Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Recently I described to a friend a program we operate at my school. Each year we send several professors to Poland to teach Polish students about American law. We do this largely with money collected from Florida taxpayers. The students get a certificate that may make them more attractive to Polish law firms. It is not clear why since there are major language problems and their performance on exams, because of the language issues, is not good. No one has identified a benefit to the Florida taxpayers. It is a fun trip and essentially a charitable contribution to Poland from Florida taxpayers with the law faculty deciding who gets the contribution. When we got a new dean his immediate reation was that the program should be operated with private money only. (This view seemed to fade when his fundraising efforts were not successful and the fading did not change when it was discovered that the program was far more expensive than initially reported.) The program continues although as far as I know no faculty member feels so strongly about it that any personal money has been sent to Poland. Any efforts to examine the program are met with strong and personalized resistance. In effect, it satisfied the need to travel and feel that one is an internationalist.

My friend asked how can this be? How does such a narrowly focused program become immune from scrutiny? The answer is that the program is a piece of the process of log rolling. Sure, maybe only a few faculty actually care about the program but stopping it would mean that every other faculty member with a pet program could not count on the Poland supporters for their votes. This is not log-rolling in the traditional sense of, say, a Senator from Alabama agreeing to vote for funding a project in Alaska as long as the Senator from Alaska votes for funding an Alabama project. It is more subtle. There are no tit for tat arrangements. Instead, the academic log rolling process is one in which it is a given that no program sponsored by a faculty membr will be challenged because of the implicit understanding that the same treatment will extend to everyone. In effect, every faculty member actually has a stake in every program regardless of what that program is.

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