Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Most Direct Form of Scholarship

Yesterday, I had an experience several others here have already been through-- offering invited testimony before a congressional committee. In my case, it was at a hearing on H.R. 2289, which involved eliminating the sentence of life without parole for juveniles. I found the whole thing fascinating, as did two of my students who helped me prepare and attended the hearing. Though I have argued in many courtrooms, I am not sure I have ever appeared in a room quite so intimidating as that one (the hearing room for the House Judiciary Committee). The gallery was full, with people standing along the back wall at times, and the Representatives sat in tiers above us, in front of a line of aides who would pass them notes.

For those of us involved in policy work, it struck me as the most direct and efficient form of scholarship possible-- to present your case to the lawmakers, and answer their questions. This is especially true relative to the more traditional route, which involves spending months writing an article, more months waiting for it to appear, and then hoping a decision-maker might read it. The best method, of course, would be to combine the two by testifying in support of your scholarly research, and that is exactly the approach of some of the most effective witnesses before Congress.

Such testimony is not considered a form of scholarship in some places, but if what we care about is using our minds to improve the law, that orthodoxy should change.

--Mark Osler


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