Sunday, July 20, 2008

Entitlement and Teaching Schedules

At most schools (and perhaps other places) teaching loads are, in large part, allocated -- except with respect to the instances in which student needs are observed -- on the bases of sense of entitlement, level of moral development, and opportunity costs associated with time spent badgering.

Consider the following: Each year or semester law faculty are asked about what they would like to teach the next term. consider two responses at the opposite ends of a continuum of possible responses.

1. "I will teach Advanced Restitution from the Perspective of the Elderly at 1o, Wednesday. Cap 12 students."

2. "I can teach any of the following 8 courses whenever they are needed the most."

Does the first statement reflect an actual need ( like a standing appointment for an appendectomy at 8 AM or six days of physical therapy a week)? Of course not. Just a preference.

Does the second statement actually reflect no preference? Just as unlikely.

Another difference between the ends of the continuum is the willingness of the person one or those over on that end of the continuum to spend time badgering, slipping down to the dean's office and quietly closing the door, or expecting something in return for being flexible, etc. They exact a "price" for not getting what they want.

So, the differences in these statements do not reflect a difference in need or a difference in strength of preference. There are at least two other possibilities. One is a difference in sense of entitlement. The entitled person expects the school to serve him or her. The other is a difference in moral development with the first person, ironically, fitting the economist's definition of being narrowly self-interested and the second person having a sense of community. Put differently, the second person is willing to subordinate individualized preferences for the good of the whole.

In fact, those willing to subordinate their individualized preferences simply end up giving deans the leeway they need to "serve" those with a sense of entitlement.

Is there a better example of "no good deed goes unpunished" than a law faculty?


Anonymous said...

For me, the following illustrates the difference between working class and elitist work ethics:

I grew up in a working class family; raised by my single mother, we were definitely what could be called the working poor. As a result, I learned the work ethic that comes with that environment: Do not expect to get something for nothing; if you have a job to do, you do the job to the best of your ability and you are paid for doing it.

A couple of years ago, I bought tickets to see Jackson Browne’s one man acoustic show. Throughout the program people in the audience would shout out a request and he’d play the requested song. Several times throughout the performance, someone would request “Stay” and each time he would make a comment like, “If I play that now, I’ll have to quit for the night.” The statements seem to imply that he would play the song at the end of the show. The show ended and we never got to hear “Stay”. I complained about this to someone afterwards and they commented that after all these years he was probably sick of playing it.

For me this illustrated the difference in the “elite” work ethic and my working class work ethic. My response to the comment was: “I paid my $50 for the ticket. It’s his JOB to play it.” I feel the same about my law professors---I’m paying my tuition and it’s your JOB to teach me. It has been my experience that there are some professors who are completely committed to doing just that. But then there are others who fit the profile of the elitist that you write about here. My dissatisfaction and irritation with that group compared to that one unsatisfactory night with Jackson Browne is proportionate to the price of my ticket.

Your blog gives me a little something to hang on to. Thank you for that!

Jeffrey Harrison said...

One thing to keep in mind is that students have tremendous power if they choose to use it. Sometimes I think it is misguided and it is virtually alway underutilized but that is a decision for the administrators to make. Letters and emails to deans and associate dean scare faculty. Complaints to other faculty, on the other hand, are not of consequence.

Some complaints I have heard lately should definitely be directed to the administration. Don't misunderstand, sometimes I think the students are wrong but just being steamed about it is unproductive.

Thanks for the contracts exam question. I guess we could say that anyone who bought a ticket without seeing a play list assumed the risk. On the other hand, hiding behind that formalistic reasoning is what elites depend on.