Saturday, January 25, 2014
I've never been a big fan of University Counsel or, more specifically, the office. The folks employed in those offices represent the University but serve at the pleasure of the folks who may screw up from time to time and would prefer to make sure there is no publicity. The conflict of interest is obvious and since the goals of the university are so ill-defined my money is that they protect people.
But that is not my complaint here. This one goes deeper to illustrate how universities protect the privileged from their obvious misdeeds and then stick taxpayers with the bill.
So consider this scenario which is based on fact (not as some movies say "inspired" by actual events whatever that means). Suppose a person is being considered for a faculty position. At my school that means a vote. If it is positive by a substantial margin the dean makes an offer. A little less than substantial and the dean has discretion.
At this point I need to ask you to make two assumptions. They are only necessary to protect those to whom I promised anonymity. First, assume the candidate is black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, male, female. Pick your favorite combination. Now assume that not hiring the person or hiring the person because he or she is that combination is illegal.
Now further suppose (not assume) that before or during the votes people say (in code or just bluntly) they will not vote for the person because of those characteristics. This could be in email, or orally in the faculty lounge or, more likely, by people sneaking around door to door.
Ok, I lied, (comes with the training) I need one more assumption. The person gets a negative vote from the faculty or one that is so close that the dean cannot make an offer or will not because it would displease the people he or she is most afraid of.
The candidate gets wind of the fact that the vote may have been tainted by consideration of illegal factors. She makes some noise about consulting an attorney. Next thing you know she is cashing a big fat check and signing a confidentiality agreement which is a fancy term for hush money.
What is wrong here? The people who actually broke the law or were reckless enough that University Officials preferred to write a check and keep it quiet walk away completely sheltered by the University. In most cases they do not even know that daddy took care of them because they have been unaccountable all their lives. They think it is great sport for the clerk at the convenience store -- you know the single mom, with 3 kids who needs dental care and a car that needs a battery -- to pay for their gossip, fun, lack of concern, and lack of courage.
BTW, please spare me any argument about the courage of these people. If they stood up and opposed the law -- as in civil disobedience -- that is a different matter. I have yet to see a law professor show any courage that meant actually taking a risk.
Can a new law school dean save the UF administration from itself? UF seems to be involved in an experiment to find out. Deans do report to the Central Administration but they live with faculty and typically succeed or fail based on faculty reaction. The key factor is "buying in." When faculty are part of the process, they "buy in" and missteps by a new dean are forgiven. If the dean is selected without much faculty involvement, "buy in" may be low.
On this simply point UF administrators seem to have developed instant onset tone deafness. This is unfortunately because no one in the central administration has significant exposure to legal education or appears to be interested in A.B.A accreditation guidelines. Plus, it governs a University that is ranked slightly lower than the Law School it has the hubris to tell how it can be great. Here are the symptoms of instant onset tone deafness.
1. The Search Committee. The Law Dean Search Committee is composed of 11 people - five from the law school. The law school faculty voted to select a pool of faculty members from which the Provost picked. The Provost did not select those receiving the highest votes, skipping over some of the more assertive people. Of the five, three have tenure and are generally familiar with legal education at a national level. This makes them the most likely to speak out. On the other hand, if the Provost selected people whose careers have generally been advanced by playing ball with administrators, the effective number is less than 3 of 11.
2. A search firm was employed to locate candidates. The cost remains a mystery. Search firms are terrific if they have some expertise that would lead to uncovering otherwise unknown prospects. The law teaching world, though, is a small one and hiring a search firm to find a law dean candidate is like hiring one to find a football stadium in Gainesville. This means for what was likely tens of thousands of dollars the search firm appears to have made phone calls and forwarded CVs. At most it did what a firm year professor could have done. Or perhaps the idea was to keep the process under wraps. A search firm windfall financed by taxpayers with UF writing the check.
