Dilbert Blog Typepad 2006 Helpful Critical Thinking

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You’ve probably heard about, and perhaps read, a book phenomenon called The Secret. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen lots of negative reviews about its new age mumbo jumbo.

As I understand it, the central concept is something the book calls the Law of Attraction. Essentially, you focus on positive things and the universe will attract those things to you.

One skeptical reviewer picked the most outrageous sounding example in the book to point out how ridiculous it is. Apparently the book claims, without science to support it, that if you want to be thin, you should avoid overweight people, even to the extent of avoiding looking at them.

Clearly, that’s mumbo jumbo.

Today I read in the news that researchers have discovered weight to be “socially contagious.” Your chances of becoming obese are 57% higher if you have ONE friend who is obese.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/07/25/health/webmd/main3097001.shtml?source=RSSattr=HOME_3097001

It’s probably premature to declare this a fact. The media isn’t good at getting this sort of thing right. But I’d be surprised if it’s wrong. After all, humans conform to their friends’ habits in every other realm, from clothing, to music, to choice of words. It can’t be too surprising to learn that they start eating the same.

Friends influence friends. That’s obvious. But can you also become overweight just by looking at overweight people? My guess is that you can. Humans are natural copiers. Your choice of clothing, for example, is influenced just as much by what you see on strangers as on friends. And your notion of what is acceptable and normal is probably more determined by strangers than by your one or two close friends.

How about success? Can the universe provide success just by focusing on it and avoiding thinking about failure? I’ve seen no research on that topic, but wouldn’t you be surprised if success isn’t socially contagious too?

Stanford University creates an enormous number of entrepreneurs and other successful people. I’ve often hypothesized that half of Stanford’s success is because the students are brilliant, well taught, and screened for high potential, and half is because the environment breeds success contagion. I imagine it would be difficult to graduate from Stanford and settle for an ordinary life. The impulse to copy the other go-getters would be mighty strong.

I’ve often written about my own experiences with affirmations, the practice of writing your goals 15 times a day. It seems to work much of the time, at least in my experience, but presumably not because of any magic. At least one probable explanation for its perceived effectiveness is that focusing on goals changes the person who is doing the focusing.

In a book called The Luck Factor, the author and researcher, Richard Wiseman (Google it), discovered that people who expect luck will notice opportunities in their environment more readily than those who don’t. And he learned that you can train people to expect luck, and cause an improvement in their ability to spot opportunities, that look like luck, when they pop up. I can imagine affirmations tuning a person in the same way, until it seems that extra luck is being provided by the universe, but all that’s happening is that it’s more easily recognized.

Affirmations probably also increases a person’s natural level of optimism, especially if you believe it works. I can imagine optimism working to harden people against the inevitable setbacks and obstacles along the way to success. To the extent that affirmations might increase a person’s stick-to-itiveness, his perception might be that the universe is removing barriers.

To be fair, there’s also some selective memory at play. I’m sure people who use affirmations, or The Secret, tend to remember the successes and forget the failures. I recall about six ridiculously unlikely successes of my own with affirmations, and one quasi-failure that I still think will pan out. (There’s the optimism thing.) Realistically, I might be forgetting some failures. And I have no way of knowing whether I would have had the successes without affirmation.

As I said, I haven’t read The Secret. I don’t endorse it. But if you think the concept has no value because it’s not backed by science, don’t be surprised if that changes.

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December 30, 2006

Dilbert & Agency Costs

Posted by Christine Hurt

This Dilbert cartoon ran in the Dallas Morning News on Christmas Day.  By noon, my colleague David Hyman also emailed it to me so that I could read "the best corporate law cartoon ever."  I think he's right.

In practice, I noticed a cartoon that was blown up and framed in the office of legal counsel at a major oil company.  The cartoon featured a boardroom with directors around a table.  Someone was standing and presenting an idea.  The caption read, "The downside, however, is jail."  I can't find a copy of that cartoon, but I think it comes a close second.

Permalink | Humor | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

Friday Night Strobe Lights at Skateland

Posted by Christine Hurt

Apropos of Gordon's post on his ignorance of popular music (I knew none of the listed songs, by the way), I was reminded of our family's outling last night to Skateland, the local roller skating rink.  Our kids wanted to try out their new roller blades, so we headed over.  My memories of skating at the roller rink involve disco balls and the pounding rhythms of The Eagles' "There's Going to be a Heartache Tonight."  And of course, there always was a heartache, with some poor 7th grade girl crying in the bathroom because some guy didn't show/broke up/skated the slow skate with someone else. 

