Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Not Even Cake for Students

A few weeks ago, during the hiring season a colleage from and elite law school (which is a far cry from saying their graduates are elite) scoffed at another colleague for suggested that we interview some top grads from The University of Minnesota Law School and the University of Texas Law School. The scoffee, who is both brighter and better educated than the scoffer, is a public school grad. The insensitivity of the so-called elites is sometimes amazing. (By the way, when did the so-called elite schools stop providing elite educations? In recent years, I think I have noticed a correlation between privileged credentials and the inability to discuss virtually anything but a narrow area of expertise. Not all, of course, but enough to make me wonder what the hell actually goes on in the classrooms at Princeton, Harvard, Yale and the others. )

That incident made me think of the damage done by the privileged and others with a sense of entitlement. On a day-by-day basis the cruelties that occur are frightening are astounding. Here are some examples:

1. A student from a foreign country for whom English is not even a second or fifth language approaches the teacher for help understanding some complex material. The stress the student is feeling is palpable. His enrollment was not an inexpensive thing -- for him at least. You might ask what he is doing here. Well, a small group of faculty members, sometime ago, decided to start a program for foreign students to come and study American law. A handful apply and only some of those admitted are comfortable with English. What did this mean for the quality of the school or for the fortunes of those enrolling? No one knows and after several years, no is interested in checking because that is not the point. What did it means for those who created it long ago -- almost all of whom have moved on? Travel at the school’s expense spreading the news of the Program, a better office, a secretary, something to list in the decanal glossy. And, with that comes lowered expectations as far as teaching and scholarship -- ironically, what we are paid to do.

2. A number of students get to the middle of their third year with average grades (B+ or so) and they have no job offers. The School starts a new program – a specialization that takes an extra semester. Students sign up thinking this will mean a better chance of finding jobs. They are wrong and the School knows it and makes little effort to determine the benefits of the program. The cost to students is high. What is in it for the capturers? An office, the title of “Director,” lowered expectations as far as teaching and research, a chance to promote a speicalized political agenda, travel opportunities to conferences devoted to the specialization, and perhaps most importantly, something to list on the decanal glossy.

3. Every professor reading this has experienced this one. A student comes up after class – probably near the end of the term – and asks THE question. Sadly, the question is the one that communicates to you that the student has no clue and that he or she is not going to get one between now and the exam, if ever. Further conversation reveals that the student had a pretty good job before law school. Then loans were taken out, his or her spouse is working, and the kids are in daycare, all in order to realize the law school dream. You wonder, first: is there anything I can do soften the crash? Then you wonder why the student was admitted. Was it because you admit 400 students every year no matter what? Or, was this particular student important – even if only as a token – to the law school? Sadly, admissions numbers are based on the number of seats in the room and not on the basis of the likely success of those admitted.

For many privileged law professors, students are a means to an end.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

amen! students are used and abused...3 years and then..NEXT!