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The True Spirit of Law-School Reform

Although a storm of criticism surrounds contemporary legal education, a key group in developing accreditation standards recently responded with welcome caution. The Standards Review Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar voted on February 7 to recommend only three relatively modest changes to ABA standards. The committee took no action on what is likely the most contentious issue the section faces—whether to accredit law schools that do…

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Trigger Warnings Trigger Me

Trigger warnings. I first encountered them about five years ago. We were reading a book about disordered eating. I showed images of high-fashion models next to pro-anorexic images to illustrate the idea that our culture’s ideal beauty is not really that different from an anorexic body. Two young women in the class told me I should have given a trigger warning since women with eating disorders could have experienced psychological duress from the images. It was my duty, apparently, to make sure …

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Tolstoy’s Ghost

In 1854 the young Russian officer Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was stationed in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. For several weeks French and British forces had laid siege to the city. An aspiring writer and inspired Russian patriot, Tolstoy transformed his observations into the Sevastopol Sketches, three long dispatches that won him the regard not just of critics but also of Czar Alexander II, who was desperately seeking a way out of the war that his just-deceased father, Nicholas I, had recklessly …

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Now That the ‘Evil Empire’ Is Back, So Is My Career

Last month I appeared as an expert analyst on four news shows and three radio shows. This is perhaps not unusual for someone whose specialty is foreign affairs, but what is unusual is that in each situation I was asked to talk about Russia.

I commented on the likelihood of terrorism at the Sochi Olympics, and later I commented on Russia’s intentions toward Ukraine. As a result, I found myself once again engaged with the questions that had formed the background of most of my graduate-school yea…

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Home College: an Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)

“Maybe you should home-college,” I joked to a highly educated Ph.D. friend—doctorate in medieval history, two master’s, several years of adjunct teaching experience in three fields. She was worried about how she would pay for her own offspring’s eventual college education on her tiny salary, if she did not soon land a full-time job, preferably on the tenure track.

As the words hung in the air, the idea’s utility seemed obvious. Thousands of qualified, trained, energetic, and underemployed Ph.D…

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Academic Tribalism

When I was a younger scholar, a very famous cognitive psychologist came to my office to visit me during his colloquium trip to my university. I mentioned with pride that I had just written a new textbook in cognitive psychology. His quick response was, “Bob, you’re not a cognitive psychologist anymore.”

I was deeply hurt. I had been trained in cognitive psychology by some of the top scholars in the field and always had thought of myself as their protégé. True, I had strayed and done some resea…

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Assignment: Research Your Adjunct Teachers

In the Fall 2013 term, having graduated from Warren Wilson College with an M.F.A. in poetry—a terminal degree, of course—I found myself teaching composition courses as an adjunct for the eighth consecutive semester. This semester, however, was different from the others not only in the workload but also in the commute: I worked on two campuses in two states, with 30 miles of freeway, part of it under construction, between them. On top of that, I taught five courses.

The first institution I taught…

In Search of a Principled Stance on Toleration and Acceptance

Opinions are not hard to come by, but merely having a position is not enough. The great achievement is in having a point of view that is defensible, that does not buckle under the pressure of scrutiny. The same is true of belief systems. Most people are   interested not only in believing things, but in believing things that are true. The distinction between opinions and correct opinions, beliefs and true beliefs, has important implications, one of which is denying that all beliefs are on an eq…

Why We’re On Strike

Today the tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members who make up the University of Illinois at Chicago faculty union walked out of their classrooms and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. It is the first faculty strike at a major research university in the United States in a very long time.

Most of the state research universities that have unions got them in the 1960s and 1970s, but, in a renewed push to organize campus labor, UIC and the University of Oregon just won certification…

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A Conservative Defense of Tenure

A standard feature of conservative and libertarian attacks on higher education is a polemic against tenure. My own view is that tenure is a fundamentally conservative institution—one that deserves to be defended.

Although tenure is not in immediate danger at some of our best colleges, it’s naïve to believe that it has much of a future. Its disappearance is part of our current movement from defined benefits to defined contributions. Risk is being transferred from the employer to the employee. …