Tom Ginsburg and Thomas Miles have published a new article, The Teaching/ Research Trade-Off in Law: Data From the Right Tail, that studies the relationship between scholarly productivity and student evaluations of teaching at their law school, the University of Chicago. From the conclusion:

There has been much debate about whether the performance of American law schools is failing, according to various metrics. Critics argue that U.S. law schools subsidize useless research, taking resources away from the core activity of educating students. Our own school is alleged to be a part of the problem, as it is part of a set of elite schools that ‘‘set the market’’ for the legal professorate. A key assumption of these critics is that a trade-off exists between teaching and scholarship: That the time and energy spent on research impair the quality of teaching or that professors proficient at scholarship (or scholarship that is not directly related to legal practice) are poor teachers of law.
The results of our study cast doubt on this assumption, at least at one elite school. Our analysis of 10 years of data encompassing nearly 50 faculty members over almost 500 courses reveals no strongly negative relationship between the volume of scholarship and the amount or quality of teaching. To the contrary, scholarly output appears to rise with the amount of teaching in many specifications, although the relationships are not statistically significant. In addition, students’ evaluations of teaching have a positive and statistically significant correlation with the feasible range of total scholarly

Two thoughts.

First, although the teaching/scholarship question is always interesting to academics, I’m not sure the paper is really responsive to those who criticize law schools for prioritizing research. The critics are mostly focused on who gets hired, not on what professors do after they are hired. Broadly speaking, the critics think schools should hire professors for their teaching ability and experience instead of their research potential. The Ginsburg & Miles study doesn’t seem equipped to address that objection. Everyone on the Chicago faculty was hired for research potential and very little for teaching. As a result, even if it turns out that the most productive professors on this research-hired faculty are the best teachers, that doesn’t tell you much about how good the teaching would be if the faculty had been hired for their teaching abilities. This is not about Chicago specifically, as Chicago has a very strong teaching faculty. But there does seem to be a gap between the criticisms and the methodology of the paper.

Second, I wonder how much of the results in the study are particular to the University of Chicago Law School. Chicago is not only unusual for having a hyper-productive faculty. It is even more unusual for having students who are aware of and interested in the scholarship of its hyper-productive faculty. When I was a visiting professor there in 2006, I was struck by how much the students followed faculty scholarship. Students knew about and were particularly awed by the professors who published the most. That might influence teaching evaluations at Chicago in a way that is less likely at other schools.

Thanks to Michael Simkovic for the link.