May 26, 2006

Stop the Bleeding

While the U of C may not be the most prestigious or well connected university of them all, it offers a faculty rivaled by only two or three institutions in the world. That is why it is always so devastating when star faculty leave. Yale will always be Yale and Harvard, Harvard, but the U of C is not the U of C without its faculty. While much of the University has managed to retain its superstar professors, this year has been devastating for the Law School. Five full professors, including John P. Wilson professor Philip Hamburger, will be enlightening young minds far away from Hyde Park in the next academic year.

The repeated addition of prominent lateral hires like Anup Malani and intriguing young minds like Alison LaCroix is certainly adequate to fill the gaps left behind by these departures, but we should not be content with simply reacting to these challenges. Blood transfusions have their place—after one has already stopped the bleeding.

Some of the most respected minds in the legal field call Laird Bell Quadrangle their home. The Law School has the most prolific faculty in the country. Its students consistently outdo its peer institutions in almost every way—especially in the holy grail of achievements for law students, Supreme Court clerkships. If that isn’t enough, it is single-handedly responsible for the creation of law and economics and is constantly on the cutting edge of its discipline. Put simply, the Law School, unlike its competitors, is unwilling to settle for the accolades of its hallowed halls. For example, the Law School accepted Lawrence Lessig’s interest in the legal issues of the Internet when no one else cared.

But if that isn’t enough, the professional benefits of a U of C position for law professors are undeniable. Pay levels are also comparable to competitors’. Then what on earth causes so many accomplished faculty members to leave? What amenities are being offered by Yale, Harvard, and Stanford that they are not receiving from our school?

There is no reason to suspect that the Law School will not retain its enviable position in the foreseeable future, and the fact that so many of our competitors consistently focus their poaching on our faculty can be seen as a compliment, albeit a warped one. But these losses are a blow. Feeding the need of Cambridge and Palo Alto to put great teachers in the classroom is an admirable task, but our Law School should be more than a bridesmaid to Yale’s bride.