Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Privileged Insanity

Law professors are well aware of the idea of "not guilty by reason of insanity." The idea is the person who is accused of a crime is not guilty for purposes of criminal law if, due to some psychological impairment, he or she can not appreciate the different between right and wrong.

It seems possible that the same analysis could be applied to the privileged. In particular, is a sense of entitlement analogous to a sickness that removes from privileged people a sense of guilt that, if present, would mean their behavior might change? We claim to treat those whose insanity results in violating criminal laws. No such treatment seems to be available for those with "privileged insanity."

Here are three examples from legal education but can there be any doubt that the best example from outside legal education is George Bush and his insane war.

For a while at my school professors taught and graded members of their families. When finally challenged they were offended. Believing that it is "right" to have family members in one's class is, well, crazy. If the display of being offended by the objections was sincere, one can only surmise that they could not understand the difference between right and wrong. This insanity is explained not by deprivation but by excessive affirmation.

A student and graduate of an elite school gets an A on an exam with a 2200 word limit for answers. He writes 2900 words instead and his grade is lowered to a B+ . The student is incensed that he did not get the grade he earned. Parents call the school, emails are written, complaints are lodged. The insanity of being shocked not to be held to the rules that apply to others can only be explained by the conviction that one is special. The sense of entitlement again can only come from years of excessive privilege.

A law professor proposes a special program but, in doing so, does not disclose his own personal and financial ties to the overseas site of the program. It may not occur to him to do so, although on a daily basis we read about conflicts of interest. If it actually does not occur to him he obviously lacks the ability to tell right from wrong. This again suggest a history of being taught he is different with respect to observing everyday standards of honesty.

Again, the inability to distinguish right from wrong is hardly an affliction only of those on the wrong side of criminal law. It is regularly found among the privileged. Maybe a year or two of treatment is just what they need.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Privileged Behaviors

At a faculty meeting the other day, a professor got up and reported that one professor had slapped another one. It was a way of criticizing the Dean for not punishing the alleged aggressor. The actual event had occurred several weeks ago, the Dean knew about it, undertook an investigation, and evidently decided the “slap” was something far less serious and that at some level both parties had left much to be desired with respect to their behavior.

But “the slap” is not the point of this post. Instead is that when the faculty member arose to repeat his version of the event there were people in the meeting who knew all that I have written here and remained utterly silent. That is, they permitted a person to state facts that they knew were inaccurate and harmful to others but there they sat. Not a word.

Increasingly, I think this is yet another characteristic of the privileged. Far more than those less privileged they are likely to remain silent, allow others to suffer, and avoid controversy.

If you believe in cost benefit analysis, what is the cost to the privileged of sticking their necks out from time to time? First, they never miss a free riding opportunity. The wise course of action for these folks is to wait and see if someone else will take the plunge. Second, for the privileged, controversy itself is a cost. It does not matter what the cause is. If there is any chance of a “fight” they disappear.

When you think about it, this is the essence of being privileged. Being privileged means having a sense of entitlement. If you are entitled it is unseemly to try too hard, stick your neck out, or appear to want something too much. The status quo is that you deserve what ever you want. If they ever slip up it is to complain that you have encroached on their scope of entitlement. Thus, their response to confrontation is that you have insulted them or distrusted them or behaved inappropriately. In other words the issue is your treatment of them – not the real issue.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Equations: Tops in Shame

Ever wonder what accounts for the inability of privileged people to see what the opportunity costs are of spending (usually someone else's) money on things they find convenient? Or is it that they feel entitled to these things? Here are some examples that make my jaw drop, and I am sure I am only scraping the surface.

1. UF's new $20 million Law building. In a perverse application of a peak load planning strategy the building is only used to capacity from about 10 AM to 2 PM, Monday through Wednesday. Nights, weekends, evenings, Thursday, Friday, summer, late afternoon? Pretty empty. So why is this? 30 or so professors like to teach not too early, not too late, and they like to get an early start on the weekend. No one has the you know whats to tell them no. By saying "no" a few times and moving around a few classes, a $10 million upgrade would have done the job for years to come.

Is there any way $10 million could have been used to increase the welfare of Floridians more than an empty building? I am tempted to say virtually any way would have been better but, in fact, in Alachua county, the home of UF, 23% of the population lives below the poverty line. Let's see . . . a $20 million Law building built to accommodate a handful with money that could have provided housing for 200 families? That can only makes sense to those with a sense of entitlement.

