Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dumping, Externalities, and Creeping Around

If you have followed the news you know that southwest Florida's beaches are a mess due to pumping water from the  Lake Okeechobee. It's a pretty good example of an externality. Another one is more personal to me. Several years ago Nautilus  or one of the other fitness machine makers had a weight lifting contraption. I am not sure it was Nautilus since they were responsible for the torturous cross country ski  machine that made water boarding look inviting by comparison.

Ok, back the to machine. I said I would like one to someone and she said I could have hers. She would just give it to me. Of course, knowing that you should always look a gift horse in the mouth but ignoring that, I arrived to pick up the machine and it was obvious that she was referring to something completely different. I took it, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, and it sat around my house for several months until my  wife said "it's me or the machine."

But what could I do with the machine? In the middle of the night I hauled it over to the Law School in put it in the middle of a common area. It's was kind of an experiment to see what would happen. It stayed there for months. Sometimes students would use it. No one asked "Did someone lose an outdated weight lifting machine. "No one took it to lost and found. Some thought it was sculpture. And then it disappeared.

[To show that I was also interested in positive externalities, I'd like to mention that I used to take all the foam cups from the lounge and hide them in hopes that coffee and tea drinkers would get discouraged and bring ceramic cups. It did not work. The more I took, the more that appeared -- I mean thousands -- until an new environmentally-minded associate dean starting supplying paper cups.]

In any case, I left my trash (the machine) at the Law School and the externality was that someone else had to figure out what to do. What does this have to do with anything? Did you notice I did it in the middle of the night so no one would know.

That's the best time to handle dumping. On faculties secret dumping takes the form of side deals.  Each person slithers down to the dean's office and explains why he or she is special and should get a special deal -- a very long leave, reduced teaching, more money for teaching a course, extra travel money, etc. And when they get the special deal someone else has to clean it up by teaching more students, teaching courses that the students need but the dumpers have bargained their way out of, or by hiring visitors when the money might have been used for improving the classrooms or library.

The externality thing also occurs in a more pernicious way. Suppose the dean tells you that it makes no sense to pay you 40K or more to teach a handful of students in the summer or to pay you 20K in the summer to pimp out some students.  At this point you begin to slink from office to office looking for other people who are as self-interested as you are and you do not have to look very far. In fact, even people who betrayed you or are not speaking to you become potential allies.   You approach others and get them on board by expressing it like this "I am not sure I agree with the Dean deciding to change the law school so YOU are worse off."  Yes, you are only looking out for others or for, "academic freedom." Sorry I just threw up when I imagined something protecting their turf with that appeal.

Perhaps I should mention that we are all people who claim our lives are devoted to high minded things like teaching and research -- you remember that, right? If that is what you want to do then the mob and its impact is a huge externality. It makes the environment unhealthy. It means picking up sides. I means far more effort than usual to filter out the truth from the lies and exaggerations. It can mean more meeting and gossip that is unrelated to teaching and research.

So, what is the message here. I would think it is clear: Faculties, do not become Lake Okeechobee or an outdated 300 pound weight machine.

All my love, Jake

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Principles or Principals: Levels of Moral Development

The other day someone complained about something the dean had done that he though was up to the faculty. I said it was the right decision and the response was "but it is the principle of the thing!" The "thing" was faculty governance.

I had two thoughts. I sincerely hoped that that a faculty that had abused faculty governance to enrich itself would have faculty governance removed. For the most part faculty governance is used to fleece people who have no say in the matters that affect them.

The second thought was about how many time people say "principle" when what they are really concerned about are the "principals" involved.

So, suppose the Dean says something like " it would be better for the students is everyone taught 4 courses instead of three each year." "Wait a sec" someone might say, "That is a matter for the faculty to decide. It's the principle of faculty governance." But then when the faculty actually votes it's not about principles but principals.

Sometimes I think it has to do with moral development. Some may recall the stages of moral development from readying the work of Lawrence Kohlberg. If memory serves me there were 6 stages that could be distilled to three. Lowest was a strict cost benefit analysis. Second was a broader sense of caring for the community. Finally were people who acted consistent with principles even though the outcome might be counter to self interest.

An example of level 1 would be like the day my wife told my 4 year old that he could have one cookie while she was away. I say him with 4 cookies and asked him about it. His reply "But mom is not here yet. "

As best I can tell, many or most law profs are stuck, at least when in the context of law school, at level one. This is where the side deals and special treatment come in. It all takes place in a dean's office and has nothing to do with fairness or even what is best for the community. Faculty each want as many cookies as they can get as long as they are not caught.

