? Does she make sure that the editing process doesn’t rely solely on red pens, to the exclusion of other, equally worthy colors? Does a diversity editor establish quotas for work by contributors or varied ethnic, religious, national, and sexual orientation backgrounds? Or does she make sure that published submissions conform to a certain diversity agenda?

Making law review was once a distinction reserved for the select few. But in today’s “everybody gets a trophy” mentality, having more journals means more law students get editing experience and that coveted (albeit now somewhat diluted) line on the resume. Reducing the number of law reviews will make the path to getting published a more competitive and meaningful one; with fewer slots to fill, the authors vying for those slots will have to generate higher-quality work.

Second, let’s move the journals online or at least make sure that every law review has an online version in addition to its print incarnation. That will increase and broaden the audience. It will also improve the chances that judges and practitioners, who are already strapped for time, will be able to and actually use the articles. The online environment promises far more immediacy and interactivity; readers reward writing that is clear, concise, and above all useful and relevant to them by coming back.

Finally, let’s try to bring a more practical dimension to the scholarly work of law reviews. Writing in The National Jurist on "The Inferiority Complex of Law Schools," Professor William D. Henderson of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law stated that "a large proportion of judges and lawyers readily admit that the writing of law professors — the enormous output of student-edited law journals — has little or no relevance to their daily work." This, Henderson believes, is the product of an inferiority complex on the part of law schools, which struggle with the perception of being as much trade schools as part of the ivory tower.

Professor Henderson argues that there is nothing wrong with the goal of making better lawyers who will help solve society’s most serious problems, a goal requiring that law professors remain "connected to the world of practicing lawyers," and better able to "fashion frameworks and broker relationships." He advocates for this even though the "re-allocation of time and priorities may come at the expense of the arcane scholarship that we now produce in order to maintain perceived parity with other parts of the university."

I don’t propose to go as far as Walter Olson, whose thought-provoking article for The Atlantic said it all in its title: “Abolish the Law Reviews!” But the current system of legal scholarship is badly in need of repair, if it is going to remain true to its original mission. Law professors, law students, practicing attorneys, and judges alike should demand a less bloated, more relevant, and more accessible way of doing things. As Chief Justice Roberts chided later on in his comments at the Fourth Circuit conference, "[B]ut I do think that if the academy is interested in having an influence on the practice of law and the development of law, that they would be wise to sort of stop and think, is this area of research going to be of help to anyone other than other academics."


John G. Browning is a full-time litigator and a part-time law professor in Dallas.

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Professor's civility requirement sets off debate on free speech

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Vow to cut grades by 10 percent for inappropriate classroom behavior sets off a debate about rights of students and faculty members.

Academic Minute: Evolving Bacteria

In today’s Academic Minute, Zachary Blount of Michigan State University explains how scientists have observed bacteria evolve new capabilities over thousands of generations. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Essay urges academe to rethink tenure

Institutions, faculty members and (most important) students will be better off with other forms of job security for professors, writes Chris Palmer.

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Florida community college faculty contracts again under review

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A year after community college faculty members fought off a challenge to their tenure-like contracts, a new proposal surfaces.

Ohio State Will Add 500 Faculty Members in 3 Fields

Ohio State University is planning a huge and highly focused faculty hiring campaign, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Over the next decade, the university plans to add 500 top scholars in three fields: health, energy and the environment, and food production and safety. The fields were chosen as areas where the university already has research strength. When the hiring is done (at which point some existing faculty members will have retired), the university projects that the size of its tenured and tenure-track faculty ranks will be 8-10 percent larger than it is today.


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Essay on student protests in London and one planned for Howard University

Intellectual Affairs

“Our university is not a supermarket!” read one of the fliers I saw posted up around the University College London campus while there to attend a conference this past week. It seems that early November is now the official occasion for militant discontent over austerity and higher education, at least in England. Arriving for the same annual conference a year ago, I’d made my way through streets crowded with students demonstrating against budget cuts and privatization, amidst police who were prepared (so a newspaper said the following morning) to use plastic bullets if the crowd got rowdy, as it had during the huge protests against a proposal to lift the cap on tuitions in November 2010.