Well, last night at Skateland, the songs of choice were rap songs with repeated lyrics that are unrepeatable here.  There was no slow skate, no disco ball.  I didn't see gangs of girls huddled around a pay phone trying to find out if someone was on their way; instead I saw people skating with their cell phones.  I guess nothing stays the same!

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The Canon of Legal Thought

Posted by Gordon Smith

Congratulations to two of my colleagues, Stewart Macaulay and Marc Galanter, for having their work included in the new collection, The Canon of Legal Thought, edited by David Kennedy & William W. Fisher III of Harvard. The authors were limiting themselves to the "twenty most important works of American legal thought since 1890." (They appear to have counted two pieces by Catherine MacKinnon as one work.) Here is the table of contents:

Part I: Attacking the Old Order: 1900-1940

Oliver Wendell Holmes, "The Path of the Law," 10 Harvard Law Review 457 (1897)

Wesley Hohfeld, "Some Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning," 23 Yale Law Journal 16 (1913)

Robert Hale, "Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Noncoercive State," 38 Political Science Quarterly 470 (1923)

John Dewey, "Logical Method and Law," 10 Cornell Law Quarterly 17 (1924)

Karl Llewellyn, "Some Realism About Realism--Responding to Dean Pound," 44 Harvard Law Review 1222 (1931)

Felix Cohen, "Transcendental Nonsense and the Functional Approach," 35 Columbia Law Review 809 (1935)

Part II: A New Order: The Legal Process, Policy, and Principle: 1940-1960

Lon L. Fuller, "Consideration and Form," 41 Columbia Law Review 799 (1941)

Henry M. Hart, Jr., and Albert M. Sacks, The Legal Process: Basic Problems in the Making and Application of Law, Problem No. 1 (unpublished manuscript, 1958)

Herbert Wechsler, "Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law," 73 Harvard Law Review 1 (1959)

Part III: The Emergence of Eclecticism: 1960-2000

Policy and Economics

Ronald H. Coase, "The Problem of Social Cost," 3 Journal of Law and Economics 1 (1960)

Guido Calabresi and Douglas Melamed, "Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Inalienability: One View of the Cathedral," 85 Harvard Law Review 1089 (1972)

The Law and Society Movement

Stewart Macaulay, "Non-Contractual Relations in Business: A Preliminary Study," 28 American Sociological Review 55 (1963)

Marc Galanter, "Why the 'Haves' Come Out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal Change," 9 Law and Society Review 95 (1974)

Liberalism: Interpretation and the Role of the Judge

Ronald Dworkin, "Hard Cases," 88 Harvard Law Review 1057 (1975)

Abram Chayes, "The Role of the Judge in Public Law Litigation," 89 Harvard Law Review 1281 (1976)

Critical Legal Studies

Duncan Kennedy, "Form and Substance in Private Law Adjudication," 88 Harvard Law Review 1685 (1976)

Liberalism: Legal Philosophy and Ethics

Robert Cover, "Violence and the Word," 95 Yale Law Journal 1601 (1986)

Frank Michelman, "Law's Republic," 97 Yale Law Journal 1493 (1988)

Identity Politics

Catharine A. MacKinnon, "Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory," 7:3 Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 515 (1982)

Catharine A. MacKinnon, "Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward a Feminist Jurisprudence," 8 Signs: Journal of Women, Culture, and Society 635 (1983)

Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas, eds., "Introduction," Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, The New Press, New York, 1996 at xiii-xxxii

Permalink | Legal Scholarship | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

The Hanging

Posted by Gordon Smith

How much do you want to see? I don't want to see any of it. Seeing a person die at the end of a rope does not appeal to me, no matter who that person is.

Permalink | Politics | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

December 29, 2006

Popular Music

Posted by Gordon Smith

I hardly ever listen to music anymore. Strange because I was a music junkie as a teenager.

As I romped around my favorite blogs tonight, two music posts caught my eye. First, Brayden lists five albums he "can't wait to buy." (People still buy albums?) I hadn't heard of any of the bands, except Radiohead. But I couldn't name a single one of their songs, even though Brayden touts them as "simply the best band in the world, no question."

