Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Using Students





Although I crab a bit about class bias in legal education and law professor self promotion, self-interest, work avoidance, and senses of entitlement, I have little to say about what goes on in the classroom. There are reasons for this. My only observations are based on my own experience which is a pretty small sample. Plus, as a student, I found actual classroom instruction to be very high quality. I suppose I could look at teaching evaluations but my sense is that a number of factors can account for high and low evaluations that have little to do with the actual quality of instruction. In fact, as a law student I remember thinking one professor was  great who infuriated the rest of the class by not giving them "the answer."  In any case, from my own experience and the grapevine I think law professors, when in the classroom, are generally pretty devoted.




There are some exceptions, though, and I do not necessarily mean lousy teaching. I mean devoted to oneself. I've written before that law professor rarely engage in scholarship. For those who missed this which would be nearly everyone, scholarship involves research designed to discover answers. Law profs do advocacy -- they know the answers (how do they know? they just do.) and then devise ways to convince others.




It's clear to me that some professors carry the advocacy of personal beliefs into the classroom. Of course, we all do that since the notion of pure objectivity is a silly one. Still some professors use the material to promote broader beliefs that are actually not based on the material but reflects the professor's own values. For example, in my own case when I teach contracts I cover the Walker-Thomas case. I can teach it in a way that makes Walker-Thomas and others like Walker-Thomas eligible for water boarding. Or, I can teach it as though Williams is an irresponsible dupe. There is an obvious  political message associated with each side. I do try my best to stay in the middle even though my own political leanings are not close to the middle. Increasingly, though, I hear that other professors use the students to promote their personal views in subtle and not so subtle ways. They can make light of or discount student views with which they disagree. They be critical of some opinions and not so critical of others.




Another form of advocacy is far more discouraging. For example, suppose the faculty is getting ready to vote on whether to have a program in Environmental law. It may be legitimate to discuss it in class or maybe it's just a way to kill time. In either case, it can be presented as an issue on which people can disagree or it can be presented in a way that fuels the student rumor mill. For example, "I thought we were going to have a good environmental law program here but the Dean scuttled it without even consulting anyone." This is the two birds with one stone move. First, you've let it be known that in your opinion the program is needed and you've managed to demonize the dean even though he or she may simply be looking for the best way to allocate funds to make the students more marketable. In fact, giving part of the story is a great way to rile the students. This is often accompanied by claims that "I am getting so many complaints about this from other faculty." When someone says many, several, or tons but does not say how many you know the numbers are actually very small.



People who engage in this second type of "using" the students are right up there or down there with Donald Trump. Their aim is to scare the students into believing something is happening that will have a negative impact when just the opposite may be true. People who disguise their self interested concerns as institutional ones tend to  be short (actually I do not know that but the Randy Newman song came into mind and I thought it could be connected). Well, maybe not but they are weak on substance. They too are water board material.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Joe Don Looney, Personal Attacks, and Civility




I've heard it said that Joe Don Looney said, "I never met a man I didn't like except Will Rogers" but maybe I just read that somewhere. In fact. maybe Joe Don did not say it. Maybe Will Rogers, in a moment of self-loathing, said it.

I was thinking about Joe Don, Will, and my 150 page, 300 footnote law review article thanking all the tenured members of my faculty, several people  I hardly know but may have met at a conference in Barcelona, citing myself 37 times, and whether I can wring out another article from what some would say is a narrow topic, when a law school pal walked in with a problem. It was a real problem but I could not solve it   How does Joe Don fit in? Keep reading.



In the course of the conversation my pal said (and I am changing the names) "Emma told me that Jane told her that Phil had personally attacked, Lucy." Well, I was taken back because I know Phil; Phil is a friend of mine and he's  as sweet as pumpkin pie with double Karo. I wondered what Lucy had done but I realized that even if Lucy were OJ and Phil was Mother Teresa, under law professor rules, Phil was a really bad guy.

Then I realized that "personal attack" accusations are all part of the civility game -- the way the "ins" stifle dissent by the "outs." You can be dead on right about something but if the culprit kicks up enough dust about the fact that you mentioned it, you have violated law professor rule 1.23(a)

Actually lots of people have been writing about this lately (including me since this is a slightly revised version of a post from two years ago.) Other than the personal attack accusation, there are other was to use civility as a weapon. The most direct (if there is anything direct) way is "I don't like your tone," or "I am offended." It goes like this. You express alarm to see  Jack stocking up school supplies to take home, enjoying a side deal unavailable to others, or belittling a secretary.  Jack's reply is "I don't like your tone," as he closes the back door of his Volvo on 1000  reams of 8.5 x 11 he forced a secretary to load.  Another version  is "I am offended." No one asks why because the civility rule is that everything stops when someone shouts "Offense." In fact, right now I am getting pretty offended by just thinking about the "O" bomb. Unfortunately when I am offended by the "O bomb" no one really cares.

[I am stopping here to catch my breath.]

Let's go back to the "personal attack" accusation. Here is how it works. Go back to Jack's Volvo or any other transgression. No matter what the perceived transgression is, if anyone can figure out from what you say about it,  you have engaged in a personal attack.  So, Billy Joe has been running a questionable foreign program for 20 years. If you complain you have personally attacked Billy Joe. It does not matter that you would complain no matter who is running it.  You can avoid this by saying "It is possible that someone, somewhere, at sometime, is running a less than 100% indispensable foreign program" or, in the case of Jack's insatiable need for 8.5 by 11, "Golly, I wonder where all the printer paper went." In other words, say nothing.

The personal attack is different from the  ad hominem attack as in: "Bill can't be right about that because he is a puppy kicker." Therefore, so the reasoning goes, it must be OK for me to take 1000 reams of paper for my personal use.

