So, I’m about to set off on day three of the Law and Society Annual Conference, but I wanted for reflect on one session I was in yesterday. I went along to an author meets reader session on Ruthann Robson’s Dressing Constitutionally. It was a great opportunity to finally meet Ruthann in the flesh, along with Sonia Lawrence who I’ve been tweeting with for some time. The panel was great: Atiba Ellis, Sonia Lawrence, Julie Nice, Marc Poirer, Yofti Tirosh and of course, Ruthann responding. One of the really memorable aspects of this wasn’t the core arguments about dress – fascinating though they were (and they link very much with Fiona Cownie’s work on legal academic dress) – but rather, the opening remarks of Julie Nice from the University of San Francisco.
Julie instantly outed herself as a Robson fan (who isn’t?) but she resisted the temptation to say the usual bland complimentary stuff. Instead, she talked about the importance of Ruthann’s research, how it synthesised different literature but was actually readable. This emphasis on the readable was – and this may surprise non-academics – unusual. Julie talked instead about how the book was “unpretentious” in style. The big emphasis of Nice’s opening remarks was on Ruthann’s teaching, that Ruthann was ranked in the top 25 of US law teachers, how Ruthann used her approaches to studying sexuality with her students, and how Ruthann integrated her research and teaching. Julie concluded her opening with: “who does all that?”
We laughed. In laughing, we revealed much about the current state of the Academy – on both sides of the Atlantic. Who can combine amazing teaching and amazing research? Law Schools increasingly expect this to be doable, and in the Uk at least, we also expect it to be combined with administration, leadership, and – the further you ‘rise’ – management. There are amazing people out there like Ruthann who show it can be done, but the Academy needs to really wrestle with whether these expectations are realistic, and if not, what gives, and why.