Friday, February 19, 2010

59 Seconds

59 Seconds is a nifty little book by Richard Wiseman. It is not quite a self-help book. Those books usually have 150 pages of trite testimonials and then 20 on how to lose weight, be happier, or grow taller. Wiseman takes the quirky results from various social science experiments about human behavior and describes how the result might be applied to real life.

I wonder if law faculties can learn anything from his book. For example, if a person is in distress in a crowd they are less likely to find assistance than if he or she was with one or two people. Similar, when like people gather together and share the same views, those views become even more extreme. To me, it's kind of a mob mentality. Everyone get tougher when with their political clones.

When I read about the distress in a crowd I wondered if small faculties are somehow more caring about each other than large ones. Or, is it possible that in a faculty meeting, as opposed to a small committee meeting, people are more likely to listen and pay attention to the views of others. I know the connection seems slim but it seems easier to ignore a person stating a reasonable position when the statement takes place in a crowd than in a smaller setting.

On his second point, I immediately thought of faculty meetings and faculty lounges. These are places where people gather and talk about issues. On my faculty there is little or no ideological diversity so the net result of getting together in a faculty meeting or in the faculty lounge is the development of views that are extreme not because people believe them but because of the crowd effect and the ease of ignoring those who dissent.

I have written before about the danger of faculty lounges. The gatherings there can become small faculty meetings with the handful of people then deciding they represent others and then speeding off to the dean to say how "the faculty" feels. In fact, I once saw a faculty candidate with a very high positive vote get undermined by a few busy bees in the lounge.

All of this suggests to me at least that it makes sense to minimize the instances in which law faculties, especially large ones, are permitted to interact. And, I'd turn faculty lounges into reading rooms that are open to students and where no talking is allowed.

It is most important to do this in small towns with large law faculties where the line between social and professional is blurred.

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