Virginia's Curtis Bradley--who has written widely and influetially at the intersection of constitutional and foreign affairs law, including some controversial work with Jack Goldsmith, who recently left Virginia for Harvard--has accepted an offer from the law school at Duke. That's a real blow, together with Goldsmith's departure, to international and foreign affairs law at UVA, and another bit of good news for the much-rejuvenated Duke faculty.
Long-time observers of legal academia will, of course, recall my black-humor exercise after the 2001 U.S. News rankings came out, when I asked not quite two dozen very eminent legal scholars (folks every reader from the legal academy would know) to look at the U.S. News top 25 law schools, and report which three schools they considered to be the most "overrated." Here's what I found:
"The hands-down winner (named by 13 out of 20 respondents, i.e., 65%!) was Duke, which has been ranked 10th by U.S. News the past two years, and higher in some prior years. 'Sleepy, unproductive faculty' commented one famed scholar at a law school always ranked well ahead of Duke. 'A [faculty] star there would be middle of the pack at Penn and elsewhere,' said another prominent figure who has taught at numerous top ten schools. 'I regard Duke's consistent ranking in the top ten as the single most egregious error in the annual rankings,' commented a third scholar, who added, 'I give an A+ to whatever firm prepares their promotional literature.' An eminent senior scholar said he would rank 'Duke as somewhere around 15th or lower' (a sentiment echoed by several others)..." and on and on.
Pretty rough stuff, to be sure, but it was also borne out by the 2003 survey of 150+ legal scholars, where Duke came in 17th in faculty quality, significantly behind the other traditional "elite" schools.
But credit where credit is due: Duke has really turned things around the last few years. Although, since 2001, several senior heavyweights have retired or left (Paul Carrington, Clark Havighurst, William van Alstyne), the school has made a string of good hires, partly by pursuing couples (e.g., Stuart Benjamin and Arti Rai, Erwin Chemerinsky and Catherine Fisk), partly by poaching very good, underplaced scholars (e.g., James Salzman), and partly by getting lucky (luck always helps in faculty hiring!). I wouldn't be surprised, when we conduct new surveys of law faculty early next year, to see Duke squarely in the top 15 for faculty quality, especially given recent losses at Cornell and Northwestern.
So kudos to whomever is leading the faculty recruitment effort at Duke: it certainly seems to be paying off!
But, in keeping with our recent Sextonism watch, I can not resist noting Professor Bradley's remarks in the Duke press release:
“'I am thrilled about my upcoming move to Duke,' says Bradley. 'The school’s strengths in constitutional law, international law, and national security law make this a perfect fit for me, and I am very attracted to the collegial culture and interdisciplinary focus at Duke. With its wonderful location in the Research Triangle, excellent student body, accomplished faculty, and energetic leadership under Dean Bartlett, Duke is arguably the best place in the nation to teach and study law.'”
One might raise an eyebrow at the reference to "the interdisciplinary focus at Duke," but that is trivial. What goes beyond the standards of acceptable hyperbole even for press releases--what suggests a possible Sextonism infection--is the bolded line, above. I'm certain neither Professor Bradley nor anyone on the Duke faculty thinks this is even arguable, so why say it? Preposterous hyperbole always backfires, even in press releases. (Contrast a good example of non-preposterous hyperbole, when Bernie Black joined the Texas faculty from Stanford: "I'm excited to join UT. I believe that UT law school has been steadily improving for some time, has a great dean, a wonderful and highly collegial faculty, and the potential to become one of the top handful of law schools in the country. I'm looking forward to the challenge of assisting in that process." Assuming a rather large hand, this is hyperbole not off the charts. But we've been vaccinated for Sextonism here!)