Saturday, August 09, 2008

Two Perspectives

Recently a perceptive reader wrote the following comment:

"Doesn't the assertion the law professors are always looking for an order to follow contradict the notion that they always look out for themselves? The posts preceding this one talk about Professors teaching only what they want and not what is needed. This seems the opposite of looking for orders to follow."

It's good question and one that suggests my class observations are not as nuanced as they should be. And they are also too broad. They do not apply to all people or even all people with elitist credentials. Plus, I find it especially bothersome that people immediate think my observations are based on my own school. Some are some are not but mostly they are designed to describe a culture.

In response to the question, I think I overstated things by saying the are looking for an order to follow. A far better way to express it is that they are very conservative people. I do not mean politically but in their behavior. They do not question authority. Many will talk big privately but disappear when it is time to take a risk.Questioning authority, except as a large group, is seen as too risky in terms of being in favor with the administration. Thus it is very rare for an elitist-thinking member to challenge the decision of an administrator as long as that decision affects others. The notion that there is right and wrong and fair and unfair in any sense that is not ultimately self-referential is just not there. I have used the example of a staff person who was fired. He identified faculty and ex administrators who he had worked with and who had been pleased with his work. None of those people expressed any concern about his dismissal except to say "I assume there was a good reason."

How can that roll-over-and-play-dead attitude be squared with a sense of entitlement when it comes to what and when to teach and various other matters? First note that at this point the issue is personal comfort, not principle, right or wrong, good or evil. In fact, to choose a teaching schedule because it would be better suited for the students or institution would be comparable to helping a stranger simply because it is the right thing to do. I have mentioned the example of a faculty member who claimed that a certain course should be 4 credits not because of the time or work involved but because it would mean that it could then be regarded as the equivalent of semester's teaching load.

This leads to two conclusions. One involves not going out on much of a limb. The unifying theme is narrow self interest. The other is one I am not sure of and it is the possibility of a quid pro quo between faculty and administrators. When faculty members stand up for a cause that is focused on students or taxpapers, by implication it is criticism of the administration. The informal exchange is that administrators appease faculty selfish needs and faculty look the other way on issues that affect others. I am out on a limb here and I mean it. I do not know for sure this occurs. From my albeit narrow perspective, however, I believe I have observed very starkly evidence that faculty who play ball with administrators -- even when it means abandoning students and tax payers -- are rewarded.

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