Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Veil of Ignorance and the Veil of Civility

People may disagree what the world would look like if designed behind the veil of ignorance but there seems to be no disagreement that it prevents one from making rules that play to their self interest. In terms of a law faculty it would be nice if all procedural rules could be made with an eye to fairness and without knowledge of who will be better off or worse off. Law faculties, however, seem to dislike making any kind of rule without assessing how it will affect them. The veil of ignorance is something to be avoided whenever possible.

If  a faculty should stumble into acting behind the veil of ignorance, they forget about the purpose of the veil when convenient. This came up a few years ago when the faculty decided that Visiting Associate Professors (VAPs) could not be hired after finishing their one or two year stint. Not long after that, the Dean and the Appointments Committee advanced a candidate for a VAP without a search. They also did not disclose that the candidate was the spouse of a faculty member. (One of the people who knew this information but did not disclose it is a frequent player of the "collegiality card.") Within a few short months as the couple endeared themselves, the rule against hiring VAP did not seem like such a good idea and pressures built to jettison it. But wait, you might think, isn't the rule designed to ensure no one will hired because he or she merely "liked." You would be right to think that but any if raised it you would then encounter the "veil of collegiality."

It is, in fact, the veil of collegiality that law professors love, not the veil of ignorance. Rather than prevent rules and actions that are designed to further self-interest, the veil of civility or collegiality is used to keep everyone else from observing what are wholly self interested acts. It is also used to demonize those who raise the issues of fairness and self dealing.

For example, for years at UF Law, parents taught their family members and it went on without comment, most especially by any administrators. It was almost a tradition. People would grouse to each other but no one would say anything publicly. The practice existed because of the veil of civility. Had anyone raised the matter publicly the "collegiality card" would have been played. The same is true for a certain  pet foreign program. What would be said in the real world about the program is "You are fucking kidding. Have you lost our mind." What actually happens is office to office grousing because to make a public issue of it would be to pierce the veil of collegiality.

In fact, the collegiality card is played over and over usually by the same small group. It is a signal to others that says: Do not talk about this because you might ruffle someone's feathers and this cozy you scratch my back and I'll scratch your equilibrium could be upset."

When you think about it, the veil of ignorance and the veil of civility or collegiality do have something in common. Under the former, you actually do not know what will happen in the future. Under the latter, you pretend not to know.

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