3. The search firm bungled even this task. It is increasingly clear that the firm did not fully advise the candidates about Florida's openness policy: All materials and names associated with the search are public. Exacerbating this was the firm's decision to announce all 24 candidates at once. This lead to a massive data dump that treated each candidate like a potato at a produce stand. In the past, although public as the law requires, the process allowed publicity shy dean candidates to have their names trickled out over several months and allowed them ample time to drop out if the competition looked stiff.
4. Three days after the data dump of 24 candidates the list was trimmed to 10. No faculty representatives on the committee called for a discussion or solicited the views of the faculty. Thus, the major paring down of the list was based on CV's and the hunches of three members of the committee with some knowledge of the law school world. Yes, thousands of dollars worth of names were either DOA or deep-sixed on slightly more than a whim.
5. The committee (not the faculty) will interview the candidates for 75 minutes each and, on the basis of that interview (and one hopes extensive research), narrow the list to the people who will visit the law school for what may loosely be called interviews. At this stage, whether the faculty will be consulted is unclear but it is a bit like having the waiter hand you a menu with the message "you may only select items I like."
6. From this point, who knows what will happen. No one seems to know how many of the 10 will be invited to meet the faculty in interviews or what the outcome of those interviews will be. The consistent message is that the input of the faculty will be considered.
Fortunately the next dean can save the administration from itself. Any candidate determined to be successful will surely only accept the position if there is a strong positive vote from the faculty. Unfortunately, making that demand may also mean the candidate is viewed as unsuitable by the Administration.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Since my little dust up with officials at the University of Florida I have heard and read things that indicate the list of dean candidates became public because of me. Some folks feel I did a bad thing and others a good thing. The bad thing people believe I exposed the candidates to possible embarrassment. The faculty lounge commentators are big on this complaint. Many of their comments are like the exam answers I get when students make up a new set of facts and then write an answer. Even the writer of the initial post goes off course by writing: ""Unfortunately for those candidates, and the committee, Florida has an open meeting law." Every single candidate knew he or she would be on a list that would become public. And, to their credit, they applied anyway. The least we can say about the people on the list is they are not worried about publicly exposing a desire for something they may not get. In the law school world this is no small thing. How is that unfortunate? In fact, if it did scare some wussier candidates away they are delighted.
But to those who think I did a good thing, I cannot accept the credit as least as far as the list becoming public. The list would have become public anyway in a few days at most. And, in the words of diplomat and future Nobel Prize Winner, Dennis Rodman, I did not give a rats ass about who was on the list. I had the list within about 10 seconds of one of the more fretful members of the committee learning that I would complain to the newspaper if I did not get it.
Nope, the real trouble was not about the list; it was about the crazy, out-of-fashion especially at law schools and Universities, notion that people should tell the truth. So, my digging (as it has be put on at least one blog) was not investigative. Instead it was about having a really bad anti authority streak and the perhaps irrational need to switch to bulldog mode when someone in the administration tells me something I know is not true. The Codes of law school conduct instruct us never to embarrasses anyone by noting they have not told the truth. Not telling the truth is evidently collegial but calling someone out on it is not. It appears all members of the search team, including law school members, live by this rule. It's to be expected, as I noted in the post two posts ago, they are all squad leaders now.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Many universities are now hiring expensive search firms to find candidates for deanships including those for law schools. I have to admit, I do not get it. Sure there are probably some economies of scales in that 20 law schools looking for a dean do not make calls to the same 100 or so possible candidates. So, it appears that the search is like handing the job over to a secretary who makes the calls for the Universities.
Eventually the search firm comes up with a list of people willing to be considering. Seems like this is the same list anyone at a law school could create. Half the list will be perennial dean wannabes who are also on the list supplied to other schools possibly for years on end. The other half of the list is what? Promising people that only the search firm could find. I doubt it.
My sense is that a couple of under employed law profs armed with a phone and maybe a couple of beers could create any list a search firm would develop.
