According to nearly all rankings, Yale University has the best law school in the world. Its brilliant faculty is world-renowned, and its students are among the nation’s brightest and most promising scholars. In recent decades, it has produced presidents, congressmen and Supreme Court justices.
Now, its professors report that students are buying lingerie online and using AOL Instant Messenger during lectures.
Last spring, Yale law professor Ian Ayres published an opinion piece in The New York Times lamenting the rise of the information superhighway as a means to escape boring lectures, branding surfing during lecture rude, distracting, and a sign of moral decadence.
The topic nabbed a spot in the subsequent week’s Newsweek, and his remarks incited what could nearly pass for riots in Yale law student intellectual circles. A wave of furious rants made their way onto the Law School’s “Wall,” a space along the main corridor where students post opinions on the week’s current affairs.
Yale Law School’s annual tuition is $29,800 a year, a hefty price tag, and one that in many cases is heaped on the back of four years of exorbitant private school bills for students. Why a student deemed to be among the nation’s most intelligent would waste his time and money surfing the Internet during a world-class professor’s lecture is perplexing, to say the least.
Students say that professors are boring and that they need the Internet to stay awake. More inventive surfers claim they are perfecting their multitasking skills.
Whatever the excuse, the students’ behavior demonstrates a basic lack of respect and a desperately short attention span — generational labels that our country’s most talented scholars should be fighting to shed, not propagate.
That said, if Yale’s law students choose to waste their time, money and potential in such a way, it’s their prerogative.
Assuming students do not provide a legitimate disturbance to classmates, no college professor possesses the right to dictate to his pupils how they must conduct themselves in lectures. Yalies have the right to dispose of their class time however they wish, just as any American citizen holds the right to forswear labor and starve oneself.
Ayres’ complaint that students are wasting their time — and his as well — is justified, but the suggestion that students should in some way be prohibited from using the Internet smacks ironically of attacking many of the fundamental rights and freedoms law professors devote semesters of class time to defending.
If law students have serious complaints about the teaching style of their professors, they should approach them in a mature way — professors might even be willing to change. For their part, the professors should realize that the law students, even if they continue to behave in such a juvenile way, are ultimately right — wasting time and money shouldn’t be outlawed.
But there must be less expensive venues for lingerie shopping.