Why impose a course on constitutional law on our students?Because it is ...
MGRABER at gvpt.umd.edu
Tue Jul 10 05:53:35 PDT 2007
Several years ago I wrote an essay, "Constitutionalism and Political
Science: Imaginative Scholarship, Unimaginative Teaching," 3
PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICS 135 (2005) (always happy to mail reprints,
though should be available on line), the central theme of which was that
political science professors should stop teaching doctrinal
constitutional law courses, both because the vast majority of students
in those courses would get such a course in law school and the law prof
would do the doctrine better. We should teach a distinctive course
based on the distinctive features of political science.
The essay may provide some perspective on Sandy's provocative essay.
First, consider the problem of repetition. Are law professors entitled
to play "little political science/history/philosophy professor"
primarily because while the vast majority of students in my
undergraduate constitutional law classes are going to law school, most
students in law school have not had an undergraduate constitutional law
class or if they have, that class has been taught doctrinally. Suppose
in an ideal world, all undergraduates had a constitutional law class
inspired by "Constitutionalism and Political Science" (and, here goes
another shameless plug, used the forthcoming Gillman, Graber,
Whittington text, which I assure you does a far, far, far, better job in
covering the non-doctrinal aspects of constitutionalism than anything on
the market--happy to send TOC for interested people). Would there be
any point in requiring constitutional law in law school? Second,
consider the issue of competence. One of the arguments is my essay is
that few undergraduates were prepared to deal with lots of the law in
constitutional law cases (consider, for example, how many students
understand "background principles of common law negligence" in LUCAS),
that most undergraduate professors either were unprepared to take the
class time to teach the law (the polite excuse) or really did not know
the background law (the ruder way of putting it). And having political
science professors teach brief writing struck me as absurb, though half
the syllabi I survey had a written assignment described as a "brief."
But, of course, excluding law professors with the requisite degree or at
last relative immersion in the relevant literatures, are law professors
likely to have the same problem with they teach the political
science/history/philosophy version of the course, both with the lack of
student preparation and their own issues.
There are no good answers to these issues. Teaching in both
institutions (law and undergraduate political science), I can state that
the most significant problem I have as a law professor is the abysmal
undergraduate education that most of my students have had. So I am
rather sympathetic to Sandy's efforts on my accounts. But I wonder, in
an ideal world, whether what he wants might be better taught elsewhere.
Mark A. Graber
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