Saturday, February 16, 2008

Doing Chen Ups

Most people reading this blog get here via Moneylaw. If you have not read Jim Chen's latest post over there please do. There are two aspects of Jim's post that are important. One is his general message. As a former construction laboror and someone who pays attention to the background of his colleagues, I agree that you cannot fully appreciate a law teaching job and treat it as the privilege it is unless you have worked at the other end of the spectrum. I have written before that I think law schools would be well advised to hire people who have experience the other side of the socioeconomic line. I have nothing empirical on this but it would be interesting to study. The other part of this general point -- althought not made by Jim -- is the expectation those who have not worked hard expect those who are working hard to pay for their life time jobs of leisure. I am talking about the belief that there is justice in asking the convenience store clerk, secretary, tire shop worker, or bus boy to contribute to a lardass law professor's salary. One thing I have discovered in the world of law professors is an inability to feel shame.

The second aspect of Jim's post is not the message itself but his willingness to state his values and to let it be known whose side he is on. I have not worked at a law school with a dean that comes close to this. Evidently the prevailing "best practice" is to say nothing and certainly not to state what one's expecations are (of course this assumes there are expectations). Most deans seem to hide. Jim does not. What a breath of fresh air!!


A Student At UF said...

There is one problem with your criticism and Jim Chen's criticism. It seems to be built on the assumption that it is mostly within the community of professors but believe me, it is not. I've seen it here within the law school as well. I was amazed when I showed up here because I had this feeling I was back in middle school. Back where everyone has some sort of sense of entitlement or something similar. Have you walked into our cafeteria at the end of the day? There is trash everywhere and to me that shows disrespect to the law school and other fellow students and faculty. I dunno why people here are unable to throw their trash away before they leave. This was typical in middle school but by now we should have a basic level of civility. When I was discussing this with a friend they told me a story. They overheard someone say something to the effect of "That's the janitor's job" with respect to throwing away the trash. Nothing angers me more. It is the janitor's job to perhaps wipe down the table after the students have thrown away all their trash, but that's it. Besides, even if it is the janitor's job, which I strongly feel it is not, do they think that no other students are gonna try and eat their before the end of the day when the janitor's clean? This lack of civility and sense of entitlement pervades in the entire law community, so of course it is going to also be around in the professors that are hired. I think we need to fight it head on, starting with the students. A similar article was written about the lack of politeness within the law school for JMBA's most recent newsletter so I guess it is nice to know I'm not the only person who sees this problem. Now I guess the question is, how do we fix this unfortunately too common attitude?

Jeff Harrison said...

Dear reader: I do not know and I did not know it was that bad among students. I thought some of this was covered at orientation. I could say something general like better leadership or more consideration for others but without a true recipe for action those words are useless. Your reference to middle school is apt. We are talking about a level of moral development that is usually only attributed to children.

Lucky Jim said...

UF Student hits it on the head with the example of law professors and students not disposing of their own trash.

Just the other day, when I arrived to teach my class, I found an empty container left over from a lunch meeting. I made a point of noting to my students that one of my colleagues -- one of their professors -- had not seen fit to dispose of his (or her) own trash. None of them seemed at all surprised (though, to their credit, they did seem embarassed).

I'm also reminded of an incident from when I was in law school. When the building staff workers went out on strike, the law school administration circulated a memo urging students to be sure to pick up their own trash during this time of crisis. Very few of my fellow students could comprehend why I found that memo so offensive -- it was simply beyond their ken that (a) if they were decent people, they would already have been in the habit of picking up after themselves anyway and (b) to start doing so now only because the workers were on strike was tantamount to scabbing.

Jeff Harrison said...

Jim: Great story. Your classmates were instinctive out of touch with each decision. Speaking of trash, it is just an externality. A version of the trash problem is the use of foam plates and cups. Now the difference between leaving your trash on the table and putting a foam cup or plate in the trash is location. If you put the foam cup and plate in the trash it simply goes somewhere else for 10,000 years for others to deal with. For elites, as long as it is not in THEIR sight, it's fine.

Jim Chen said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jeff. I am posting a comment to correct the broken link in the body of your post. Your readers can now jump directly to Julius Caesar Was Wrong, or copy this link: Either way, I appreciate your support on this score.

Best regards,