Fifty thousand people had turned out for that event -- more than twice as many as even the organizers expected – and a few hundred of them decided to occupy the campaign headquarters of the Conservative Party, which they left considerably worse for wear. Elsewhere, another crowd menaced the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in their Rolls Royce, which was paint-bombed and its rear window smashed.

That was 2010. Nothing so A Tale of Two Cities-ish took place during the November 2011 march through central London. As for next week -- who knows? The National Union of Students has called for a march through central London on November 21, scheduled to coincide with the weekly questioning of the prime minister by members of the House of Commons. Complaining that the government has been “slashing undergraduate teaching funding, increasing tuition fees, introducing draconian restrictions on international students, cutting funding for post-graduate students, [and] hiking fees for adult learners looking to gain basic skills,” the NUS also points to another worsening situation: nearly a million people in England between the ages of 16 and 24 are currently unemployed. (The International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency, projects rising joblessness among youth to continue as a global trend over the next five years.) The police will probably have their plastic bullets ready next week, come what may.

As slogans go, “Our university is not a supermarket!” impressed me as one that wouldn’t work as a rallying cry in the United States. While Charles Eliot had many sober and lofty reasons for introducing the electives system at Harvard University in the late 19th century, its near-universal adoption throughout undergraduate education in the U.S. surely has more to do with the principle that it’s a good idea to give the customers what they want. (That was a running complaint in the late Jacques Barzun’s reflections on American education, discussed here last month.) It seems that we like our supermarket universities just fine here.

But that's just too cynical, and these are times when we should be ashamed of cynicism rather than proud of it. While writing this, I've gotten word from a philosophy major at Howard University that he and other students will be occupying Alaine Locke Hall on Thursday, November 15, to protest "tuition rates, administrative mistreatment of janitorial staff, and program cuts." These are not the demands of disgruntled consumers, and the protesters are very deliberate about their timing: Thursday is World Philosophy Day.

If their occupation goes on long enough, the students should read a recent volume called What Are Universities For? by Stefan Collini, a professor of intellectual history and English literature at Cambridge University. His Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (Oxford University Press, 2006) is as trenchant and far-flung a work of cultural history as anything I’ve ever read, and some of its qualities also come through in the occasional pieces he has been writing about higher education since the 1980s, many of them gathered in the new book. Published this spring by Penguin, it is available as a paperback in the U.K. and Canada but not in the U.S., though you can order it to read on Kindle.

Much of it is quite specific to British debates over the reform and restructuring of the country’s university system -- and a few of the older pieces (including one called “Bibliometry,” from the late 1980s, on the use of citation statistics as  “performance indicators” for scholars’ work) are now period pieces. But his response to the rise of corporate thinking and management-speak in academe is acerbic in ways that have aged well. “I work in the knowledge and human-resources industry,” one piece begins. “My company specializes in two types of product: we manufacture high-quality, multi-skilled units of human capacity; and we produce commercially relevant, cutting-edge new knowledge in user-friendly packages of printed material….Let me put that another way. I’m a university teacher. I teach students and I write books.”

What is there about education and scholarship that gets lost in this sort of "mission statement"-ese? Collini's book is a sustained engagement with that question, but one passage stands out as a memorable formulation of what distinguishes the university from any other institution:

“A university, it may be said, is a protected space in which various forms of useful preparation for life are undertaken in a setting and manner which encourages the students to understand the contingency of any particular packet of knowledge and its interrelations with other, different forms of knowledge. To do this, the teachers themselves need to be engaged in constantly going beyond the confines of the packets of knowledge that they teach, and there is no way to prescribe in advance what will and will not be fruitful ways to do that. Undergraduate education involves exposing students for a while to the experience of enquiry into something in particular, but enquiry which has no external goal other than improving the understanding of that subject matter. One rough and ready distinction between university education and professional training is that education relativizes and constantly calls into question the information which training simply permits.... [Learning of that kind] can only be done through engagement with some particular subject matter, not simply by ingesting a set of abstract propositions about the contingency of knowledge, and the more there already exists and elaborated and sophisticated tradition of enquiry in a particular area, the more demanding and rigorous will be the process of requiring and revising understanding."

Not written with a student demonstration on World Philosophy Day in mind, of course, but it seems fitting.

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