Second, Paul Kedrosky lists the ten most-played radio songs of 2006:

Rank   Songs              Artist                              on Radio
     1     Be Without You     Mary J. Blige                       395,995
     2     Unwritten          Natasha Bedingfield                 336,276
     3     Temperature        Sean Paul                           324,555
     4     Me & U             Cassie                              312,073
     5     Hips Don't Lie     Shakira Feat. Wyclef Jean           308,903
     6     Promiscuous        Nelly Furtado Featuring Timbaland   292,264
     7     Bad Day            Daniel Powter                       291,256
     8     Check On It        Beyonce Featuring Slim Thug         290,231
     9     So Sick            Ne-Yo                               277,958
     10    Over My Head
           (Cable Car)        Fray                                276,601
    Source:  Nielsen BDS

Um, ok. I have heard three of these songs. Two of them because they were favorites of my daughter.

This year, after being frustrated in her attempts to buy me a Christmas gift, my daughter proclaimed, "you need a hobby!" I have hobbies, of course, but they aren't the sort of hobbies that require a lot of maintenance. (I gave up golf some time ago.) Maybe I should take up listening to music again. That would be good for a few stocking stuffers every year.

Permalink | Music| Popular Culture | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

The Bowl System is Ruining College Football

Posted by Gordon Smith

One of the arguments in favor of the current bowl system in college football is that is makes games during the regular season more exciting. This is unquestionably true. Under a playoff system, regular season games would still be important because teams would be fighting for a playoff seed, but under the bowl system the stakes are much higher. Consider Rutgers, which went from having a shot at a BCS bowl to playing in the Texas Bowl (?) on the basis of two end-of-season losses.

This year college football will feature 32 bowls. That means 64 of 119 teams in the "Football Bowl Subdivision" (formerly Division I-A) will play in the post-season. Many of these teams -- including big name programs like Florida State, Miami, Alabama, and Iowa -- assembled unimpressive 6-6 records to earn their bowl berth. Alabama and Iowa were 2-6 in conference play! The mighty Minnesota Gophers were 3-5 in the Big Ten and 6-6 overall, but they snagged a bowl invitation to the Insight Bowl in Tempe.

Unless you are an alum of one of the participating schools, most of the games are unwatchable. In addition to having uninspiring matchups between bad teams -- worse yet, bad teams with largely unmotivated players and coaches -- the bowls feature teams that haven't played football in at least a month. Teams are rusty and often play quite differently in the bowl than in the regular season.

Even the BCS bowls, the supposed cream of the crop, are mostly uninteresting to anyone other than the diehard college football fan:

Southern California vs. Michigan
Oklahoma vs. Boise State
Wake Forest vs. Louisville
Notre Dame vs. LSU
Ohio State vs. Florida

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating: a playoff would benefit college football fans.

There! I feel better now that I got that off my chest.

Permalink | Sports | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

Wal-Mart's Irresponsible Pickle Strategy

Posted by Gordon Smith

I have been cramming for my Wal-mart panel next week at the AALS Annual Meeting, and I found a case study entitled "Corporations and Social Costs: The Wal-Mart Case Study" by Benedict Sheehy. Mostly routine stuff, but this argument about consumerism caught me off guard:

Wal-Mart's approach of increasing by supplying goods in large or bulk size creates its own special set of problems. For example, Wal-Mart decided to use pickles to create an impression of incredibly cheap prices. It pressured a supplier of high quality pickles (with threats to discontinue business with them) to produce gallon jars of pickles for less than $3. The net result was a dramatic increase in sales at very low margins, increased demand on farmers and all pickle producers, undermining its high quality pickle market it had built up over the years, and eventually contributing to the supplier's bankruptcy. Perhaps worst of all, as an executive at the former   pickle supplier observed: "They'd eat a quarter of a jar and throw the thing away when they got moldy. A family can't eat them fast enough."