Do faculties ever make it to the middle stage of caring about the community? For example, does anyone ever say " I should not do this because, if everyone did it, it would create uncertainty and chaos within the faculty?" Or how about, "I am doing this even though it makes me worse off because it will make the community better off."   I am not saying that they do not cooperate from time to time but, when they do, it is consistent with the getting all the cookies they can. No principles, just principals acting like a school yard gang.

The top level of moral development is very rare and frankly scares me a little. I am sure some of the worse villains in history believed they were acting on principle. I now know why this would be the highest level of moral development since the principle may have cruel and awful consequences. Still, I'll take that risk with law faculty and just once like to hear someone invoke "principle" and not mean "principal."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top Down or Bottom Up

When it comes to management that is the question, right? When should management take over and determine the ends and means for the organization. Conversely, when should those decisions be made by the workers. Under which regime are stakeholders (students, tax payers, alums) better off.  In the world of so-called faculty governance (or, more often, lack of governance) the issue gets very sticky.

When the top does not have courage, ideas, personality or anything else that would make the School better for stakeholders the default position is  bottom up.  If you add to that a lack of shared aspirations something akin to white collar looting occurs. Faculty charge into the School and take what they want. The  School's shareholders? -- screw them!

So Jack wants to teach a 4 credit property course in one four hour block so he can spend  days at the beach. Linus wants a year off with pay with no obligation to account for the time off.  Joe just wants to teach "Law and Gumby." Patty wants only to teach at 1 PM every other Friday. Chris wants to teach everything online and asynchronously and concurrently. Jane wants to teach a seminar with 4 students because her course is so important (to no one but Jane). Ricky likes to travel so he thinks it is OK to miss a few days each week so he can network. Bottom up means everyone who counts is happy as long as everyone who counts is on the faculty.

Why do leaderless schools become bottom up nightmares?  Because no one will say "no" and the majority, to the extent there is voting on policy, need votes. How do you get votes? By having a management policy of "you can have yours if you let me have mine." Yes, bottom up management in an institution dominated by self-interested people means chaos.

They hate top down management because they do not get what they want. It's not on the basis of management philosophy or on the basis of top down results being better or worse outcomes for  shareholders.  That is irrelevant. Ironically the bottom up people may say "it's the principle of the thing" when, in fact, it's hearing the word "no" that sets things off.

 It sets things off even if it is not top down at all. No, "top down" becomes an accusation and it must be bad no matter how good it is or even whether it exists.  It is a form of name calling when the name callers have nothing substantive to say. In fact, like claims of lack of collegiality the accusation of "top down" can be completely false and amounts to an attempt at bottom up bullying. When enough people are involved it is a mob.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Help! My Dean Won't Let Me Blog

The handful of you who come to this blog may wonder why I have not been blogging (although I am sure my anonymous internet stalker is probably relieved).

It's my Dean. I used to have a nice hobby bitching about one thing or another. You know, stuff like getting a big payday for pimping out the students, side deals for everything from teaching a course to taking on the huge responsibility of being a Center Director when there are only about 8 students who care what the Center is doing, foreign programs for the privileged, vanity courses, and the "not technically a lie" culture.

Now I cannot write about those things. Why?? It's my Dean. Yes the old dean who tolerated, supported, and encouraged all that stuff  I complained about is gone. And, now we have what I would call the "opposite dean." She could not be more different than old dean and it appears (actually it is blatantly obvious) that she feels that -- get this -- the Law School does not exist to serve faculty interests, financial and otherwise. Instead  faculty are mere means for providing the best legal education possible, writing the best scholarship, and doing everything possible to find employment for the students. Yikes. We are so not used to this. She is also willing to take risks. Now, I know law professors reading this will not be familiar with the concept of "risk" but I assure it takes confidence and courage.

And where does this leave me? Did she consider my blogging? I was not even consulted about how much the changes would affect me.

I might note that other than the things listed above, I also ranted about the use of claims of incivility, uncollegiality, poor people skills, and "I am offended" as ways of silencing people when, in actuality you just did not like the substance of what was said but had no response other than one that would reveal you were greedy, looking out only for yourself, and had a Everest-sized sense of entitlement.

Unfortunately I may be able to keep blogging on those topics because change worries people and, when it does, the knives, distortions, and group whining appear.