Saturday, March 08, 2008

Privileged Hats

As a law professor, one of the many things I cannot figure out is whether we are management, workers, or professionals. It seems we are all three. Supposedly in the context of governance we determine rules about the operation of a law school. In this role we make decisions ranging from courses offered to our own work loads. As workers we complain about management and policies unilaterally made without consultation. We see ourselves as working for a specific school. As professionals we have primary allegiance to the role of “law professor.” We can move from school to school and fit right in fairly seamlessly. Our focus is on profession-affecting developments.

Here is an example of the different perspectives. Two professors have offers to leave for other schools. One, the professional, says to the administration. “What package can you offer me to get me to stay?” “Me” is the operative word here. The other professor says “I’d like to stay but I would like the School to be a better place. Please tell me what it will be like here in the future.”

Here is another one. A huge meeting is called to discuss modernizing the curriculum. The discussion is about what the School might do if resources were available. See the division here? Now professors take on the worker mentality and the focus is on what could be done if management did its job. No one notes that every proposal is possible without additional funding if faculty would agree to work a bit harder and give up some activities that may have run their course in terms of effectiveness. In this context, faculty have no ownership in the operation; they are hired hands.

On the other hand, when an administration begins to take the lead and actually treat professors like workers, their role shifts. For example, an administration, after careful study, designs a fall schedule that includes all appropriate courses and places them in slots that minimize overlaps. Professors are notified with due consideration of their teaching specialties. The Administration quickly learns that this is unacceptable. Professor X says, “But it is my turn to teach Advanced Rigatoni.” And Professor Y, “I told you I do not want to teach in the first year.” And Professor Z, “I only teach two days a week.” In unison “We were not consulted!”

The problem is not that professors wear three hats. That seems unavoidable. The problem is how quickly so many switch hats when it suits them. Those less privileged have only one hat -- two at the most.

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