Via Concurring Opinions comes a link to this post by Michael Livingston on why law professors are so edgy.
I have often marveled at how a group of people with nearly 100 percent job security, writing articles that have no discernible impact on the world outside academia, both work so hard and are so obsessively worried about their standing in the pecking order. The answer is provided by the theory: they behave in this manner because they are doomed to compete, without anyone else to share the responsibility, in an activity in which they can never know whether they have succeeded or even what succeeding might mean. Like musicians singing to an empty hall, or athletes playing in an abandoned stadium, they have only themselves and a few ephemeral signposts--a good law review cover, a visit at a nominally "prestige" law school, what have you--to signal that they are advancing in their quest. It is a bitter fate indeed, although presumably someone has to do it.I have long done a bit of teaching as an adjunct at a couple of different law schools and I think that Professor Livingston makes an interesting point with one caveat. The law faculty I interact with seem to fall into a couple of categories. One group consists of professors with a mindset that "it is all about turning out good lawyers." In other words, the students come first last and always. The other group seems to consist of professors with an "it's all about me" approach where the focus is simply on demonstrating that you know more about the subject matter than anyone else on the planet and members of this group seem to me to be indifferent to whether anyone actually learns anything.
It is when members of this latter group hold forth in the faculty lounge, decrying a colleague's book or law review article, that I am always reminded of Henry Kissinger's classic quote that "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."