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Liberal Education and the Legal Profession As a law professor and law school dean turned university president, I have come to believe that there is, or should be, a tight and sinewy bond between the academic enterprise I have taken on and the one that I have left behind, for liberal education and legal education grow out ofthe same tradition of humane learning. Indeed, legal education can be no stronger than the base of liberal education on which it rests. And so I would like to consider the responsibilities that the legal profession has for improving the quality of liberal education. Now, more than 150 years after the publication of the first volume of Democracy in America, de Tocqueville's observations are as fresh as ever. In speaking ofthe legal profession, he wrote, "If! were asked where I place the American aristocracy, I should reply, without hesitation, that it is not among the rich, who are united by no common tie, but that it occupies the judicial bench and the bar." From the earliest days of the Republic, lawyers have played an influential role in the determination of public policy . As members of the American aristocracy to which de Tocqueville refers, lawyers have joined their professional skill with their sense ofsocial responsibility to provide policymaking leadership at the national, state, and community levels. The conviction that lawyers have a responsibility to be policymakers was perhaps put with greatest force by Harold Lasswell and Myers McDougal in their important essay, "Legal Education and Public Policy: Professional Training in the Public Interest," arguing that "the proper function of our law schools is ... to contribute to the training of policymakers for the ever more complete achievement of the democratic values that constitute the professed ends of American polity." This conviction has been reinforced by the widespread assumption that a legal education, by inculcating that mysterious art called "thinking like a lawyer," prepared persons trained primarily as generalists to take on policymaking responsibilities in the most substantively demanding areas of public concern . Thus, lawyers have regularly ventured beyond their technical preparation in the making of public policy. The breathtaking legislative initia81 82 Idealism and Liberal Education tives of the New Deal, for example, were conceived and administered primarily by lawyers. Similarly, lawyers have held dominant policymaking positions in many of the significant public initiatives in the decades since the New Deal-for example, the founding of the United Nations, the administration of the Marshall Plan, the creation of the Peace Corps, the waging of the War on Poverty, and the mounting of the civil rights movement . In the making of foreign policy, too, lawyers have played a central role. More lawyers have served as secretary of state during the twentieth century than have members ofany other profession. Because most of these lawyers had achieved professional eminence at the Establishment bar, it was doubtless assumed that they could readily master the complexities and subtleties of foreign policy. And even when lawyers do not have direct responsibility for the making of public policy, they often exert a substantial influence on those who do. For this reason, it is important that the legal profession step forward to help the nation address one of the most prominent and important issues on the public agenda today: the issue of educational quality. During the past decade, book after book, report after report, byeducator or task force or blue-ribbon panel, has addressed the question of excellence-and the lack of it-across the broad spectrum of American education. The first wave of books and reports emphasized the weaknesses of the nation's high schools. Now we are in the midst of a second wave, and this one emphasizes the weaknesses of the nation's colleges and universities . These books and reports-with the repetitive and persistent drumbeat of their warnings and lamentations-have captured the attention of the public, of the press, and of parents. They have provided new catchwords that, virtually overnight, have become a new generation of cliches. They declare-in the language of their titles-that the United States is "a nation at risk," obligated "to reclaim a legacy," compelled to make a greater commitment to "action for excellence," required to renew its "involvement in learning." One of the first and the most widely disseminated reports, A Nation at Risk, published in 1984, gave us the memorable and menacing image of a "rising tide of mediocrity." And the most publicized report of the 1980s, To Reclaim a...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472023837
Related ISBN
9780472086702
MARC Record
OCLC
794701616
Pages
200
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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