This problem--promoting over-consumption in a world of limited resources, currently reeling under the environmental costs of its consumption habits--is nothing short of moronic. Americans are the most over-weight people on the planet, spend more money per capita on diets, consume more goods per capita than anyone else on the planet, and Wal-Mart's strategy, effectively, is to promote further over-consumption by under-pricing more goods. Basic economic theory indicates that when goods are under priced they are over consumed. We need look no further than Wal-Mart to see the truth of this principle. While Wal-Mart is not the creator of consumerism, its dominance creates a large responsibility to inform consumers about the real costs. By under-pricing, Wal-Mart is misinforming the consumer encouraging over-consumption, and to do so in the planet's current state is nothing less than perverse. Because of its market dominance, a strong argument can be made for its bearing considerable corporate responsibility to inform consumers about costs by pricing correctly.

After reading Dan's post about the Ethical Practice of Legal Scholarship, I am reluctant to comment on this passage without consulting Mr. Sheehy in advance. Nevertheless, I trust that Conglomerate readers can draw their own conclusions.

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December 28, 2006

The Holiday

Posted by Gordon Smith

No, my holiday break is not all about movies, but my wife and daughters were heading out to see the "ultimate chick flick" (quoting one of them) this afternoon, and I decided to tag along. Anything to avoid grading exams. (My boys stayed home to play Star Wars video games.)

The ratio of women to men in the theatre was at least 20:1. My wife identified only three men, including me, but I am fairly certain a fourth guy slipped in during the coming attractions. Fortunately, I was wearing my pink dress shirt.

The women throughout the theater seemed quite taken by this movie. Lots of knowing laughter and after-movie chatter. I passed some of the time staring at the light fixtures in the theatre. For the most part, however, I was wondering whether I was a bad person because I wished harm on the Cameron Diaz character. Not just that she would have a bad holiday. I was thinking more along the lines of a dread disease.

I will admit that I laughed several times when I was supposed to. Like Dustin Hoffman's cameo in the video store. And a couple of the imagined movie trailers about Cameron Diaz's life. But for the most part, the film was far too predictable to be funny or charming.

Perhaps having a policy of doing anything to avoid grading exams is a bit overbroad.

Permalink | Popular Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

Performance-enhanced law school exam taking?

Posted by Victor Fleischer

Here in Boulder discussion of doping usually revolves around cycling.  Via the CU student blog I learn that a significant number of law students are taking Adderall or Ritalin or other ADHD-related drugs to enhance concentration during exams.  (Or so it is alleged, anyway.)  This was news to me. 

Drug-enhanced exam taking seems like the sort of rumor that might be exaggerated, but judging by the 60+ comments in the thread, it seems like there's at least some drug-enhanced exam taking going on at our law school, and presumably many others.  I'm curious if other schools have addressed this.  Is it a widespread problem?  If so, what can faculty do about it?  Is this something we should be worried about? 

And is there any empirical evidence that Adderall enhances concentration or exam performance for students without ADHD?

Permalink | Law Schools/Lawyering | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

Night at the Museum and Rocky

Posted by Gordon Smith

One of the holiday traditions in our household is that we go to the theater on Christmas Day. The PG pickings were slim this year. After taking account of movies one or more of us had already seen and eliminating options that generated strong objections, we ended up at Ben Stiller's new release: Night at the Museum. Apparently, lots of other people made the same choice. The theater was full, and it was the #1 film at the box office as of December 26.

Superlatives are inappropriate here. If you say this movie is a "blast" or that the writing is "hilarious," I worry about you. On the other hand, if you don't laugh at least a couple of times, you probably need to lighten up a bit.

On the day after Christmas, my oldest son and I returned to the theater to see Rocky Balboa. (The women in the family had no interest, and the younger boys were more interested in playing their new video games.) This is basically a retelling of the original Rocky, but I loved the original Rocky (didn't we all in 1976?), so I didn't mind this stroll down memory lane. I was a bit surprised that my son liked the movie so much, until I realized that he was seeing Rocky in action for the first time. Rocky can't miss with most teenage boys, even when his face and body are wrinkled.

Permalink | Popular Culture | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

December 27, 2006

Gerald R. Ford, RIP

Posted by Gordon Smith

Much of my adult cynicism regarding politics probably stems from my earliest political recollections surrounding Watergate. I was nine years old when five men broke into the  offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and almost 11 when Spiro Agnew resigned and Gerald Ford was nominated as his replacement. When Ford later became President, he inherited an impossible situation, and I still remember thinking that his pardon of Nixon was a sham. (Of course, this was the prevailing view at the time, and it may have cost Ford the 1976 election. The NYT attributes the lost to a different incident.)

