Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sociology of Law Profs: Part 4 -- The Faculty Meeting and the Charade

The best place to observe this species is a faculty meeting. Putting aside all the nervous tittering to signal you are a good person and not to be feared, there are many other traits. One is the it's OK to say something that has nothing to do with anything as long as it seems to support one side of the argument.

So today  there was a big meet about hiring someone who we had not heard of in an area we had never considered but who is the spouse of someone another department wants, or so we are told. It's actually the President who wants to hire him and will pay us to do it. Yes, it's really a salary laundering deal. Before getting into the sociology I have to note that the meeting was the finest example of a charade. When the dean was asked how important this was to the President he said correctly, I do not want to talk about because our focus should be on the candidate. And then within 30 seconds  he said not hiring him would be a "catastrophy." So one might ask why have a vote at all with a gun to our head?

This will give you some measure of how law faculty react to the humiliation of being ordered who to hire: they go on with the charade that they are actually making the decision when they all also know they are willing getting their asses kicked.

People who are in this person's area really want him (or perhaps anyone) even though there was no search to find the person best suited for the job and no one has ever mentioned needing someone to cover the area.  We are all about diversity except when we don't want to be about it.  One argument  by people in the area is that they are working their fingers to the bone and need the help.  And then the next argument is that he will not actually teach anything they currently teach. Yes, the opposite argument but for the same purpose.  But this is not uncommon.

And then there are the placators. Let's just say they will not be part of the revolution. In fact, they will not be part of even a mild protest.  In fact, when they order a hamburger and are served pudding they say "This is really great hamburger." So one guy says, the President would not let us have the dean we wanted and that was like being hit by a sharp stick and if we do not hire this person we may be hit with a sharp stick again. So what is the sharp stick here? Hiring someone you do not want or getting smacked if you do not even though you have no idea if you will be smacked or how hard. Put in coarser terms, you'd rather take it up the you know what than risk maybe being hit by a stick. (Oh, did I mention these prissy people are tenured professors.)

The angriest person was the one who actually does have a trailing spouse. In fact, he may have violated the law professor rule of never showing that you care. And, Mr. "Don't hit me with that stick" does or did too. So guess which side they were on.

The worst thing about attending faculty meetings as a sociologist is that the quality of the discussion is so very low and the discomfort of watching grown ups humiliate themselves is high.


Brian Tamanaha said...

I'm curious, Jeff. In your view, what should the faculty have done? Tell the president: Screw you, we won't hire the person because you are forcing us? (test his resolve and limits) Or, for the same reason, refuse to consider the candidate at all? (test his resolve and limits) Or figure that he will punish the faculty's refusal and will impose the appointment anyway, so go along and try to undertake a semblance of an evaluation that might protect the institution from dictatorial appointments imposed from above?

Or something else altogether?

In fairness, this is a tough position for your faculty to be put in. What would you have them do that would not involve humiliating themselves?

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Brian, it would be nice to know the actual consequences. We were not told. In any case, in the past when the President has pushed us we have refused to vote and said he can do what he wants but we will not legitimize it by voting under duress.

Brian Tamanaha said...

Thanks. That history helps understand the situation. Fortunately, it sounds like the president is on his way out.