Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Vanity, Law School Hiring and Subsidizing Ourselves

If markets works, a lower demand for what is being produced means decreased need for labor which means either lay offs or attrition.

But when they do not work, decreased demand may be unrelated to the purchase of inputs and, in fact, inertia may mean keeping capacity at the same level. One of the best instances of institutions not responding to markets is legal education.

I have written before about the capture of law schools by faculty who then determine based on self interest what will be taught, when it will be taught, how many will be taught, and virtually every other aspect of the business. Think of it as something like General Motors with the workers making the decisions and those deciding are all based on what feels good to them regardless of how many cars are produced or their quality. The difference is the GM workers would not do that because GM would fold. Law schools don't fold.

One thing that law professors like to produce is cute little compact cars (courses) for which there is little demand but which they really like working on. These are the so called vanity courses or courses that would not be offered but for the presence of a particular professor on a faculty. Otherwise the course would be on the shelf indefinitely or not even in the catalogue.

What appears to increasingly fuel hiring needs is the unwillingness of faculty to be less vain in what they teach and their insensitive to costs. For example, suppose you are on a faculty of 60 and teaching "International Poverty Law for Accounting Majors" to 15 students a year. The school has a desperate need for someone to teach evidence and virtually any law professor could do that. But, it might mean giving up your beloved International Poverty Law Course. (Actually it would not but that would mean teaching more than the minimum possible number of hours and you know that ain't going to happen).

So, in a declining market, law schools continue to hire and increasingly the costs are passed onto students and the end result is to ask them to subsidize the teaching of a course that only exists to please a faculty member.

When push comes to shove we know that faculty always vote to subsidize themselves and their follies.

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