Today, after hearing of Ford's death, I reflected on those days. If we were playing word association, these would be my first choices after Nixon: WIN buttons (ack!) and Chevy Chase, who first performed his impression of Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live on November 8, 1975.

Of course, I also knew that Gerald Ford was a football player ... a very good football player, in fact. But I didn't know all of this:

During a 1934 game against the University of Chicago, Ford became the only future U.S. president to tackle a future Heisman Trophy winner when he brought down halfback Jay Berwanger, who won the first Heisman the following year.

"When I tackled Jay in the second quarter, I ended up with a bloody cut and I still have the scar to prove it," Ford said after Berwanger's death in June 2002.

Ford was the Wolverines MVP his senior year in 1935. He also was the captain of his football team at Grand Rapids South High School and was an all-state center in 1930, his senior prep season.

Following his graduation from Ann Arbor in 1935, Ford received contract offers from at least two professional NFL teams. Perhaps as an indication of where Ford would eventually end up, he spurned offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to instead attend law school at Yale. Ford put himself through law school as an assistant varsity football coach and a freshman boxing coach.

A member of the 1935 Collegiate All-Star football team, Ford's No. 48 jersey was retired on Oct. 8, 1994 during halftime of the Wolverines' game against Michigan State. His jersey is one of only five numbers that have been retired in the history of Michigan's storied football tradition.

Rest in peace, President Ford.

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December 22, 2006

Yes, Carter, You're Very Smart -- There is No Santa Claus

Posted by Christine Hurt

[Warning, Santa spoilers to come.]

Our family is at the end of an era, or at least the beginning of the end.  Our older child, a third-grader, confessed to me that she knows there is no Santa Claus.  She seemed fine with the truth, and I was happy to be done with the charade.  Personally, I hate Santa Claus.  Correction:  I'm fine with Santa Claus the character, just like I'm fine with Superman, Scooby-Doo, and maybe SpongeBob SquarePants.  What I hate is the legal fiction of "believing in Santa Claus."  I would be happy to have a mascot for Christmas, one who embodies everything that's good, wholesome and selfless about Christmas, but why should we all pretend that this mascot is real?

I'm a religious person, and I believe a lot of things one can only classify as "supernatural" or "beyond scientific fact."  Because I do have religious beliefs, I like to police the boundary of things that I tell others I "believe."  I hope to instill my true beliefs in my children, but I think that goal is subverted when before my child is eight years old, she finds out that I lied to her about Santa, the tooth fairy, etc.  We have tried to keep the imaginary creature belief systems out of our house (Easter Bunny, St. Nick, whatever that is).  I would prefer to tell her that I believe in the power of the resurrection, but I don't believe that a bunny in a plaid vest leaves us plastic eggs and candy.  I believe in latter-day miracles, but I don't believe that an ageless chubby man can alter the laws of physics by delivering presents to every child in the world in one evening.  I believe that God hears us when we pray, but I don't believe that the man on the other end of the 1-800 number. . . .well, you get the picture.

What I hate especially about this Santa religion is that in the movies, if you don't believe in Santa, you're either evil or misguided.  You're a robotic, cynical, frigid single mom who works at Macy's or maybe the really evil neighbor next door who hates kids.  No one is ever depicted as loving, selfless, idealistic and altruistic who does not believe in Santa.  What I want to see is the made-for-TV movie about the third-grader who realizes that there is no Santa but finally realizes the true meaning of Christmas and is a better person for it.  I realize the merchandising tie-ins will be small, but just maybe. . . .

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December 21, 2006

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

Posted by Gordon Smith

The title of the next Harry Potter book has been revealed. Sounds spooky.

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Rise & Shout!

Posted by Gordon Smith

Great win, BYU!

More below the fold for college football fans.

This was supposed to be one of the best bowls of the season, but BYU turned it into a laugher, which was just fine with me. Many people will assume that Oregon simply didn't show up, but I have watched this BYU team all year, and they are faster, stronger, more skilled, better disciplined, and more fundamentally sound than any BYU team I have ever seen. Ever.

The two losses early in the season seem inexplicable now, though Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has said that this team became great from what it learned in those losses. BYU's best players are seniors, but I have the feeling that this will not be a one-shot deal.

