Sunday, July 31, 2016

So Many Questions



Here is what I believe to be a reasonable comment [in Roman]over on the tax prof blog about the tax (non) "issues" at UF and my responses [in italics].  Two comments: First, I think I have never seen any instances in which people who claim to have the best interests of a program at heart have done so much to communicate that it is declining. What are they thinking? 

Second, the information from the alum comes from inside the law school as does mine. I could be wrong, thus,  I want to invite anyone who wants to from the law school to correct me. I will turn over the blog to them. For most part all of these are turf protection statements and are not relevant with respect to the quality of the program. That is not determined by who signs off on schedules or what room a course is taught in. Instead it is based on the quality of the students and instruction.

Professor Harrison: First, try and be less patronizing and more respectful. If anyone is being blindly loyal, it's you to the dean.
Now, here are the facts as presented to us, alumnus:
(Who presented them? Why does he or she hide?)

1. Mike Friel stepped down as the Associate Dean and Director of the Tax Program a couple weeks ago; he will remain as an adjunct professor this fall and for up to 3 years.
All true as far as I know. But a little context. People who retired as of June 30 received a payout of all accumulated sick leave. I do not know how much his was but mine, if I had taken it, was 75K. If you retire after than you receive zero. Was this a factor? How could it not be? Plus, the adjunct deal that the dean gave him is the richest one I have heard of. Sounds like a win win for Friel and the School. He is still here doing what he is great at and he got the retirement pay out.

2. Professor Lidsky, a constitutional law professor, is now the Associate Dean for Graduate Tax.
Professor Lidsky is not a con law professor. In fact, she has held administrative posts before and is Dean for all Graduate Programs. She is bright, energetic, and experienced. But this statement suggests there is something wrong with Professor Lidsky. The tax program is lucky to have her. I understand this to be an interim post with a search taking place this year.

3. Professor Mashburn, a Senior Associate Dean, is now assigning graduate tax courses- which had always been handled by the Graduate Tax administration.
The way it works is this. Each year we write down on a form what we want to teach next year and, for the most part, that is what we teach. "Assigning" is a formality and such assigning always goes through the Dean's office. I do not know if Professor Mashburn will be the one who signs off but that, for the most part, except for the JD program, there is self-assignment.

4. The Tax Program has lost its dedicated classroom and the 60-minute hour class has been reduced to 50 minutes.
Two parts. The dedicated classroom seats 112. In recent years tax has had only one course that needed a room that large. On the other hand, there are other classes that are closed with students still wanting in them because of the "dedication." The classes, like all law classes will be 50 minutes, This is the same at other law schools which our faculty regularly visit with no problem. 

5. Control of student records, registration, and admissions have been removed from the Graduate Tax Administration and is now in the purview of the general law school.
I do not know all the details on this and I am struggling to figure out its relevance. I certainly hope someone with Friel's credentials was not doing this. If not, it is done by a secretary and does it matter where the secretary is?

6. Based on recent retirements (Dilley & Hudson), leaving faculty (Marian who maybe saw what was coming), and planned retirements, the Tax Program will be down from 10 to five faculty members as of next year.
These numbers may not reflect much at all. For example, Hudson also taught other courses and I think Willis does too. In addition two faculty teach tax course but for some reason (to artificially depress the numbers?) are not listed as tax. There are critical adjuncts as well. I can think of no less than 10 people who teach tax. Plus, enrollment in some classes is very very low. This year 67 students will enroll and the acceptance rate was 80%. Student faculty ratio is a better measure of staffing adequacy.

7. The Tax Faculty is no longer called the “Tax Faculty”; rather, they are law professors who teach tax-related courses.
I am not sure this is an official designation. If it is or was, I did not know it. Everyone I talk to says "tax faculty" and not "law professors who teach tax related courses." But what difference does this make in terms of the quality of what happens in the classroom?

8. The Administration has promised the Program that they can keep the tax office space for one year.
I do not know anything about this but I am confident everyone will have and office and all the usual functions will be taken care of.

9. The Tax Program’s staff administrator position has been taken away.
You might be talking about the lady who was paid by UF but determined to be living in another state and I do not mean commuting from Waycross. I heard that position could have been filled by someone who actually came to work but simply was not filled by the tax faculty.  If it was taken away and if it was the lady who lived in another state (not even Valdosta) and simply was not filled, I wonder if the position was ever necessary.

10. ½ the Research Assistant budget has been taken away, and it appears a larger cut is coming.
I have heard nothing about this but, quite honestly, I do not know what research budget means -- time off for research, research assistants,??  The tax faculty already teach lighter loads than others. To the extent it brings their budget into line with everyone else, I applaud it since, as a group, they are no more or less  productive than the large bulk of the faculty.

Are these not true? How is this modernizing and improving the best program UF Law has to offer? Please explain, I honestly want to know. I love this school, it did great things for me and I want to see it do well.

