Thursday, November 26, 2015

Psst, Hey, Over here.

I need to tell you some things I found out today.

1. A certain first year dean at a large mid ranked law school is already interviewing to leave the school.
2. Jackson, that guy we just hired, is interviewing at Tennessee for a chaired position.
3. Janet said she smelled liquor on Jim's breath this morning.
4. Linda's students have been complaining about starting class 15 minutes late every day.
5. Did you hear the new dean is going to discontinue, dissemble, and destroy, the LLM in Law Finance. There is even some talk that he may torture the faculty.

Actually I made that all up. Or maybe I just changed the names. Whatever the case, one thing I have observed is that people love to have information. Actually, that is not quite right. More accurately, people love for others to think they have information, especially information that is not widely known.  This is probably true of all groups but, in the world of academics, seeming to know things others don't  raises status and, to some extent power.

But there are other interesting aspects of information status. First, as already noted you may know nothing but be good at appearing to know something. Second,  suppose you do know something and it's sort of interesting but not likely surprise anyone. A common practice is to ratchet the information up a notch. It goes like this: You overhear two students talking about how hard Professor Jones is. Ratcheted up it becomes, "I heard a bunch of students complaining that Jones is their worst professor and they are going to the Dean."

Or this: You are in the faculty lounge and Tom and Buck are discussion whether restitution can remotely be called a form of damages. Racheted up: "My God, I thought Tom and Buck were going to get into a fight. They were screaming at each other about teaching assignments."

Steve comes to school on a non teaching day wearing dirty clothes. Ratchet version: "Have you seen Steve lately? I've heard there are mental problems."

Sadly, although these are made up, I have seen  worse. Too many people thrive on drama and the appearance of being in the know. The ratcheting can be up or down like when the effort of one faculty member to push the hand of another away became the "slap" heard round the world and then was widely investigated as though the administration as nothing productive to do.  Ratcheting down means something like this, "oh but she/he is a really nice person". This comes right after finding  out that the person assaulted a student. I should mention that some information comes  from actual research into, let's say, the salaries of everyone who ever taught law or what someone far away said about someone's latest article. Don't trust these people either. They almost always present only part of the research.

So now you know how to (shall we say) "gather information." What do you do with it? Three possibilities. 1. Just impress others that you are so in touch with what is really going on in the faculty. This works mainly on the insecure untenureds who are just getting used to how unstructured things are. But that's Ok, the information peddler is usually also insecure. 2. Take it to the Administration because after all you are trusted, in the know, would never ever ratchet and, oh, by the way, maybe the Administration will look favorable on you. After all, you are not just any faculty member.  (Any administrator who encourages this at all or  without triple checking the informants information will be the death of your law school unless chased off.) 3. If it is really important and could actually have an impact on a person, go to him or her and discuss it. (Only a fool does this because it means no status and sense of importance for you.)

I really wanted to call this post "Information Whores" but I am not sure that term has evolved to be gender neutral which is the way I would have meant it.

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