Thursday, September 09, 2010

Elite Relief

If there is way to open doors for elites while closing them to others, law schools will find a way. And in the process they make some really questionable decisions from a economic perspective.

Take a recent policy adopted by UF. We now have a program of hiring people with "outstanding academic credentials" and with little or no scholarly record or teaching experience." (Yes it sounds like every other entry level hire.) They then work here with a reduced teaching load and summer grants for 1-4 semesters and, after our careful mentoring, go out to be recruited by other schools.

I'll give you one guess as to what outstanding academic credentials means to people who do law school hiring. It means people who have records like their own -- expensive and elite schools. (We stick closely to the Justice Scalia rule that silk purses are more readily made from elite grads than from your crummy old top of the class at say Wisconsin or Florida.) In this case, the candidates for relief are ones who had every conceivable advantage already and did not get a tenure track position by going through the meat market process. So what this appears to be is a relief program for elites who otherwise could not find a job.

I cannot comment on the relative productivity of our most recent hires who came from elite schools and seem to be doing well because we have no one here hired in the last six years, at least as I recall, who did not go the elite route and fit the profile even if it meant dipping pretty low in the class. As a general matter, however, at least, there is no correlation between elite credentials of any kind and productivity. In fact, it the may be inversely related.

So now we are taking it on ourselves to train elites who did not quite make the grade in the meat market. And then, after the investment is made and they are "all prettied up" out they out for someone else to hire. In other words we recoup none of the investment.

Wouldn't it make more sense to see if we can prepare potential law professors who did not have every opportunity to make the grade and fell short. Say someone ranked high from a decent state law school. Our "good deeds," as usual, extend only to those who look and think like us, no matter how conventional that may be.

I've been told we are doing this as part of a moral obligation to avoid free riding on other law schools. In the scheme of moral obligations that is an odd one. We are a State institution and have a duty to our stakeholders. Subsidizing the already privileged would not be ranked high, if ranked at all, among our moral obligations. Perhaps if we hired our own graduates it would make more sense but, although we pay others to hire them, we are apparently above that.

Maybe we plan to pay the relief candidates a significantly lower wage and this is a move to lower our teaching costs. In this way they "repay" us for our investment. This would not change any of the above but it would shift the silliness balance a bit to the other side. This, however was not part of the pitch.


Anonymous said...

If you take a look at the UF Tax Program's list of visiting assistant professors over the years, you don't see quite as much elitism as you are describing for what I take it is a general faculty program. Several were UF JDs and most got UF Tax LLMs. I think at least one former VAP got his undergrad degree at Florida Atlantic, which probably wouldn't be described as elite in Florida. Plus, the program gets cheap teaching from these VAPs, which is probably important in Gainesville where the tax adjunct pool is not as rich as in some other cities. All in all, doesn't sound like much of a rip-off of the state. You are helping your own grads get into an employment market and you are satisfying teaching needs at lower cost and with folks presumably possessing fresh perspectives.

Jeffrey Harrison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey Harrison said...

I know you mean well but there are some problems with your view.

1. The Tax Department has had a policy of hiring a grad to teach for many years. It is not as though they recruited and elected to favor a Florida grad.

2. The "fresh perspective" of which you speak is the perspective he or she just learned from the tax faculty. In fact, if there is one problem with the tax Department is is a fear of fresh perspectives -- could it be that is why it is alway a Florida grad.

3.Cheap. How can you say that without knowing how effective the teaching is. It is not about the number of students you can stuff in a classroom with a new teacher or an adjunct although I concede that seems to be the way it is going. Plus, the operation itself is extravagant. A publicly supported LLM seems crazy. Using tax dollars to fund a program to help the well-heeled avoid paying tax.

Having said all that, I am glad the program exists but hardly think it has anything to do with anti-eltiism. When is the last time they hired a Fl grad full time?

Anonymous said...

Look, I get that there is some animosity toward the UF tax program by the rest of the UF faculty, especially given their size, budget, and the % of tax faculty who do not engage in scholarship in any meaningful way. I have absolutely no connection with the program and wouldn't recommend anyone get their LLM there unless their firm was paying for it and they wanted to stay in Florida or the southeast (in fact, I wouldn't recommend a tax LLM for anyone who can get a job the traditional way). Nevertheless, it just doesn't seem to have the characteristics that the general UF program (and similar programs at other schools) has in the sense that it is not designed to hire and train someone else's graduates. I didn't know the UF Tax VAP program was restricted to UF alums and I think it is cheap if you control for teaching quality, which is an unknowable for virtually all entry-level teaching candidates regardless of academic credentials, but neither defeats the point that it is not elitist per se. I also wouldn't describe UF's tax faculty as elitist. They have made some recent hires of people from non-elite backgrounds (or at least they haven't blocked the rest of the faculty from making those hires).

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I seemed to have annoyed you. First, I have the highest regard for the UF tax program. Pound for pound, I think they are the hardest workers here. Nor do I think they should be training people from other schools. I do not even think they are elitists. I merely think your example of why they are not elitist (the people who are in the VAP program) is inapplicable.