Can a teaching-focused law school fit into a public research university?

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in February 2010

600 words / 3 min.
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UCSD is considering merging or partnering with California Western School of Law, but some are concerned that Cal Western is too focused on teaching to fit into a research university.

Please note that this post is from 2010. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.

According to news reports (and a press release), the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), is considering a new “arrangement” with California Western School of Law that might well turn it into the newest law school in the UC system (after Irvine). This was tried before in the early 1980s, but failed — this time it would be done with no public money, making it only sort of a state school (not that UC Hastings, for example, gets much state support these days either).

This wouldn’t add a law school to the area, of course, but it might increase the stature and impact of Cal Western. There is, apparently, concern that the “teaching focus” of Cal Western won’t fit in with UCSD’s status as a “research university”:

Bill Hodgkiss, chairman of UCSD’s faculty senate, said he supports the concept but is curious how the details would be worked out.

“The (California Western) faculty are primarily focused on teaching law, and UCSD is fundamentally a research university,” Hodgkiss said. “So we’re looking for those synergies between the school of law and other departments, and how the research component would evolve over time.”

via UCSD looking at a law school –

For purely selfish reasons — a lot of my work here at UCSD involves legal issues, and it would sure be nice to have a law school and its faculty backing me up — I think this is a great idea. But would it really be a problem for a research university like UCSD to incorporate a teaching-focused law school?

I don’t think so, but then again, I consider (wrongly?) that at least part of my role here as a grad student at UCSD is to teach and to learn to teach better — sure, research is key too, but aren’t we supposed to be teaching too? (I believe that’s what the 20,000+ undergrads here think they might like to get…)

And regardless of how “teaching focused” Cal Western might be, a big part of being a lawyer is research — so I doubt that faculty there is unfamiliar with the concept. Perhaps the real concern is about publication by the faculty? After all, if UCSD faculty is promoted and tenured primarily based on publishing — and that’s the general accusation — then perhaps the concern is justified.

Then again, UCSD has a (relatively new) business school. Are the faculty there really so focused on publishing? Or are they — like Cal Western — perhaps concerned with teaching and the professional development of their students? Really, I think perhaps UCSD should consider their own commitment to teaching before they worry about Cal Western’s lack of commitment to “research.”

This, I think, is especially true of anyone in the humanities or social sciences — we must justify our existence, and traditionally esoteric research disconnected from society is not the way to do it, but good teaching just might be part of the answer.

Perhaps UCSD has more to gain from Cal Western than it realizes?