Assessing teacher performance in law schools: Problems and prospects

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The emergence of these considerably autonomous institutions dedicated to legal studies has been described by many as evidence of improvement in the quality and social perception of legal education. However, as pointed out elsewhere, much of the external scrutiny of these institutions is based on narrow parameters such as their intake of students through a competitive admissions process and their visible output in terms of how graduating students fare in the market for recruitment to well-paid positions in commercial law firms and businesses.

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Vaibhav Ganjiwale

August 23, 2013 - 12:42pm

Agree with ROFL. The article provides good food for thought for both teachers and students.

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Vaibhav Ganjiwale

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ROFL

August 22, 2013 - 2:19pm

First, the statement you quote is a statement of fact. You surely don't know what Prof. Menon wanted? He wanted a new model of legal education, and the better the professors, the better the revolution.

Second, you clearly have no idea of what you are talking about when you seem to imply that teachers from lower middle class/ humble background aren't welcome at NLUs or assert that the applicants with foreign LLMs are mudslinging.

Third, the author is a graduate of NLSIU Bangalore, holds an Ivy League LLM from U. Penn, has taught at NLSIU and is currently teaching at NALSAR. He could have opted for a lucrative job but chose to teach law. Clearly, he isn't depriving his students or pushing any agenda.

Suffice to say, a genuine problem is being discussed in the article and you have no clue what you are saying!

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ROFL

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Serving the elite

August 22, 2013 - 1:26pm

"Since a majority of the students admitted to the five-year integrated law programmes tend to be from upper-middle class backgrounds... teachers are unfamiliar with their students’ cultural preferences."!!!
Does it mean that teachers from lower middle class/ humble background aren't welcome at NLUs??? was this the idea of Professor Madhav Menon, the founder VC of NLS??? it only shows that applicants with foreign LLMs are in mudslinging on NLUs to raise their bargain with the NLUs they want to work with.

[...........]

in all such posts writers talk about diminishing standards of classroom teaching at NLUs. why don't they themselves teach the students after joining the NLUs? why they busy in their own projects?? they are only busy in their "own research work". why the students be deprived of their knowledge gained from other countries reputed as "heaven of knowledge"?

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Serving the elite

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A few cents

August 21, 2013 - 2:33pm

I am close to a professor of mine who often laments the state of affairs in the law universities. From what I understand, there is rampant university politics and even inter-NLU politics by the senior professors – with the support of incompetent young faculty who are recruited on the basis of “jugaad” or “relationships” – when it comes to course allocation, directly and indirectly humiliating/ undermining/ opposing bright young faculty, providing opportunities, etc. They are also very wary (scared?) of bright faculty, most – but not all – of whom are young and arguably better-educated (NLU graduates, foreign LLMs, etc.). Politically powerful faculty members will never allow good faculty, especially the young / less politically powerful ones, to keep up their good work. Add to that the problem of some of the weaker students who prefer the incompetent faculty (for liberal marking and other political favours) and criticize bright faculty anonymously (because they cannot cope with the level of instruction of good faculty and cannot get decent grades).

Of course, higher pay will attract competent people, but it will arguably not change anything when it comes to the incompetent professors who will view it as a boon like the Pay Commission reviews. The pay should be good but, more importantly, there must be other efforts relating to recruitment and more objective forms of faculty-evaluation. Some examples -

- while this suggestion is likely to be criticized in a democracy, maybe only the top 30% of a class should be allowed to evaluate professors on the basis that you have to “earn it” and cannot randomly have the “privilege” to comment on the performance of professors without putting in the effort to understand the efforts of the professors.

- an increased effort to recruit as many NLU graduates or graduates with foreign LLMs as possible (not that degrees make good professors but, at the very least, good degrees ensure that the professor is not “legally semi-literate”). These recruits can be on probation for a couple of weeks if their basic teaching ability (like ability to communicate, engage, etc.) is to be gauged and their retention may be based on students’ votes – again, maybe the top 30% could have a veto power to ensure that good faculty is not randomly disfavoured by the students who prefer incompetent “easy faculty”.

- efforts must be made to ensure that core papers that are taught in the first and second year like legal methods, torts, contracts, penal code and constitutional law are taught by a meaningful combination of two professors. Once students grasp these papers, they can handle the other papers even if the faculty is not very good.

- since some papers like taxation, company law, intellectual property laws, competition law, etc. are market facing or otherwise require faculty who have specific understanding of the subject, interested faculty may be allowed to express their interest and CV relating to the subject to the students, who can elect which faculty they want. This way, incompetent faculty will not be allotted such papers and competent faculty may be motivated.

Everything said and done, the way the system works, the VC’s role is very important. Unfortunately, there are only 3-4 decent candidates who can run a lawschool in the desired manner. Also, it is not easy to attract young faculty who understand how a good lawschool must function. These aren’t going to change soon either. Let’s also face the fact that a good lawschool education is not just about the teaching, but about learning various things, having a particular kind of independence, a form of culture, etc. Therefore, the best way to ensure the proper functioning of the NLUs would be an amendment of the legislations creating the NLUs, to confer greater power on the students and their involvement in the management and administration.

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A few cents

(5)

Varun Agarwal

August 21, 2013 - 12:12pm

One major issue with an autonomous set-up is that the same teacher who takes the course also evaluates it. Without going into the much larger debate on the pitfalls of the current evaluation process in formal educational institutions in India, this set-up creates a massive misalignment of interests generally skewing the student-teacher power ratio and specifically rendering a large portion of student feedback infructuous. On the other hand, in colleges that function under an umbrella university, the term papers go to anonymous evaluators and the on-campus student-teacher dynamics are vastly different. The same is applicable to the CBSE/ISC/ICSE set-ups re 10th and 12th grades.

What I suggest here is not even such a massive shift in the scheme of things so as to require grass-root level infrastructural changes to the, borrowing the author's words, “network of national law universities”. Agreed, that each NLU has its own course designs, materials and evaluation processes. However, the differences are not so vast as to render a centralized evaluation process an unimaginable goal.

What needs to be done is an unlocking of pre-existing potential in available resources; due to UGC/BCI requirements there already exists, a base similarity in the B.A./B.Sc./B.Com/BBA, LL.B. (Hons.) programs of all NLUs. Current practices include an anonymous re-evaluation process that involves handing over the answer scripts to non-instructing outsiders along with an answer key to help them mark the papers. The same mechanism cam be extrapolated to all evaluation, with each course instructor forwarding the answer scripts/term essays and their answer keys to a centralized committee which them forwards them to the forwarding course instructor’s counterpart in one of the other NLUs through a double-blind system. The answer scripts/term essays and their keys could themselves be anonymized by removing all information relating to the identity of the forwarding instructor/university/student. In order to mobilize this centralization, the mandate of the pre-existing CLAT Core Committee can be expanded or another committee consisting of academic deans/representatives of the participating NLUs can be set-up.

This suggestion was an off-the-cuff one and obviously requires a lot of fine-tuning but, just like the author said, something beyond throwing more money at faculty needs to be done in order to buck the decline in teaching standards. And to this end, the students are an indispensable resource as monitors of quality. While a complete rethink of the evaluation process is the only long term solution, in the short term, a de-linking of teaching and evaluation can be a stop-gap in the realignment of student-teacher interests and help in arresting the regression of Indian legal education to its pre-NLU era sorry state.

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Varun Agarwal

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