Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dip, Law, Economics and Greed

Photo by Ryan Suffern

One of the things I teach is law and economics and for 8 years I was a economics professor. The last three of those I went to law school and eventually landed a law teaching job because law and economics was an up and coming field. At that time, resistance to an economic approach was fairly strong. If you knew anything about economics the view was that you were likely to be a conservative and even then law teaching was not a profession that was as open to conservatives as it was to so-called liberals. This view still persists but it is not as knee jerk as it once was.

This all seemed odd to me because law professors were far more uptight and humorless than the economists I had worked with. And, if two professors were talking and one was wearing an expensive suit and carrying an expensive briefcase and driving a Mercedes, that was almost always the "liberal" law professor and the one in jeans was the economist. In short, the law professors seemed, and still do seem much more materialistic and greedy than the economists I know.

In fact a pattern seemed to emerge. Some people found law and economics offensive but lived their personal lives like maximizers of self interest. Things were negotiated down to the last nickel and the fewer number of courses and days taught the better. They were the law professors. Others taught economics or law and economics and did not live by efficiency standards at all. To me, at least, they seemed less obsessively self interested.

The law professor greed factor seems to have found a new manifestation. One, of course, is the double dipper. Retire at one school and collect your pension check and get a full time job at another. I am not talking here about the retired professor who teaches as and adjunct or part timer for a small fraction of his or her former income. I have always wonder why schools would pay double dippers as much as their other professors. Unless the double dipper is a star surely he or she would take a reduced salary. Even if the new job offers only a 50% salary, the double dipper is still making more than staying at his old job.

At my school we have the possibility of triple dipping. You can collect a check equal to a year's salary if you agree to resign at the end of the year. At that time you can collect retirement and also get another full salaried job. In fact, if there are few positions for new professors, it is in part because these schemes to get veterans to move on and make room have failed miserably.

I cannot say whether economists are as likely to double and triple dip at law professors but I am willing to bet they are no less greedy (and remember the law professors are already among the highest paid people at a university) than economists and if I really had to bet I would say more greedy. And, remember this is all in the context of people who claim not to wedded to the ideals of capitalism and materialism and for whom the phrase "rational self interest" is an anathema.

I suppose is this all just fine but sometimes I wonder if it goes too far. Suppose you are at a law school and have a sense of entitlement. You teach hardly any students, name your schedule and start a program that is your baby meaning that the school invests gobs of money to keep you happy. And then you get a chance to triple dip and you are gone to another school. I guess you are just a rational maximizer of self interest -- something many economists view as just an assumption.


Anonymous said...

So, I guess the announcement about Larry Lokken retiring from UF to accept a full-time position at Miami struck a nerve? I'm not unsympathetic to the reaction, but this is Miami's problem rather than Florida's, since the State is paying no more than it would have paid if he simply retired in Gainesville.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Actually, I have been thinking about this for some time and whether faculty should have a sense of loyalty to a school. The incident you write about is just the event that pushed me to write about it.

In a sense, we faculty are just fancy laborers and the idea of loyalty may seem outmoded. But suppose the school had invested gobs of money in developing an LLM program mainly to please a single professor. There is a great deal of publicity and students signing up and then the person who spearheaded the program bails out as seems to occurred here. Somehow it does not seem fair but I guess that too is an outmoded concept.

I any case I have heard but do not know that the person you refer to will soften that effect by teaching a bit more.

kim g. said...

Hi,Jeffrey! I saw that you used a photo from my site and am very flattered. I was wondering if you would mind adding a link to the original post and/or crediting the photo to my husband - Ryan Suffern. Thanks so much!

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I's be happy to do that but I searched but could not find where I found it. So, I just took it down.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Found it!

Dennis said...

I'm not following your argument. (Disclosure: I'm retired from a law school but neither teach nor wish to teach at another.)

University pension plans are simple contracts: work for so many years and you can then retire at such-and-such a pension. If a person complies and gets a pension, how is the school harmed any more if that person then teaches at another law school than if he or she teaches at some non-law school, practices law, or spends full time golfing?

In all of those cases, the law school got just what it bargained for. Are you suggesting that people shouldn't receive their contractual pensions just because they choose to find another job after retirement?

Double dipping is a pejorative term but I don't find that it has any meaning in any of those situations. I could see some validity to the complaint if the retiree goes back to work at the same law school (or perhaps less directly at some other job covered by the state's pension plan), although even then the school isn't harmed if the rehired employee is a good hire.

You may be complaining about bad administrative decisions or cronyism, but that's a separate issue. Or you may be thinking that teaching at another school indicates disloyalty. If so, wouldn't that complaint apply equally to anyone who leaves A to teach at B, regardless of a pension?

In any event, barring a few superstars who bring real attention to the new school, there really isn't any competition in that context. If you or I were to teach at another school after retirement, few people outside those institutions would know, and fewer would care. So how is the first institution harmed? To the contrary, the availability of another job at School B may actually help School A open up a spot for a new and more valuable teacher.

Unless I misread your example, there's no

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I am not sure you misread anything as opposed to reading something that was not there. The main trust of this post was that the liberals who are in law teaching seem to be as greedy as the business and Wall Street type they complain about. It was more about hypocrisy as opposed to harm. Still I think there are two harms but the are caused by law school management. One is that schools actually pay double dippers a full salary when any thing that raises their income above the pension amount should be enough. I'd call that bad management by the law schools. Still no harm other than that which the school causes. But here is were the harm comes it. At my school, for example, we started a program basically for one guy and invested a great deal in developing it. Then he triple dips and takes off. The school is harmed but there again it is not the profs fault other than not sensing some obligation that others my feel That is why in the post above this one I mention having covenants not to compete.

kim g. said...

Thanks for adding the photo credit and link - I really appreciate it!