Tone complaints, do not engage, and accusations of personal attacks are ways to protect what is and to stop change when it threatens your fussy little world.

And, Joe Don Looney?  He never met and, therefore, did not know Will Rogers. He did not know what he was talking about any more than Jane knew what  Phil had actually said. [see above]

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Donald Trump Chair and Professor of Law




Many law professors hold this esteemed position. It is for those who sell nothing to unsuspecting buyers. Here is what I mean. There was a fellow at a law school at which I once taught. He was up for tenure and that meant class visitation. The visits took place over a 2 week period. Near the end of that time,  a student asked me why Professor Trump was giving the exact same lecture every day.  Yes, he had one particular presentation he had down pat and he went to that one whenever a visitor appeared.

And then the was the Trump professor who did his summer teaching by way of a prerecorded course. This way he could be paid for both teaching and research in the summer, a custom made side deal. One year, though, the same guy needed an extra course in the regular school year to qualify for a sabbatical. All of sudden the prerecorded course, that was offered at the same time it was always offered, was listed as occurring during the spring semester and our boy gets his sabbatical with no additional effort. He may be recruited by Trump U -- the experts in something for nothing.

A friend of mine who is a high school principal tells me that whenever he has to contract the parents of a student whose parents work at the university he call them at home. He asked me, "what is this working at home thing." Some people do work at home but some people are able to actually teach at home. One particular Trump professor, likely hired because he was the grandson of a political celebrity and former Harvard professor, managed to teach his students from home after creating a course that involved supervising students who were teaching high school students about law. Yes, no need to come in to do research or to teach. Nice (non) work if you can get it.

All of us have minor Trump appointments in the form of confercating -- going to conferences that are actually vacations. I am happy to say that the new dean at my school has a rule that you actually must do something at a conference before the School will fund it. God forbid! Great idea but there is still the moral hazard of a 5 minute minute panel appearance or recycling the very same work you reported on 23 other times.

I've blogged way too much about advocacy posing as scholarship and there is no better example of a dead weight loss. It's like throwing away money.

There are many Trump Professors who double dip. They purport to be full time academics but are actually part time while they are consulting or "of counsel." Here is the difference. Most true academics think pretty much all the time about their jobs. "'Could I have done that better in class?" "How would one counter the position I took in my last paper?" "What is a better way to measure the impact of that case?" It's not a matter of being noble. They cannot help it. Always thinking. Yes, I think I am talking about you.

The Trump professors have a time for school work and then a time for making money and self-promoting. Instead of ideas they spend a hunk of time working for others and thinking about what angles to play with book and article placement. In fact, the academic job is not full time for them. Instead they decide how much time they can afford to devote to it.  Maybe they are just bored. Maybe they are in the wrong business.  Here is the catch, when they interviewed for the job they talked about their love of teaching and research.  There is never a mention of how much time off they need for their other job. What's Trumpian? -- the old bait and switch.  Evidently the psychic income of having what can be the best job in the world is not enough.

I'll bet Trump never waits in line. His turn is always first even if more deserving people get there first. There are Trump professors in law teaching in the form of the so-called trailing spouse. Not all of them but there are instances in which positions are created, not advertised, and all of a sudden a line cutter shows up with a job that could have gone to someone who worked harder, would teach more students, but is sleeping with the wrong person.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Trump University, Law Schools, and Law Professors: Snark in the Water




I was going to write a really snarky blog about how much law school recruiting looks like it was designed by Donald Trump. I am not going to do that. After all, he lured people into paying. Law schools, nowadays, pay people to come. Sure, they pay them on the bases of GPA and LSAT scores and not whether they actually need the money to go to law school.  This often means the rich get richer but like all liberals this is OK as long as liberal law profs and administrators benefit. The reason for paying students is that it means the ranking goes up, whether or not the quality of the instruction does, and that means being able to use the money to attract even more possibly well-to-do high scorers the next year. But what's wrong with that? If you think about it, it's the way liberals roll -- high ideals until, oops, that is not working for moi.

I noticed that the web page for my own school it says "reknowed faculty" as do the pages for other schools. Renowed seems to have become the go-to word that everyone knows means "nothing special going on here." I knew what that meant but I still looked it up: "famous, celebrated, famed, eminent, preeminent great, etc. " Really? REALLY? I think this is just puffing. Only about 4 law professors in the world are famous and they are not necessary famous for the right things. But, it's OK, while not true it does not rise to Trumpian levels.

How about employment data. You announce that 90% of your students get jobs but not that you hire a couple dozen and when the rating agencies refused to count them as employed you dropped them. This is very clearly Trumpian. It's a version of cooking the books. Actually maybe Trump did not cook the books and so this is more Trumpian than the Donald himself.

Many schools have an extended list of courses offered. Do you think they are all offered? Of course not. - Trump. In fact, the entering student may or may get to order what was on the menu. But unlike a restaurant, once you are in, it is hard  get out.

Hiring the best faculty. Pleeeze. Hiring is highly dependent on who you know, who you are partnered up with, who the school does not want to offend, and who will spout laudatory things about a candidate because the spouter's school itself wants its grads to get teaching jobs. And tenure? This is a sliding scale. Make nice and you are in. Write enough and you are in. These are perfect substitutes for each other.

Sales tactics. You would have to ask others about that but we know the Personal touch is important to law schools and to Trump.

See not snarky at all. I am just  wondering how much separates law schools from Trump University.

 Now the question is how do the activities of law professors in their self promotional efforts match up with those of Trump University.  That will come later but watch out: Snark in the water!!! Why don't we start with writing that purports to be scholarship. machine graded exams, teaching 4 credit courses in two days, writing about the same topic over and over. Later on this, I need a beach trip.