Friday, May 11, 2007

Greeks 0, Choir 0, Umpire 0, Stakeholders -1

[Classbias Rerun]

It’s not often that you see a score like that but it does happen. I have seen it recently. This all goes back to my view that law schools are especially susceptible to capture by faculties who then operate them without much regard for stakeholders (students, donors, and the community).
Critical to the success of capture on this scale is log-rolling. When you get right down to it log-rolling is just another name for white collar, political barter. It all works fine for those who have captured a law school as long as there are goodies to which the rollers attach different values. For example, one group really wants a new LLM and does not care one way or another about foreign programs. Another really wants that new foreign program in Nice but does not care much about a new LLM. Each needs the other’s vote to get what it wants and, as long as there are sufficient resources, we have a bit of a Coasean happening. Eventually, years of relying on informal procedures that allow groups to get what they want through side deals and barter create expectations and can replace more formal procedures. If this School were a person his or her physician would be saying “I know you feel fine now, but … we need to talk.”

The problem is that log-rolling just does not work when the game is zero sum. This, I think, is the more important point for MoneyLaw and Classbias people. Leadership and formal procedures – determined in advance to be fair -- are needed. If a school that has no leaders and has, for all practical purposes, dispensed with formal procedures runs into a zero sum decision, the illness becomes evident and the harm spreads beyond those battling.

At my school we have experienced such nastiness. The Greeks – so named not for ethnic reasons but for sorority/fraternity close-knitness – wanted something really badly. The Choir – so named for singing together but having a limited repertoire – wanted the opposite. (Now don’t get the impression that someone is always a Greek or always a Choir member. There are floaters and pretenders who move in and out of each group, not unlike mercenaries--only the pay-off is social acceptance. These are the ones about which to worry.) In any case, these parties had made for some mutually beneficial log-rolling.

When the inevitable clash occurs -- as it did-- you get the score with which I started. In this case the Greeks lost. But so did the Choir because, in the absence of open and fair procedures, the losers feel betrayed and may not be as eager to log-roll on the next issue. The Umpire? If the Umpire does not show up what can you give him or her other than a zero? And, finally, when faculties make decisions through winks, nods and nothing in writing that you would not want in the New York Times, Stakeholders are in negativeland.


Anonymous said...

Professor I really like your blog. I think through it all UF is selling itself very short in terms of rankings and overall quality of education. Constructive dialogue on how to make things better seem to be absent, notwithstanding mere complaints. I was wondering how you would suggest that UF improve.


Jeff Harrison said...

I want to start by saying that Uf is underrated. I have taught at 2 other higher ranked schools and have not seen much of a difference.

My wish list which may or may not be the remedy and with others would surely disagree would be:

1. Small first year classes.
2. More offerings of courses that are consistent with student needs and not faculty wants.
3. Meaningful post tenure review for faculty.
4. Higher teaching loads for faculty. Right now they are in the classroom from 3-6 hours per week.
5. A robust summer school.
6. More student activism. If students are loud enough they get what they want.
7. More thoughtfulness by students. Students seem thirsty for gossip. Get the facts before saying anything.
8. Early identification of students likely to fail the bar exam, (20% failure rate at the number one law school is unacceptable)and assistance offered.

There are others that have to do with faculty productivity and spending but these have more to do with national reputation.