Friday, April 04, 2003

So the new US News rankings of law schools are out. One comment I would make is that it seems odd to me to see Stanford ranked second and Chicago ranked sixth. I haven't been to either school, but I did take classes from a total of four visiting professors who had taught at those schools -- two from Chicago and two from Stanford. From my experience, my guess would be that the relative positions of those two schools should be reversed.

The ex-Chicago professors were Michael McConnell and Elena Kagan (just named the dean of Harvard Law). Both Michael and Elena were extremely rigorous and sharp. They demanded lots of reading. They called on students without warning to interrogate them about the topic at hand, and did not allow passing. My impression was that they were used to seeing students who were on the ball, bright, and willing to do lots of work.

The visiting Stanford professors were George Fisher and Mitchell Polinsky. Both of them were very sharp as well, but they both seemed to have very low expectations of what a class was capable of. I've never had classes with as little reading as Fisher and Polinsky assigned. At the beginning of the term, Fisher would apologize in class for taking things too quickly (when, to my mind, he was taking things at an excruciatingly slow pace compared to every other professor). He even would express surprise when, after having laboriously explained a rather simple topic, none of the students needed to ask clarifying questions before moving on. My impression was that they were used to teaching students who had little patience for study or work. (On the other hand, perhaps they had both been told not to expect much of Harvard students compared to those at Stanford.)

I should emphasize that my experience is very anecdotal and I have no idea whether it is representative of the general experience at those two schools. Still, there it is.


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