Thursday, November 08, 2007

Do Elites Think?

Jake: Hi, do you want to talk about that issue some more?

Jeff: Yes, right now I am trying to find some distinction between being content and being happy.

Jake: As it turns out, I was just talking to some people at Harvard about that.

Jeff: Why are you telling me they are from Harvard?

(Long Pause)

Jake: I am not sure what you mean.

Jeff: Am I supposed to attach some significance to that?

Jake: They are smart people.

Jeff: Just because they are at Harvard? If they had said the same thing and were at Weaver State would you tell me that they were from Weaver State and that, therefore, you do not know how much to rely on what they said?

So far Moneylaw has been about operating a law school – hiring, tenure decisions, how to best spend money to serve stakeholders. As we know, and has been debated for some time, appeals to institutional authority as a substitute for actual thinking are pervasive. Teachers who make it known that they went to an elite school when teaching are essentially saying – no need the think critically about what I say because I went to Harvard, Yale, wherever. Authors who submit articles thanking “authorities” with whom they had only slight contact do the same. So too authors who submit articles and make sure editors know where they graduated from or are currently teaching. To finish writing the number of examples would mean a post longer than any every published on Moneylaw and that is saying something.

I find two things interesting. There are people who actually defend this. And even when I convince people that it is wrongheaded, they cannot stop it. Maybe, as Woody Allen said in the voice over at the end of Annie Hall, “They need the eggs.”


Anonymous said...

But if you heard someone got their degree from Devry, the chances are you would ignore what they said. Where someone went does matter in as much as it matters to prove you got a quality education. I do believe you can get a quality education outside of the ivy league or elite schools but you do need to know someone's credentials just to make sure they have got a quality education as opposed to a degree from a diploma farm.

Greg Newburn said...

I know your question re: "happy" and "content" isn't the point of this post, but Will Wilkinson maintains a blog dedicated to happiness research and its impact on public policy.

Will's a very bright guy who's read just about everything in the happiness literature.

The blog is:


eric said...

right now I am trying to find some distinction between being content and being happy.

I've been seeing a psychologist (Ph.D. South Carolina, in case you wondered) precisely to resolve the same question. If you would be kind enough to post the answer once you figure it out, it would save me an hour, and a $20 co-pay, every week.

Anonymous said...

Did Will go to Harvard (or Yale etc.)? Becuase if he did, then I'm not sure that it's necessary to say that he's a "very bright guy."

Greg Newburn said...

I think he got his B.A. at Northern Iowa, and his M.A. at Northern Illinois.

Despite those poor credentials, however, he is most assuredly very bright.

Anonymous said...

While I sympathize with this post, I thought I ought to mention that none of the two candidates who have come to UF so far, at least in the student meetings, have mentioned the proper name for their law school at all. In fact, both seemed to go out of their way to say "where I went to school" or "at my law school" or something along those lines. We liked that, but I don't think we should hold it against them.

Jeff Harrison said...

Thanks for your comment. It's great that the students do not go for appeals to institutional authority. That puts you ahead of the faculty for whom it remains critical. Actually, though I am not surprised. UF students are excellent quick to understand what's important.

I would not read too much into the decision not to name drop in the interview. The candidates have already used appeals to institutional authority to be interviewed in DC and to be called back. All of their references -- some of whom are not reliable (see my post, "Fish," on moneylaw) are ultimately appeals to authority. Finally, I am pretty sure they believed that you already knew the schools so why rub it in?

Jeff Harrison said...

Note to the Admiral:

Your comment has been posted under Anonymous because I had a computer/blog glitch. Sorry. If you care to comment, though, I am not sure what "it" is in the last sentence. Does not mean you do not hold the fact that they did not mention their schools against them? That is the way it reads. Or, does it mean that going to elite schools should not be held against them?

If it is the latter, I'd like to clarify my position. My objective is to hire the best law professors. It is not the School per se that I object to but the experience UF and other schools have had when adopting a policy of elites only. I am sure these are fine people. The problem is that credentials do not predict success. In fact, if you make a list of current and former UF profs that this hiring committee would not hire because of its elites only policy, you would find, in my opinion, a better faculty than the one at UF now. This is not true of UF only. A policy that systematically passes over exceptional people at non elite schools is not likely to end up with the best law professors.