2. The most egregious if not for the fact that it is relatively small: $30,000 - $40,000 a year for a program that involves flying UF law professors to Poland to lecture Polish students about American law. The aspirations of those those students -- to get jobs with big law firms. Thus, in a bizarre system of redistribution, funds flow through the Law School to multinational law firms who are evidently too cheap (or too wise) to invest in Polish students themselves. I guess UF could just write a check to those law firms with the understanding that they would train Polish students. That would be great news for the 23% in Alachua county who are without adequate medical care. Not!

3. This is an estimate but, having been part of the process, I would say that the effort to recruit new faculty at UF Law this year cost in excess of $100,000. There are trips for committees, lodging, meals, candidate visits, catered meals, etc. The net result is one hire of one beginning professor who will not teach a full load and will receive summer grants for six years. And, it is not clear that the professor had offers from a single other school. He may be great and I think he will be, but did it take $100,000 plus to land him?

So what could done with $100,000 other than flying faculty to and from recruiting conferences, feeding them at the most expensive restaurants in town, and paying the highest airfares?

I have a hunch that the 23% living a few miles away could answer this. Of course, no one asks them nor do they ask themselves: Is this the best use of other people's money?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Follow the Money

Does the idea of following the money have any application to legal education? Not directly but the theme can be applied.

In its conventional form the question means who benefits from a misdeed. In the law school context the question is “who loses the money if misdeeds are corrected.”

The misdeeds I am referring to are (for some but not all schools) a lack of interest in seriously evaluating teaching effectiveness and deliberately sloppy scholarship reviews at tenure time. You know what I mean, internal reviews written by log rolling buds and shopping in the easy letter market for outside reviews.

Who gets the money? That’s easy, legal education is controlled by the graduates of a handful of elite law schools and law professors are disproportionately from the privileged classes.

My hunch is that if Moneylaw principles were adopted – which I take to mean hiring, promotion, tenure, and raises based on rigorous and objective evaluation -- there would be a shift of the “money” from the elites to the non elites.

Could I be wrong? Of course I could be but the elites generally seem to agree. When is the last time one of them aggressively advanced an agenda of honest teaching and scholarship review? Why take the chance when the system is rigged in your favor?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chicken Fingers

I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that read:

“A working man who votes Republican is like a chicken who likes Colonel Sanders.”

I personally think this is true but, if you live in the South and many other places as well, you know it is not a slogan that most people pay attention to.

What makes working class people vote so often for politicians who promote the interests of their bosses? So-called liberals chalk it up to racism because this helps justify their lack of interest in class issues.

I think there is a different, more subtle, explanation. For whatever reason, the “face” of the Democratic Party is one of elitists. After all, Bill Clinton tried to appoint to his cabinet Zoe Baird, half of a $600,000 a year couple who were willing to pay only $24,000 to the caretaker of her only daughter. Rock stars, movie stars, glamorous authors tend to be Democrats and behave in a way working class people regard as immoral.

The Democratic image problem seems unfair because there must be as many elitists and rule-benders among Republicans. But Republicans are perceived to be less likely to use bad language, more likely to go to church, and to listen to country music, and more likely to fly an American flag with pride: cultural mores that working class people tend to share.

But the problem is not which party has more elitists. The actual problem is two-fold. First, Democrats have become progessively less interested in class in the last 50 years. Second, even if they claim to be advocates for the "working man," they are woefully ignorant of the what it means to be a working class person in America. A law professor would have no idea, for example, what it would be like to get up at 7:00 and return home at 6:00 after a day of physical work - no leisurely visits to the faculty lounge, no extended gossip sessions, no time to go to the dentist, etc. A law professor could not conceive of living on $15.00 an hour or his/her spouse bartending nights to make ends meet or worry about the price of ground beef or deciding to eat hot dogs once a week in order to make ends meet. They tend to shudder at things blue collar.

I watch this process play out at my job. I think I am pretty good at spotting the very few working class students who filter into even a state law school. It is profiling to be sure, but they are more likely to have acne scars, poor dental work, out of date hair styles (no mullets thank God) and to be overweight. When the first “dress up” occasion is held, the men and women are more likely to look like they read “court attire” to mean “Scarface attire.”

As these people move through law school, they get a belly-full of “liberal” indoctrination that is at best class-neutral and probably anti blue collar. When it comes to research assistant positions they are befuddled by why they were not chosen and Ms. Perfect Smile is. And when profs chum it up with students, you can bet it is not with the students who have even a smidgen of working classness about them. Perhaps this is understandable: people are more comfortable around those who are like them. So much for "embracing diversity."

Who would get your vote. Someone who does not care about you but is honest about it. Or someone who claims to care but actually finds you an inconvenient reminder of his own hypocrisy?