I have just posted a short essay, Scholars, Teachers, and Servants, which sets out my views on the essence of a professor’s job. The heart of an academic’s duty is research in the pursuit of truth; scholarship, teaching, and service are three different but mutually supporting uses of the fruits of research. I also say a bit about intellectual corruption, academic freedom, tenure, free speech, and some of the special characteristics of legal academia.
Most of the essay is not new. I wrote it for Jotwell’s fifth-anniversary conference in 2014, Legal Scholarship We Like and Why It Matters, then put it aside while I worked on other things. But recent events have convinced me of the topic’s urgency, so I’ve decided that rather than work on it or sit on it indefinitely, I should post it now with minimal revisions.
I expect higher education to come under a great deal of pressure in the coming years: some political, some financial, some moral, some intellectual. A lot of people will be shouting a lot of things about what universities and professors ought to be doing. Some of it will come from the academy’s enemies, who would like to destroy its institutions, either out of malign contempt or simple expedience. But some of it will come from the academy’s supposed friends, who will ask it to do things it cannot do well while forsaking the ones it can. I’m posting the essay now, in calmer times, as a reminder to myself of what I believe, to help me keep my own intellectual footing in the storms to come. If it is of any use to others, so much the better.