The best way to see it do well is to stop repeating those who say it is in decline. And think about modernizing seriously. This fall 80% of those applying were accepted and 45% or 67 students will register.  More attention needs to be paid to recruitment, tracking of graduates, and making the program accessible to those who cannot afford a year in residence in Gainesville. In terms of modernizing, most of the measures make the Program leaner and reduce duplication of efforts, both very much needed in light of declining applicants and students. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

PLEASE DON'T DISMANTLE TAX!!



In my previous post  I praised the new Dean at UF. Someone, perhaps disingenuously, perhaps sincerely, wrote a comment (anonymously) asking me to list what her accomplishments are. Although many anonymous commentators could not tie Rod Stewart's shoe, I responded with a list that can be found in the comments section of my past post.

To make a long story short although it is too late now, one of my answers was "modernize the LLM in tax." To that I got this -- yes, anonymous -- comment: "By modernizing the LLM program, do you mean by dismantling it and not hiring outstanding faculty to replace those that are retiring?"

This particular  phrasing has been used repeatedly by people who are being manipulated, in my opinion, to fight self-interested battles of those  terrified of changing a 50s style LLM program into a 21st Century LLM program to the benefit of all. Some of this has occurred evidently in a mass mailing. In fact, I expect to see  T shirts that say "Don't dismantle tax." The ANONYMOUS commentator is parroting a rumor possibly spread, encouraged, and, hatched by people at UF who are afraid of moving forward.

I've decided to respond to this clearly disingenuous and anonymous question, (Rod Stewart's shoe aside) as what might be called a teaching moment. Oh, that's to high minded sounding. Let say it is a blah blah moment during which I try to dissuade others from buying into every rumor that emanates from UF Law. Riling up students and alums to advance personal ends is pretty desperate.

1. Dismantling: As far as I know there is no dismantling unless that means making the program more attractive and exciting. And, as far as I know, if any retiring people are not replaced it will simply reflect the fact that we do not replace all people who retire because of budget issues. Four or five people retired from UF Law this year. As far as I know, none will be replaced except maybe tax. Again, the  commentator/questioner has been duped into thinking that tax is any different from any other area.

Since the tax program attracts many fewer applicants than a few years ago, the class is smaller, and so few JD students take tax courses (what is with that? when I when to law school most people took at least 2) most people would agree that it makes little sense to replace everyone who retires. Again, I do not know that people will not be replaced but in the interest of simple economics, I personally would not replace them.

2. Dismantling and not replacing are the same question but let's get real about the LLM at Florida. It is the third ranked LLM according to  US News but in some other rankings it is much lower. I believe the Dean is struggling to make sure the US News ranking is maintained despite the loss over the past several years of some true tax stars and a serious case of inertia.  As for how outstanding the current faculty is, I cannot say since I do not pay much attention to the area. I am pretty sure there is definitely one outstanding scholar and perhaps more. A rumor is that two others, well-versed in tax,  are more or less excluded from being "official" which in both cases makes no sense to me. Just sliding those two over into tax to replace retirements would be a big step. I hope the Dean does this but I am happy to have no influence.

So if there is no dismantling of what is one of UFs highest ranked programs (whether reality based or not) what would be the interest in not hiring the best person possible? If we hire I am sure the sights will be very high and possibly higher than some would like.

There you go bated breath commentator!!!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

INSIDE OUT OOZE



For ten years my law school had a Dean who defined  his job as keeping himself as Dean. You know what this means -- for a mid level law school like my own it means avoiding any shake-ups, pleasing the majority of faculty most of the time regardless of the consequences for the students, taxpayers and other shareholders, picking battles very very carefully with only the people who are not part of any discernible constituency. Mainly, that Dean avoided any decision that could upset people. He shifted them to the faculty instead causing all kinds of ill will that would have been avoided if he had simply stood for something other than keeping himself as dean.

After watching this dean and his immediate predecessor, I took to the internet in the form of this blog to bitch, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I understood that I would be going outside the system instead of working within it. I don't claim at all that I had any part in the events that led to substantial improvement. In fact, I may have made it worse but it was therapeutic and I found like thinkers (and haters) I did not know existed. As for working within in the system, the system existed to avoid change and to silence those who suggested it. Please spare me the inside the system BS.

But now tables have turned. I think the new Dean is fabulous. I agree with every decision she has made except two minor ones. She has the courage to make decisions the system could not make and is willing to take the flack that follows instead of forcing the faculty to bleed. She regards the Law School as more important than the self-interest of petty cliques within the law school. She lives the saying "you do not ask permission to start a revolution.

A few individuals worry about top down management. We tried the opposite and it was a dismal failure. One response is the same as mine was -- go outside the system. I should not complain, right? One faculty member -- the Michael Corleone of the Law School -- and maybe others get on the phone and rile up those who owe him. So, I am wondering if there is a difference between these two versions of going outside. I think there are four differences.

