Friday, February 22, 2008

Nussbaum on Her Decision to Stay at Chicago and Turn Down Harvard

Since Harvard and Chicago are much in the news this week, at least in legal circles, my colleague Martha Nussbaum at the University of Chicago kindly invited me to share some remarks about her decision to decline the offer from Harvard Law School, as well as the offer from Brown University.  Bits and pieces of this have made it into some news items, but here's a fuller version of her statement:

I was enormously impressed by the offers made me by both Harvard and Brown, and I can't but be grateful to them both for all they did to make those offers appealing; but the terms of those offers were met and even exceeded by Chicago, and, in the end, it became very clear to me that Chicago is the place for me.  I am a very interdisciplinary person.  Here at Chicago I hold primary appointments in the Law School, Divinity School, and Department of Philosophy (and have affiliations with several other units).  When I teach, I don't like to offer this course for this unit and that course for that unit, I really like to have students from different units in the same classroom.  Chicago is virtually unique in the ease with which one can do this, since all units are on the same calendar and the same campus.  I just announce a course title and a prerequisite, and things take care of themselves, the course gets five or more different course numbers without any bureaucracy, etc.  Harvard is much larger, more bureaucratic, and more impersonal, and it is difficult to link law to philosophy and other humanities subjects, because the law school has a different calendar.

But equally important for me is the culture of the University of Chicago Law School, which has an intellectual intensity and fertility that is unique.  People talk voraciously across lines of specialization, with a sense of everyone's equality.  There are no stars; the entry-level assistant professor is treated with the same respect as the tenured professor.  The ideas are what matter, not fame or glamor.  This has been so for a long time, but I give particular credit to Saul Levmore, the current Dean, for his extremely fine leadership, both intellectually and in building a community in which this type of equal respect flourishes.  I am sure that his very generous concern for each faculty member, from the youngest to the most senior, is a large part of what led me to stay.  Levmore has been doing a lot lately to build the law-philosophy side of our law school, with the appointment of Brian Leiter and the creation of the law-philosophy postdoctoral fellowship program.  So that has only increased my regard for the law school.

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