Monday, June 08, 2015

Why Law Schools are Mismanaged

Four factors account for disastrous law school management.

1) Allocations based on Asking.
2) Deans with Little Relevant Management Experience
3) A Dean's Term is directly related to the number of "yes" answers given.
4) Limited Resources.

1. I have noted that  law faculties are composed of asker/demanders and others. Asking is correlated with a sense of entitlement because most people do not ask for things unless they think there is a good chance the answer will be yes. The children of privilege, who dominate law teaching, have been hearing "yes" since they were born so they ask for more and, the way law schools are run, they receive more. Some folks may think this is just unfair but that is not the only problem. The problem is that it is very inefficient. As far as I know, no one has ever shown a correlation between the willingness to ask and any measure of the benefits generated by the funding or accommodation that is given.

2. Good or mediocre Professors Become Deans;  I have yet to know a law school dean who really understood much about allocating funds to get the most of them.  It's always puzzled me that most law school deans come for the ranks of the planning/math/human relations/seeing-the-big- picture impaired. If its a big law school, it would be like Wendy's looking for a new manager but saying "Prior food service experience disqualifies you." Put the "allocate to those who ask" problem with the "no prior management experience" qualification and you just need two more factors to create a catastrophe.

3.The length of a deanship depends on the ratio of yes to no answers a dean gives regardless of merits. The reason for this is easy. Deans serve at the whim of faculty. Faculty who hear yes most of the time like the dean. Those who hear no, do not. Remember, this is yes or no to the "askers" and it is without regard to whether the yes or no was a good idea from the standpoint of the institution.

4. There is that annoying little issue of limited funding. Yup, saying yes to everyone who asks means passing on better opportunities. A yes in September may mean no in May. Actually, I need to rethink this. More funding might mean even more bad decisions. Hmm.

You might ask, "How would a Dean know about better opportunities if people don't ask." That's so easy I cannot believe you asked but, since you did, how about this. A person of privilege, because it would not occur to anyone else, asks the dean to pay for his foreign language lessons. The Dean could say yes OR could, before doing that, say "You know what. It may be a good idea for faculty to learn a foreign language but we have 7 people who speak that language but no one who speaks _____. Let's see if learning ___________ would help anyone in his teaching or research." And then the Dean  writes a memo to the faculty that says " I think we should pay for foreign language lessons. If  interested let me know by writing a proposal indicating how it would help you in your teaching and research."  Obviously, the "ask" system means not even knowing if there are better opportunities. .
So let's review and, yes, the test is open book but not any book, only one by Michel Houellebecq.

The tendency to ask is not correlated with anything useful. Deans' allocate to those who ask because they stay longer if  they say yes, Ergo, Deans stay longer without regard to the actual usefulness of what people do with the money. This means crazy foreign programs, vanity courses. paying ten times what is necessary to supervise externs, unnecessary centers and directors, massive outlays for all manner of travel that is only important to the traveler (and his or her family) , etc.  On the other hand, very useful things that are not asked for are  unnecessarily ignored.

The system is rigged to fail unless you are a Dean or a faculty member with a powerful sense of entitlement. But wait maybe the system exists for them. In that case it's working just fine. In fact is very well oiled.


Anonymous said...

I really like these posts about privilege and 'asking' congeals much of what I have observed in 20+ years of law and corporate culture as well. Yes, the maxim(s) that "you don't know until you ask" or "you won't get something unless you ask" are self apparent. But I've observed myself (and others) from more humble backgrounds have rather more difficulty actually putting this gracefully into practice than others with a different background. Coupled with delusions of meritocracy, this is a particularly interesting dynamic.

Though I've popped in and out from time to time reading here, I think that this might be my favorite blog at the moment. It's delightfully, slightly unhinged. I may not recover from the laugh fit over "Center for Law and Sleep" for some time!

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I appreciate the comment. The unhinged part is the only thing that makes it fun to write. On the other hand, very rarely will anyone engage on the substance and unless they do you have not rattled them. That gets frustrating.