Sunday, August 02, 2009

Class Bias Part 2: Replay

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV.
And you think you're so clever and class less and free.
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
A working class hero is something to be.
Working Class Hero, John Lennon

In part one of this three part series, I discussed the different perspective of those who were economically disadvantaged people. I also noted that I am not confident that e.d.p.s (OK, no pun intended) share a view of how specific issues should be decided. Instead, I wrote about bringing a needed perspective to teaching and research. I should have included service as well, especially faculty governance. At the outset, however, consider the proposition that is opposite of the one I will discuss: The quality of legal education is increased by systematically excluding e.d.p.s from the profession. I doubt many would say they agree with that view. On the other hand, maybe actions speak louder than words.

With respect to governance, I have noted that when in the company of other professors with working class backgrounds, we seem to have a greater understanding of the fact that we are making decisions about spending the money of others. Colleagues with senses of entitlement, on the other hand, are less likely to have a vision of those who actually pay the bills. (Do they ever think of the convenience store worker or stock person at Wal-Mart when deciding that sending a group of faculty to a conference in Geneva is just the thing?) Recognition of concepts like “can we afford” something or “is this the best use of the money” seems to follow more readily when someone has been forced to deal with those same issues in his or her own life.

This sense of fiduciary obligation affects the way in which e.d.p.s approach teaching as well. A sense of entitlement seems to go hand in hand with canceling classes at the drop of a hat, taking off a couple of weeks in the middle of the semester for a foreign conference, teaching a self-indulgent course with a tiny enrollment, and feeling annoyed if students ask too many questions. It comes down to a view, shared by the children of privilege, that law schools exist for the faculty as opposed to the reality that faculty are but an input. Think how everything changes when faculty realize that they are not there to be served but to serve – and their jobs depend on serving. For those who have had a lifetime of being served, this an alien perspective.

When it comes to the substance of teaching and research, it is not that e.d.p.s are better, only different, and that teaching and scholarship are enriched by different perspectives. For example, a contracts teacher who has experienced being on the losing end of an exploitative contract is better able to understand the illusion of Pareto superiority and discuss, in real terms, the failings of contract law (as it has been shaped to serve those of privileged classes). My hunch is that this same perspective carries over to any course in which there is an interactive element.

Finally, on scholarship. Where do the ideas for articles come from? What fuels the analysis? That spontaneous flash that leads to questions or that leads to analysis and research is akin to “taste” – here a taste for which questions one will devote his or her life to. Taste is hardly the result of eight or more years in college. Different life experiences result in different tastes. Look at most faculties. Which people are writing about race? About woman and families? About environmental questions? There is a self-referential and oft times a self-interested element to how tastes are formed. In each case, there is a story that connects the person’s life with the direction his or her research has taken. Now compare a faculty that has screens out an entire segment of life experiences and compare its diversity and quality with one that purposefully includes all qualified people, whether or not they increase social comfort. My case is simple: when it comes to the analysis of law and the teaching of future attorneys, the second faculty is superior.


Anonymous said...

I am a student at UF law and have been following your blog for awhile. I also had you for contracts my first semester in law school. One of the things I have found unpleasant about law school is how aloof the faculty tend to be. Save for you and one or two other professors, they don't seem to be anxious to help students outside of the classroom. I attended UF for my undergraduate degree, and the professors I encountered there went out of their way to answer questions outside of class. In law school it seems that professors are engaging and generally willing to answer questions in class but act put out in their office hours and don't return questions sent by email. I wonder if this is a symptom of a privileged faculty or something else that is specific to teaching law.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Interesting comment. If I had the names we could actually do an empirical study but, aside from that, I'd be hesitant to attribute it to class other than to say I think it is a factor. First of all, there are some faculty who are genuinely nice to students and care about then regardless of their own class. Second, some are nice in order to cultivate student good will which can lead to awards and various forms of recognition. I think of these teachers as "courting" the students. And this is independent of class. Some of the annoyance you sense may reflect a believe that students should do some research on their own before coming to the office. When many of your professors were in school it was expected that students, since they were working at the graduate level, should spend time looking at outside sources. That perspective on the role of the teacher (forcing the student to be more self-reliant) has changed for some but not for all.

Ezra Rosser said...

Although I generally agree, I think that self-indulgent classes sometimes can be important. To give a personal example, I am increasingly concerned by the small number of students taking Law and Poverty, a small class I teach. I have considered moving to a larger enrollment class, serving more students, but at the same time it seems important to maintain the space for the small group of students who do not pick upper level classes in order to prepare for the trade aspects of corporate practice.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I guess this shows my bias but I would not regard that course as self-indulgent. It seems to me that it should be a standard offering. And, I am more concerned about those who have no higher enrollment classes because the just cannot be bothered.