Saturday, September 15, 2012

Anacronism: C'est Moi


I strongly oppose the corporate extern proposal for a variety of reasons that you can imagine a lefty dinosaur would come up with. I’ll save you all of that since, in the aftermath of Citizens United, I suppose there is no distinction to be made between public and private interests and rights. To me, we will be the instrument of corporate welfare in the sense of providing free labor, which means lower costs and, wow, more money to spend on greed, avoiding regulation, taxation, or  lobbying to downgrade environmental standards. Or maybe the little boost we will provide will go right to the Presidental Campaigns of the silver spoon twins. In fact, I think  we are neglecting our public interest duties (which I suppose dwindle as the State become less supportive) by giving credit to students who work for corporations.  Ok, so I am voted down 60-1 and do understand our financial reasons for doing this (although I have  never understood paying people based on externships supervised but not on the basis of how many students we teach. ) And, since it is not distinguishable I suppose the vote would be the same if the proposal were for a new Corporate Law Clinic. 

More realistically, I do wonder if it would be possible to request these corporate entities to pay the extern’s tuition that we now collect from the students for the credit we award them.

And I also wonder if there is a conflict of interest issue to be addressed. As it stands now, faculty are governed by a number of conflict of interest regulations. When we start arranging and supervising externships with for profit entities I am not sure I see how we distinguish, at least in principle, the conflict of interest issues. No matter how interpreted, the for profit externship mean a student pays us for credit and then lowers the costs of the corporation. In addition, the faulty member is paid to broker or make this subsidization possible.  In effect, a faculty member favors a particular profit making entity by arranging or supervising,  and it seems that is only proper if the faculty member has no financial connection to that entity.  I am not sure how to put this in law-professor-as-indirect-as-possible language but suppose Professor A does corporation B a favor because he has consulted with them in the past or hopes to in the future.  Or, he may be in the process of asking for a grant or would like to make a talk there. Maybe this is just mutual back scratching but it is also a process that clouds the faculty member’s judgment about a placement.

I suppose we could have sponsors of corporate externships sign something that prevents them from personally contracting with the corporation. Something that might get at it indirectly is not allowing corporate externship supervision to count toward the award we give those supervising externship.

Two final and most likely annoying points. In a principled context, faculty who stand to benefit from this program should recuse themselves.  But I know that kind of principle is just not part of our culture and that goes back much further than externships. Second, in terms of public interest I think a better case can be made for law firms some of whom from time to time may actually have a needy client as opposed to corporations.

No comments: