Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Whose Gravy Train is This?

Over on Moneylaw there is a terrific new post asking if the gravy train is over for law professors. I doubt it because so many law professors are blinded their sense of self importance and trained to be successful advocates especially when they are their own clients as so many are everyday.

In the Moneylaw post, my old Dean, Rick Matasar is quoted as saying, "We are an input-focused business, and outputs are what the students are paying for. . . . Law school needs to be about what people need -- not what we're good at. ... Most of us are social misfits, and we're the ones who've been designated to teach the students how to work interpersonal skills. . . .We should be ashamed of ourselves. We own our students' outcomes. We took them. We took their money. We live on their money to pay to come to San Diego. And if they don't have a good outcome in life, we're exploiting them."

His reference is to the latest law professor convention in San Diego and I think his comments need to be amended a bit for those of us teaching at public schools.

I agree with Rick on much of this but feel he has underestimated the problem. It is true that law professors focus on inputs --- how else can narcissistic hiring policies be explained. They also focus on outputs. The problem is that the chief output is law professor well-being. Thus, the students' money as well as that of other stakeholders is taken to advance the ends of law professors. How else explain the constant angling for low teaching loads, caps on class sizes, two-day a week teaching schedules and machine graded multiple choice exams?

Right now, even though applications may fall, the number of people who want to go to law school far out strips the number of seats available. As long as that holds true, the gravy train will continue even if it means admitting and graduating poorly qualified students who will fail the bar or fail their clients. The gravy train will only end -- and only then for the lowest ranked schools -- when demand falls so much that no amount of foraging for students will fill the seats. Only then will outputs become important because then the real output "professor well-being" will be threatened.

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