1. The new version is to protect a status quo that is crumbling.
2. It appears to deal in half-truths or out right misrepresentations or, in its most benign form it evidences no willingness to correct these distortions if the advance the case.
3. It involves using others, who lack full information,  to achieve certain ends.
4, The person making the greatest outside the system efforts never speaks publicly or takes any public stands.  Instead the communicating is similar to a steady, persistent ooze.  How's that for courage?

Are there any ethical standards for those who work outside the system, even those who prefer to avoid taking responsibility?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Charity for the Haves and Administrative Stipends




My university, in a jaw-drooping exercise of hubris, just up and unilaterally terminated payment of part of compensation already due employees. This compensation was in the form of a pay out for unused sick leave.  (As an aside (note the the parentheses) there should not be sick leave payouts. It is the ultimate class-based benefit. Why? Guess which folks in the University are least likely to use sick leave? You've got it -- elitist professors and high level administrators who are then able to cash in for upwards of 100K while staff people account for every hour.)

Ok, the plan was crazy and designed so the haves get even more. Still, it was part of the compensation package, it vested after 10 years, and many, many lower paid untenured people, who needed the pay out more than others,  got ripped off. After paying for decades UF said, "no more" even if you vested and it was retroactive. I guess University officials could say it is not compensation at all in which case maybe past UF officials should be doing time for making gifts for several decades.

If you retired by June 30th you got the pay out (or is that "pay off") and a small handful of people took the dough who were likely to retire anyway.  But some just were not quite ready to retire. They wanted the dough but they also wanted to keep their humongous salaries for a little longer.

What do to with the obvious deserving-of-more-more-more people?  You've got it. Extra paid leave or special new duties as senior envoy/assistant for the purpose of  . . . . . Well that is kind of the catch.  The new higher salary is for doing what they were doing or were expected to do. Yes, it is another situation in which professors who are working at full capacity all of a sudden aren't at full capacity when there is some money on the line. As in, "sure I have time to teach an extra course," or "sure, I can be special envoy to revise the environmental law program." Come on! Hit me with one of those   "administrative stipends."

Of course we know that haves always get more especially when the givers are also haves. So, how do the haves cut side deals to make up for the lost sick leave pay out? Use your imagination but do not doubt for a second that it occurs.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Thieves, Rent Seeking, and Pie











In his classic 1967 article on rent-seeking (which does not actually use the term because it had not been coined at that time) Gordon Tullock explained that the cost of theft was not that one person's property was taken by another. In fact, that transaction in isolation may increase welfare. The social costs were the reactions of those attempting to avoid theft and those refining their skills. Richard Posner extended the analysis when he wrote about the costs of monopoly. Again, it was not that some became richer at the expense of others but that enormous sums were invested in bringing about the redistribution. In neither case do the rent seeking, social-cost-producing efforts create new wealth.

Still, in the case of Tullock and Posner the social costs were at least about something. There was a "there" there in the form of a chunk of wealth to bicker over. But now we come to law professors and law schools.

Law professor efforts to self-promote have exploded. Included are repeated visits to the Dean asking for one thing or another, resume padding, massive mailings of reprints, posting SSRN download rankings, or, even better, emailing 200 friends asking them to download a recently posted article, churning out small symposia articles because deans often want to see lines on resumes as opposed to substance, playing the law review placement game, and just plain old smoozing ranging from name dropping to butt kissing. Very little of this seems designed to produce new wealth. If fact, think of the actual welfare-producing activities that could be undertaken with the same levels of energy -- smaller classes, more sections of needed courses, possibly even research into areas that are risky in terms of self promotion but could pay off big if something new or insightful were discovered or said. But this is the part that puzzles me. Whether the thief in Tullock's case or monopolist in Posner's, the prize is clear. What is the prize for law professors? Are these social costs expended to acquire rents that really do not exist or are only imagined? What are the rents law professors seek?

Law schools make the professors look like small potatoes when it comes to social costs. Aside from hiring their own graduates to up the employment level, they all employ squads of people whose jobs are to create social costs (of course, most lawyers do the same thing), produce huge glossy magazines that go straight to the trash, weasel around with who is a first year student as opposed to a transfer student or a part time student, select students with an eye to increasing one rating or another, and obsess over which stone is yet unturned in an effort to move up a notch. I don't need to go through the whole list but the point is that there is no production -- nothing socially beneficial happens. That's fine. The same is true of Tullock's thief and Posner's monopolist. But again, and here is the rub. What is the rent the law schools seek? Where is the pie that they are less interested in making bigger than in just assuring they get the biggest slice possible? What is it made of?

At least thieves and monopolists fight over something that exists. And they often internalize the cost of that effort. Law professors and law schools, on the other hand, may be worse. They do not know what the prize actually is; they just know they should want more; and the costs are internalized by others.