Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Workshops in Which Students Enroll for Credit: Approaches

I presented two different papers at back-to-back law & philosophy workshops/seminars this week, at Columbia (run by Joseph Raz) and at Michigan (run by Scott Hershovitz and Don Herzog).  (I don't generally like to discuss the details of academic events on the blog, so suffice it to say that both sessions were very rewarding, and I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss my work with the faculty and students in attendance.)  In both cases, students were taking the workshop for credit, and in both cases the students discussed my paper with the instructor the prior week.  That seems to be fairly typical in these kinds of workshops, in which outside speakers present work on a particular topic or theme.   But at Columbia, after discussing the paper with the students the week before, Raz prepared a set of questions (about 4-5 pages) based on that discussion, which were then sent to me prior to my visit.   At Michigan, the students prepared short (3-4 page) "reaction" papers, which were also sent to me prior to the visit.  At Chicago, the students typically send the instructor(s) questions based on the speaker's paper, and then the instructor(s) help the students reformulate some of the questions for the session with the speaker.

Are there other approaches to involving students in the discussion and examination of papers by visiting speakers?  Do readers, faculty or students, have views about which approaches work best?  Signed comments will be strongly preferred, but only comments with at least a valid e-mail address stand any chance of being approved.

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Comments

I have run a colloquium at the Univ of Houston for the last four or five years.   Here, I ask students to prepare reaction papers (I also call them/liken them to "book "reviews") of 4-5 pages in length.  They are turned in to me just before the presenter's talk. I read them and then forward them along a few days later.  In rare instances, I ask the student to revise.   HavIng papers due just in advance of the class encourages independent thinking.  It also seems to have the effect of improving the Q and A.  I once experimented with allowing students to turn in papers after the talk, but I found they tended to offer fewer original ideas (both in class and in their written work), instead hewing  more closely to the subjects raised during the in class discussion.  For those interested, this spring's speakers are (in order of appearance) Sam Issacharoff, Lynn Baker, William Rubenstein, John Coffee, Marty Redish, David Stras, Lisa Casey and  Vikram Amar.
--Lonny Hoffman

Posted by: Lonny Hoffman | Oct 24, 2009 6:20:35 AM

I think the method you are discussing is typical. It is taken with varying degrees of seriousness at different law schools, however. When I gave a paper at UCLA it was clear that the students written and verbal comments were being treated more or less on a par with the faculty's. At other schools it sometimes seems that the students reaction speakers are more of a make work nature, and the substantive discussion is dominated by one or a few faculty members.

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 25, 2009 6:47:49 PM

Corrections: student reaction papers, not speakers

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 25, 2009 6:50:29 PM

We host a Tax Policy Colloquium here at Loyola-LA with a similar format. Students are expected to read the paper closely and generate questions prior to the presentation. They are also expected to write four 8-12 page reaction papers over the course of the semester. (We pair the papers and students after first soliciting their preferences.) We begin with two introductory sessions, but otherwise do not specially prepare the students' views on a particular paper. Each week, the presenter presents, a commentator comments, the presenter responds, and the floor is thrown open for student questions and comments. This year, our speakers and commentators are: Jonathan Masur (Chicago), commentator A.J. Julius (UCLA Philosophy); Miranda Fleischer (Colorado), commentator Ellen Aprill (Loyola-LA); James Hines (Michigan), commentator Heather Field (Hastings); Edward McCaffery (USC), commentator David Hasen (Penn State); Edward Kleinbard (USC), commentator Lily Kahng (Seattle); Brian Galle (Florida State), commentator Kirk Stark (UCLA); Sarah Lawsky (George Washington), commentator Thomas Griffith (USC); Deborah Schenk (NYU), commentator Joseph Bankman (Stanford); Dennis Ventry (Davis), commentator Roberta Mann (Oregon); David Duff (British Columbia), commentators Charles Kolstad and Corbett Grainger (UCSB Economics); Chris Sanchirico (Pennsylvania), commentator Dorothea Herreiner (LMU Economics).

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Oct 26, 2009 3:02:55 PM

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