The search firm option only makes sense if he really does mean lower transaction costs and getting a better dean than would be the case if two or three law professors did the same thing. Now we know if two or three law professors took time away from their scholarship to handle this, the cost would be zero. It would be hard for a search firm to charge less. So, does the firm find a dean who is so much better that it is worth whatever it costs. I cannot say either way but I lean toward no.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
A really long time ago - in fact, the last century-- students were required in some schools to take ROTC. Mainly this meant putting on a uniform for an hour and marching around. Your uniform had to be spiffy. Mine was usually picked up off the floor of my dorm room after having been walked on for a week. This always led to many demerits. But I actually got a good grade in ROTC -- a D -- when some of my other grades were lower.
The oddest thing would happen in ROTC. You could be with a group of eight kids marching around and the boss -- squad leader? -- would tell one of them to be the new boss and tell us what to do -- hut, one, two, about face, etc. With that tiny bit of power they became tyrants. They would completely change character from being regular people to shouting orders, berating you, and crazy stuff like that.
I guess things do not change. Now the version of being are regular person who is asked to do something else is to be appointed to a search committee at a university. Simply by that, the people, who may or may not be good teachers, good writers or anything else are, in their minds elevated. Somehow they become more privileged to information, more withholding, more official, and even Yoda like -- knowledgeable, wise. In effect, they view it as a promotion that means they are better in some way. Sometimes they only have the position because no one anyone actually respects appoints them. Still is it a very big deal to them. They are now taking orders from others and a member of the inside crowd. They do not understand that they have not been promoted. Instead they have been demoted.
Where does this faux notion of status and entitlement come from? Is it because they have been powerless sycophants ever since their grade grubbing and butt kissing days in law school and they long to have power. Is it because they actually think what they are doing is important in any realistic sense.
It is not every one and not as dramatic as the 19 year olds in ROTC but it is the same illusion of importance.
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Oh my goodness. According to one report law professors are worried about the demise of tenure because of the impact it will have on their academic freedom. Now let's put this in perspective. We are not talking about someone in a factory who wants to support forming a union. No, we are talking about privileged people with professional degrees. Frankly, I am not too keen on people who claim to have important things to say but can only say them if they are sheltered from the consequences. Plus, I am not sure I can think of many instances in which a law professor has actually uttered something controversial much less had his or her job threatened because of it. The fact is almost no one is listening and even fewer care. Many law professors have a powerful need to seem unconventional. In many cases this is to make up for a life of exactly the opposite. Claiming to need tenure in order to be controversial is part of this illusion.
The entire matter, though, still seems overblown and a wee bit hypocritical. First, tenure is in a sense under inclusive. It only protects incumbents. Those incumbents are often the first to vote against a faculty candidate with a different point of view and to vote for those with whom they are politically comfortable. Law teaching is, thus, a world of academic freedom for the elites who then deny it to others. Indeed the term "academic freedom" would be more transparent if it were routinely followed by "for me and for you if you agree with me." I have witnessed this on several occasions at my law school. Perhaps it is not the same elsewhere but I doubt it.
Second, for every person (if there are any) who says something truly important only because of tenure, my hunch is that we could also identify hundreds for whom tenure became shelter for less productivity post tenure and who have nothing at all to say that will annoy anyone ever. (A reference to the wonderful line in "Lucky Jim:" "it's not worth writing if it does not annoy someone.") I am just not sure it is worth it especially in a discipline that ultimately owes its existence to the goal of protecting the status quo.
One of the wackiest defenses of tenure I have heard is that it must be working to protect the expressions of law professors because we rarely hear of an instance in which law professors come under scrutiny. Aside from the fact that very few care what they say, the logic of this is like "we know the moon is protecting us from comets because so few have crashed to earth."
Having said all that I strong support tenure but not for the hollow academic freedom rationale. A world without tenure would mean self promotion would run wild. The battle to add meaningless lines to resumes would escalate and law professors would write even more unread articles. We are in the midst of that now and it would only get worse.