Focus on the problem, not the degree.

 

December 2015 marks the end of my first year in law school at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. I am currently enrolled in the Master of Legal Studies program at the law school, which is a law program specifically designed for non-lawyers who would like to gain a better understanding of how the law affects their current profession.  My decision to enroll in a law program has unequivocally been one of the best career-related decisions that I have taken.  I am often asked by peers, family members and colleagues why I decided to enroll in law school as opposed to pursuing a Ph.D or Ed.D in education. Though I have always been firm in my conviction to attend law school, I have struggled with fully articulating why it was the right move for me.

Eventually, I found some assistance in the form of a screenshot that was taken at a professional conference and has circulated its way through social media.

Casap

Casap’s quote encapsulated a philosophy that has shaped my career for some time now. In order to solve the problems I want to solve within higher education — and in order to make the impact I want to make on the field – I knew I needed an alternative form of educational training that falls outside of the scope of what most higher education professionals would consider as “traditional”. Perhaps more importantly, I also knew that I needed to divorce myself from the general notion that all things that are “traditional” are automatically the best alternatives for us a society and as a field.

121 years ago, tradition indicated that African-American people should still be considered property.

96 years ago, tradition indicated that women should still be unable to vote.

12 months ago, tradition indicated that only some of us should have the right to marry the people we love.

As we look the history of the United States, we can name many instances where following tradition for tradition’s sake has led us down the wrong path.

To be clear, I have very high regard for people who choose to pursue doctorates in philosophy or education and I have seen many of them add a great value to our field in ways that I admire. However, I often wonder about how much we stifle creativity and progress in our field when we sub-consciously promote a doctorate in philosophy or education as the only terminal degree option that will pay dividends for higher education professionals who want to continue their education and remain in the field.

If one’s goal is to make scholarly contributions to the field or to become a scholar-practitioner, then perhaps a doctorate is the better option for them.  If one’s goal is to use formalized legal training to disrupt how higher education professionals negotiate the legal aspects of their work, then perhaps law school might be the better option for them. If one’s goal does not include pursuing advanced education at all, then that’s a fine option as well.

Only you can make this choice. However, if and when you do make this choice, I would ask that you base your decision on what problem you want to solve in the field, as opposed to following tradition for tradition’s sake and enrolling into a program because you believe that it’s the only option available to you.

I can’t help but think about what our field would look like if we make more intentional efforts to diversify the types of educational training our professionals receive.  We need more MBAs, MPAs, JDs at the table when it comes time to make important decisions that affect the student experience. When we are at the hiring table, we also need to be willing to take a chance on professionals from other fields who want to change careers and enter higher education. Most of all, we need to conduct a mental shift with respect to how we mentor professionals in our field who would like to continue their education.

Rather than asking professionals what type of education they would like to have, we should ask them what problems they want to solve.

 

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