Four big questions remain after the game:

  • Will the Rose Bowl be unwatchable? This same announcing crew will cover Michigan-USC, and if you are interested in that game, you might want to set up a radio. ESPN should be embarrassed by its broadcast of the BYU-Oregon game. If the announcers did any pre-game research on the teams, they certainly held all of the information close to their vests. They didn't know how to pronounce the players' names, and most of the second half looked like a bad sports show on an obscure cable channel. For long stretches, the announcers seemed to forget that there was a game going on right in front of them. At times I thought Brent Musburger sounded drunk. It was disgraceful.
  • How long will Gary Crowton survive in Eugene? Crowton was "asked to resign" as BYU's coach two years ago, but he landed on his feet as offensive coordinator for the Ducks. Offensive is right! That was one of the most offensive displays of play calling that I have seen since ... well, since Crowton was at BYU. Though BYU's defense is much better than people expect, Crowton made it easy on them, choosing to pass with two inept quarterbacks rather than running with two awesome running backs. Crowton is nothing if not surprising.
  • Coach Bellotti, can we follow up? Earlier this week, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti asked whether BYU could compete at the highest levels of the Pac-10. Bellotti responded: "They lost to Arizona 16-13, and Arizona is a middle level Pac-10 team right now. They lost to Cal last year in the bowl game. USC, in terms of talent, is above everybody in the conference. . . . Certainly, there are many, many players on the BYU team that would be stars in the Pac-10. As a team, I can't say that they would play with the highest-level Pac-10 teams. But you better ask me that after the game." BYU certainly needs to do more to prove itself than beating Oregon (which, by the way, lost to Arizona 37-10), but Bellotti's comments leading up to the game were utterly stupid.

Ok, enough nose rubbing. A happy end to a great season for BYU. Now, if we could just get a playoff system for Christmas.

UPDATE: Predictably, Coach Bellotti was asked the follow up:

By the time Thursday's postgame media session rolled around, the comparison — after BYU's 38-8 rout of the Ducks — again came front and center, with Bellotti asked if he thought the Mountain West Conference champion Cougars might now qualify in his mind as a mid-level Pac-10 team.

"We didn't play like a mid-level Pac-10 team, but no, my opinion of them hasn't changed."

Asked what he thought it might take to enhance his opinion of BYU as a Pac-10 caliber of peer, Bellotti tersely ended the matter: "I've covered that question. Next question."

I am starting to wonder if Coach Bellotti has difficulty understanding the questions. In any event, he was otherwise quite complimentary of BYU: "I think we got out-coached, out-played and out-hustled ... I give credit to BYU. They played with great discipline and they are a very, very good team."

UPDATE2: Bellotti is getting some bad press at home, too.

Permalink | Sports | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

Student Evaluations

Posted by Lisa Fairfax


So now is the time when students get to tell the unvarnished truth about their assessments of us as teachers. I do recall that quite a lot of people told me to brace myself when reading through my first set of student evaluations. Everyone agreed that it would inevitably be the case that no matter how many nice comments I received, there would always be that one. I also recall that people had mixed views on the relevance of student evaluations.

On this point, there continues to be a lot of debate about whether or not student evaluations provide a good assessment of a person’s teaching ability. Certainly as a student I never really considered that my comments could have an impact on a person’s career, and hence viewed it as my chance to vent or praise as the case may be. Then too, there is some truth to the notion that some students may not appreciate all they have learned from a person until well after they have graduated, and possibly because of this we may need to discount their comments. I also think it is possible that some students may use the evaluation process to comment on things that may not necessarily have anything to do with a person’s teaching. Quite frankly, the only student evaluation I can clearly remember providing is the one for the professor whose class I found excruciatingly boring. However, reflecting back I think I learned more from him than I did from the professor who everyone agreed was entertaining (though I think there are people who manage to be both entertaining and informative).

Having said all that, though, I do think that student evaluations are important. They give the students the ability to speak their mind, and more importantly, they provide important feedback. For the most part, teaching is something we do without anyone looking over our shoulder. So it is good that the “consumers” of our product are able to tell us how they feel, even if you need to discount some of it. Moreover, some students do take the process seriously and provide comments that are useful going forward. It is important to know if students think the material was too dense, too unorganized or gone over too quickly. So whether or not one believes that evaluations are a good reflection of a person’s teaching abilities, I think the process is a critical aspect of teaching.

Permalink | Law Schools/Lawyering | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

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