The Employment and Labor Law Professor as Public Intellectual: Sharing Our Work with the World

By Yamada, David C. | Suffolk University Law Review, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

The Employment and Labor Law Professor as Public Intellectual: Sharing Our Work with the World


Yamada, David C., Suffolk University Law Review


Introduction

This stimulating collection of essays builds upon the 2008 Annual Meeting program of the Section on Labor Relations and Employment Law of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), the major professional association for legal educators. The Section devoted its January 2008 program to the topic of "The Employment and Labor Law Professor as Public Intellectual: Sharing Our Work with the World," which featured presentations by four accomplished law professors who were selected via a Call for Papers issued the previous year. The purpose of the program and the resulting essays is to explore how law professors, particularly those who teach in the field of employment and labor law, can apply their research and scholarship to the important tasks of public education and intellectual activism.

Since the publication of Russell Jacoby's The Last Intellectuals (2) in 1987, the idea of the "public intellectual" has been a hot topic of discussion among many scholars, writers, and pundits who have found themselves drawn to the label. Public intellectuals, in Jacoby's words, are "writers and thinkers who address a general and educated audience." (3) According to Jacoby, public intellectuals have been on the decline, replaced by academicians whose writings are tailored to a narrow, specialized audience. (4)

In the wake of The Last Intellectuals has come a somewhat navel-gazing wellspring of debate over Jacoby's thesis and discussion about how to define a public intellectual and who may claim that status. (5) Judge Richard Posner, the prominent judge and legal scholar, has even attempted to rank the top public intellectuals by counting citations and media references. (6) Thus, a dialogue originally inspired by questions over how those within the academy can engage in a broader exchange of ideas and information has become yet more fodder for panel discussions about definitions and status, the likes of which do not reach far beyond the ivory tower.

The purpose of these essays, thankfully, is not to argue whether or not public intellectuals are in decline or to rehash the "who" and "what" of public intellectual status. Rather, these pieces are rich with ideas and examples of how law professors in the field of employment and labor law can share the fruits of their intellectual labor with broader public audiences. The essays published here are the work of law professors who understand the importance of both the law library and the shop floor. Some are educating the public through op-ed pieces or talks to civic groups; others are engaged in more targeted activism for the purpose of law reform or social change. Regardless of means and method, each contributor is a genuine scholar who has found ways to bring his or her work to a public audience. Here is a brief introduction to the authors and their essays:

Frances Ansley is a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Her scholarship, teaching, and service often dovetail around problems of social justice. Professor Ansley's essay, Educating Workers About Labor Rights and Global Wrongs Through Documentary Film, (7) discusses her involvement in documentary film projects to educate the public about workers' rights and globalization.

Miriam Cherry is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Her scholarship embraces interdisciplinary perspectives and integrates themes of employment and business law. In her essay, Working (with) Workers: Implementing Theory, (8) Professor Cherry discusses her collaborations with a workers' rights group in San Francisco, concentrating on the legal issues regarding worker-owned businesses.

Jonathan Forman is the Alfred P. Murrah Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He is a specialist in employee benefits law and has regularly contributed columns to general and specialized business newspapers. …

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