Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More on the New Cronyism

I was pretty happy to see that over on PrawfsBlawg, Howard Wasserman­­­­ wrote a comment on my New Cronyism post (scroll two down) and it was followed by several – too many to read – comments. One thing is certain; there is no class warfare in law teaching. The privileged won long ago and many rushed to defend the stacked deck in the form of a practice that means privileged people help other privileged people cut in line when it comes to jobs. Make no mistake. This is not like a pal letting you cut in line for a theater ticket that will not be sold out anyway. No, these pals let significant others cut in line and there are not enough tickets. Every job claimed under the cronyism system is unavailable to someone else.

Among the comments was a fair amount of defensiveness by those for whom cronyism worked. That is to be expected. Some of the logic of the arguments, thought, left me worried about what goes on in teaching students how to think. And, of course, there is the infinite capacity to rationalize which I suppose we all put to good or ill use from time to time.

For example, the fact that partner hiring does not always work to mean more privilege for the privileged does not mean my general point is wrong. Second, the fact that someone got a job for a partner and it worked out fine or the University is pretty darn happy is silly. Surely every law professor knows and understands the notion of opportunity costs. With this type of thinking if you buy a car without shopping around you would also conclude – for no reason in particular – that you bought the best car.

Some folks seem rattled by my notion that law professors were pretty much fungible and, thus, any school that caves into the leverage of “if you want to hire me you must find a job for my partner” is taking the bait. Perhaps fungible is the wrong word to use here but it never ceases to amaze me at how quickly a school gets over the departure of someone and how little lasting effect there is of not hiring someone in the first place. I know it is hard to come to grips with the fact that you are not as big a shot as you thought but let's be real about the number of people who could do our jobs. I’ll stick to my position on this. Nevertheless, even if profs were not replaceable, fungible, whatever, you would have to balance that against the downside of not even looking at people who may be better than the trailer.

And, then there was something like “We we did not consider these people we would be limiting our choices.” WTF. I am not talking about not hiring married people. No it’s a matter of not hiring based on to whom they are married. If you put a thumb on the scale because a candidate is a partner of someone you want, you are already limiting your choices

Somewhere in all of the comments there was a sense of entitlement -- but we can't both get jobs if a school will not hire a couple. I hardly know what to say. You are both adults with more educations than 90% of the out of work people in the USA. Get a real job.

The most baffling thing is the lack of discussion of what is actually going on. Suppose a candidate comes along whom people thing is hot stuff and she has a spouse that would not have been looked at. Then suppose the “hire my partner” chip is played. If the partner is hired it is simply a higher salary for the wanted spouse. Antitrust experts will recognize this as just a form of tying and really all the benefits in the form of a job for the not-really-wanted partner can be attributed to the wanted spouse.

Is there really any difference between the "hire my partner" demand and a demand for a higher salary? Please don’t say it is because the spouse is doing something. As long as he or she would not have been hired in a completely anonymous process, the subsidy exists. For example, a hot candidate could say “I’ll come for 20K more” or “I'll come at the offered salary but my partner, who does not work, would like 20K for spending money” or "I'll come if my partner gets to cutin line for a job in legal writing or in the Spanish department." In contracts, I think that is consideration, there is nothing illusory about it, and it is a result of what the hot shot offers, not her partner. Next we may have the (single) hot property saying. "I’ll come for the lower salary but your next hire must be a single person about my age of whom I approve for a possible dating relationship." Ultimately, if they both would not have been hired on their individual merits, there is a subsidy. If I were a hot shot I would say I needed both a good salary and a really cool dog.

My point that seemed to be lost on many is that the system is rigged. It’s a cousin of legacy admissions to elite schools. The rigging is pervasive in America and the class version of it has long escaped the attention of law school (and you know why).

I conceded in my original post that I prefer not to have partnership faculty. I’ve seen it work OK and I have seen it be very divisive. If you have a couple and they both bubble up in an anonymous process and you also have 2 candidates who are their equal but not partners, I prefer the latter. If one or both are untenured, I feel even stronger. Why would the greater probability of greater diversity be less favored? This, though, is a different matter than a system of hiring that is rigged in so many ways it could pass for a the Santa Maria (and it is even older.)


Andrew MacKie-Mason said...

Presumably, if the university is acting rationally in its hiring, the "hot shot" will end up at a slightly worse university than they "deserve." Hiring the trailing spouse up knocks out one possible job, but having the leading spouse work somewhere a bit lower makes it that much easier for other people to move up.

All in all, I don't see what the moral problem with this is. Jobs are shifted around a bit, but the key determining factor is still merit: those with more of it have more leverage in the hiring process, whether they choose to exercise that leverage in getting their spouse hired, or in getting a higher salary for themself.

(Issues of the working environment created by married colleagues is, I think, a different matter entirely, one which I'm sure there are extremely varying views on.)

Jim Milles said...

The term "merit" does an awful lot of work in that comment. Fortunately, the best people on law faculties are unerringly able to judge merit.

Anonymous said...

If academic freedom is the purpose of tenure, some critical scholarship needs to be produced.

In reality, the establishment reinforcing nonsense at U.S. universities is funded exclusively by the taxpayer through loans. Much like financial institutions, the business model is explicitly tax-payer funded.