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  • Writer's picturePranoto Iskandar

Why Indonesia's law (school) is no good

For a start, it is worth noting that the question can be applied across the board. Meaning, in general, what I am trying to convey can be applied to other schools as well. But, in order to be manageable, this paper focused only on the law school which, to my mind at least, I know better in all around fashion. Again, in spite of that caution, I encourage to let your mind wandering around to apply the presented argument to other schools. More importantly, my main goal is to come up with a broad yet doable proposal that will resume the now losing direction political reform.

Before we dig in into this particular rabbit hole, one question is worth raising: why we should care about law school in the first place. The first and foremost reason is that law school is the ultimate bastion of all kind of socio-political, and you might add cultural, confusions that we are currently reaping.

As a “school,” law school is playing unique role in influencing the direction of any given society where it operates. One of the most important reasons that one can possibly think of, law school induces a host of ready-made professionals that eventually go on to change the societal fabric in their preferred image.

Let us consider, for instance, a camaraderie among law students that developed during their law school years. Once they are out on their prowl, this “once-impeccable” bond readily translates itself into an endless web between producer (politicians), consumer (lawyers), and, of course, the arbiter (judges) that connects the previous two. No doubt, the professional exclusivism for the last two professions is the primary enabler and lead to a self-feeding circle of hegemonic situation that is prone to create abuse of power.

Given that fact, it is reasonable to suggest that whatever happens in the law school will eventually be mirrored in the society. Now, what is our way out of this vicious circle?

Bluntly put, to stop the rot one should start by naming and shaming what went wrong at the law school.

First thing first, law school has been in the continuing decline process for many decades. The most obvious decay that one can easily notice is the abysmal quality of legal scholarship that the law faculties emitted. No surprise that reading an inordinately hefty tome of a doctoral thesis that is not uncommon to reach more than 500 pages has left one with nothing but a sense of bewilderment. Thus, the only function that is still there in the abstruse world of academia is its “performativity” that signals its empty promise to the outside world.

The extreme case, but not by any means should be considered as uncommon, is the unceasing production of unintelligible and, certainly, nonsense scholarly writing genre that speaks volumes about nothing but solely for the purpose of the author’s career promotion. Certainly, there is an exception. In a very rare case, a small number of publications are intelligible. Nevertheless, they are no more than a simple rechant of the old formula or simply a report that does not move the much-needed debate forward.

As such, it is clear that the unholy trinity between lawyers, judges, and legislators is sustained by the dysfunctionality of the academic world. At any rate, should we serious about fixing law, the only available step is to think seriously of how we can throw out the bathwater while at the same time keeping the baby with us.

To begin with, I don’t have magic wand or there is a magic pill that can make all these woes go away. In so doing, we need to go outside where one can find that the desperate government has been vigorously addressed this malady with correctly tying it up with the international model by making it mandatory for every professor to get, at the very least, one publication in an internationally recognized publication outlet, once in their lifetime. Nonetheless, with full conviction, I can say that this state-led effort has been failed miserably as well. For one, this leads into a feeding frenzy where many aspiring academicians pay a substantial amount of money to the predatory “international” journals.

To be clear, however, this approach is not entirely wrong. Admittedly, obligating the locals to engage with their international peers is an ingenious way to circumscribe the rampant practices of anti-meritocracy promotion. But, the cold, hard fact is that this is unrealistic as many, if not all, as I have indicated earlier, are very likely having weak capacity to communicate in writing, let alone make a sustained cumbersome argument in a foreign language. After all, as a full disclosure, one of the many things that persuades many to pursue law is that not to be bothered with what we know as complicated, boring, and, most importantly, distant subjects, most notably, Math and English.

Against the above background, this is the time where we need to navigate between the available practical limitations and whatever opportunities that are available to deliver an ameliorative policy to the table. Not starting from the scratch, the internationalization of local scholars should be retained and emphasized. Meaning, this signals that we are seriously valuing the best and brightest talents that are out there. At the same time, this incentivizes not only to attract the talents that are geographically distant, but, more importantly, nurtures our aspiring youngs to be more adventurous, ambitious, and bold. Supposedly, this enhanced creativity that will directly translate into a free marketplace of ideas where the interested public can shop around.

As for the domestic matters, it is important to reform the available playing field that supports the overall goal of political reform. The priority is to design a policy that in the long run will enable the academia to be fully functioning as an autonomous entity—free from government interference. One initiation would be swiftly starting a more open practice of faculty members recruitment that is subjected to a close scrutiny from the public in general. This small step is to be expected can snowball a virtuous circle, i.e. meritocracy-based assesment, less bureaucratization, and, last but not least, being less-brawn and more brain institution.

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