Friday, October 05, 2012

What is Winning for Law Professors?

This is not only about law professors but it is in that context that I see it played out. The" it" here is defining what  it means to win.

For example, in Obama's case, suppose someone said to him, "We have decided to allow you to be President but only for 4 more years." Would he define that as winning? If he were a real law professor the answer might very well be no. For many law professors the symbolism of winning is at least as important as, or more important than, the substance of winning. Letting a law professor do anything is not a win for the law professor. Instead, they like to be asked.  It's really a matter of which party is doing the other a favor.

Another example might be many Romney and Obama voters. Sometimes I think the two candidates could both switch positions on every issue but the Romney people who fight for Romney and the Obama people for Obama. Winning means more than substance again.

In Law school I've seen it play out like this. Someone proposes a new boutique, unnecessarily capped course that  is a luxury to be a permanent addition to the curriculum and it is approved, as is every single new course, by the Committee in charge. They are all  approved  because the law school I am talking about is run for the convenience of the faculty and there is almost uniform cooperation in this effort.

So, now the course comes to the faculty and for the first time in history the faculty decides to only approve the course for 5 years. This is because there are major changes to the curriculum afoot and it makes little sense to put anything in stone.

The proponents of the course win, right? Not to them. The substance is that the course will be taught most likely until the the faculty member teaching it retires or leaves. (BTW should any course be offered that will sunset with the retirement of a specific professor?)  Does this matter? Not really because substance is second to victory.

I'd like to provide an explanation for this behavior but I cannot. Maybe it is just the sense of entitlement -- you want people to give you what you ask for AND act happy about it. Maybe it means that the faculty has done a favor for the proponents and that suggests a quid pro quo is requrired. Or perhaps it violates the "volunteer" theory I have written about. Law professors never want to appear to ask for things they but want to appear to "volunteer" to do things. You've seen examples -- "oh yes I will volunteer to take that round the world trip to scout foreign student opportunities."

Actually, maybe I have figured it out. Law professors view life as a negotiation. It would be bad negotiating to appear to be satisfied even when you get more than you deserve.

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