Monday, November 15, 2010

Annette Gordon-Reed and Dartmouth

I appreciate much of Joe Asch's blogging about Dartmouth and specifically about Board of Trustees, but this post about the College's new academic trustee Annette Gordon-Reed was a bit off the mark. Specifically:

1. Asch notes that Gordon-Reed formerly taught at New York Law School, which he states is not affiliated with another undergraduate institution. He remarks a second time on Gordon-Reed's teaching career at an "unaffiliated law school." His point appears to be that she is somehow less qualified to be a good trustee than a law professor who teaches at a law school affiliated with an undergraduate institution.

I'm skeptical of that. I graduated law school less than three years ago myself; my husband is a legal academic who teaches at the same institution as Todd Zywicki; and I work as an advisor and assistant to yet another law professor in her capacity as a federal government official. So I spend quite a bit of time around the breed. And... from what I can tell, most law professors spent minimal time interacting with undergraduate faculty and students. They have more than enough to do within the four walls of their respective law schools. Indeed, gaining perspective on the needs of GMU undergrads might be especially challenging for Professor Zywicki, as the law school and undergrad campuses are half an hour's drive away from each other and very different places culturally.

2. I have mixed feelings about the omission of her recent career at NYLS. Yes, as Asch says, it's less impressive than the institutions where the others taught. On the other hand, lateral moves are common in the legal academy. Lots of people start out at a law school less prestigious than where they finally end up. It seems begrudging, a little bit petty, to hold her pre-Harvard career against her. Note also that while NYLS is not high-prestige, it's in a high-demand city, and so therefore might be more attractive to junior prawfs than a higher-prestige job in a remote location. Gordon-Reed's husband is also a lawyer, which might also have constrained her options higher up the academic totem pole.

3. The points about the D's different emphasis in covering the Zywicki/Smith elections aren't really fair either. Todd Zywicki was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2005 and Stepen Smith in the spring of 2007, before any of the D's current editors or writers matriculated as freshmen. Different editorial boards can have different priorities, and it's entirely possible that the current crop simply thinks that academic perspectives are more important than did their predecessors three or five years ago. It's also possible that both groups of editors are all flaming liberals, of course, and that they're hellbent on doing whatever possible to make liberal trustees look good and conservative ones look bad. Perhaps, but it's in better taste to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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