Monday, October 17, 2005
A graduate of Cornell Law School now practicing with a leading law firm in New York City writes:
I was reading the Law School Reports blog (which is great, by the way), and I saw that you mentioned that NYU did not provide a better education in social scientific approaches to law than Cornell. I graduated from Cornell last spring. To be honest, I don't think Cornell provides any education in social scientific approaches to law at all. The only time I was exposed to Cornell's social scientific knowledgebase was during a brief presentation
to admitted students in the spring prior to matriculation. I understand that Cornell's faculty may have a strong interest in this approach to law but I do not think that this translates--in any way--to an education in this approach for Cornell students. Cornell Law courses simply do not contain any social science content whatsoever.
I ran this question by a number of graduates and no one in their three years at Cornell had any expose to the social scientific approach in class. In fact, they were uniformly shocked that we had a reputation for providing such an education to students. And one of these students was a research assistant to Professor Eisenburg so, presumably, he would have had some familiarity with this element of the curriculum if it existed. I am not saying that I didn't like Cornell or was provided with an inferior education there but, trust me, there is no social science in the curriculum.
It is surprising that a school whose scholarly profile in law and the social sciences is clearly so strong would not have that profile reflected more clearly in the curriculum. I wonder whether other Cornell faculty, students, or alumni have different perspectives?
UPDATE: A Cornell faculty member writes:
Brian, to say I was surprised by the post from our alum understates--that is, assuming I understood the thrust of his (or her) post. My immediate reaction was that this semester--literally, right now--my colleagues teach various courses that directly (and quite literally) involve social science (broadly defined) and, indeed, empirical methodologies. Additional curricular offerings are scheduled for future semesters. Such courses have been taught in varying levels every year that I have been on this faculty. Insofar as our faculty is especially noted for this scholarly strength it naturally follows that our course offerings express this dimension. Moreover, in every course I teach I always make a point to draw on and reference the relevant social science evidence and scholarship where appropriate to inform class discussion. Finally, what I describe are simply my quick reactions to the post. I'm pretty sure there's more at CLS, especially after one broadens the construction of "social science" to encompass more than the hard-core empirical. If our alum was suggesting that CLS' entire curriculum is not oriented around a social scientific perspective, however, he (or she) is certainly correct. After all, empiricism is merely a scholarly tool and one perspective, it is not a "religion" or "philosophy" that would fundamentally shape the presentation of any standard law school course, at least here anyway.