Tuesday, October 30, 2007

And the Campus Visits Go To . . .

First out of the box for a campus visit is -- do you want to guess? -- You got it. Princeton/Harvard. I don't want to be too quick to be negative. After all maybe this is a person with a story to tell. Overcoming barriers, a zillion dollars of student loans. You never know.

But there is a another variable. Every law school candidate who goes through the normal recruiting channels fills out a form. On the form you are asked to list major publications. I think that excludes things that are not published and especially things that have not been written. Is it too much to attribute to someone who takes this opportunity to list those kinds of things a willingness to bend the rules in the favor of self-interest? And, if that is true, what will this person be like as a colleague? Is this the next person to insist that everything he or she has done -- from an 80 page article to a doodle while having latte at Starbuck's -- is scholarship?

So much for the lessons of history.

Dancing the Minuet

Then I thought it is actually all about class bias because to the extent a school is not like the ideal school it means there is a hubris often found among those with a sense of entitement.
1. Hiring is designed, in part,  to create an intellectual and philosophical balance so faculty can debate and hone their ideas about important issues. (At many schools, intellectual diversity is threatening.)
2. In hiring, performance, diversity, and energy are valued over credentials.(Most schools place high value on credentials even though they are as reliable as cubic zirconium as an indicator of value.)
3. Discussion can be had about everything – class, race, sexuality, the Middle East – without the discussion becoming personal, or people pouting, or stomping out of the room. (At most schools these matters are taboo because of faint hearts, fears of being labeled, and wanting to avoid complex issues.)
4. There is real collegiality as opposed to facial collegiality. (At many schools the appearance of being “nice” is sufficient and can be used to mask a great deal of self-dealing, free riding, externality production, and closed-door mischief.)
5. The administration and faculty announce and internalize goals and stress accountability. (At some schools, the administration takes whatever happens and spins it in order to claim success.)
6. There is an on-going effort to match the efforts – courses offered, degrees offered, foreign and domestic programs -- of the school with the needs and expectations stakeholders. (At other schools, there is no on-going assessment if someone’s turf would be disturbed.)
7. The faculty abide by the real NYT rule: Don’t do anything you would not want reported on in the NYT. (Many faculty, including some on my faculty, go by the “other” NYT rule: Don’t put anything in writing that you would not want reported in the Times.)
8. The ideal curriculum is planned and professors make sure it is offered even if it means extra effort. (At some schools, teachers are asked what they are “willing” to teach and when and that is what is offered.)
9. The dean has principals and principles. He or she considers the best interests of students and shareholders and does not comprise with self-interested faculty to achieve those ends. (At some law schools, deaning means displeasing the fewest number of faculty.) (Remember the old saying “It’s not a revolution if you ask permission.” How about, “It’s not deaning if you ask permission.”)
10. There is a sense movement, excitement, intellectual ferment, and even some dancing Monday – Friday throughout faculty offices. (Some schools have gone to a Tues – Thurs schedule, faculty are elsewhere, or suffer from the institutional Valium effect.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Classism and Racism in the Small Southern College Town

I do not know because I am white but if you could assign a number to the disdain white elites feel toward blue collar whites – say 5 – the disdain those same people feel toward working class blacks would have to be 5 with some exponent. I mean like 5 squared or cubed.

One of the more subtle forms of classism/racism is attitudes of Northerners and Westerners toward the South. It plays off this disdain. At my law School, in the deep South although others would argue otherwise, we tend to recruit from all over the country and when we get upper class whites, they often hate it here. In fairness, many also blend right in, love the freedom, clean air, and having a choice between the Atlantic and Gulf.

Why don’t they like it here? Mostly, it's not enough independent coffee shops, Panini places, and quaint shops where you can buy special teas and the like. Or, more accurately, what all those things represent. We (here I mean Southern college towns) have as many cultural events as any other college town or at least more than anyone can do. If you are thinking it's an urban rural thing, you would be wrong. Most often they long for some other college town. Recently I looked at some demographic data for the most desired college towns – Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor, Boulder, Eugene. Unless I read the numbers wrong, the African-American population of these cities is 12%, 8%, 1% and 1%. In my town it's 24%. And the 24% and the 76% (including Hispanics and other minorities) frequent the same places. (I did not check the income levels of minorities in Southern college towns but I have a hunch what that would show.) There is one mall, one downtown, one strip of car lots, two movie theater complexes and one tiny airport. In other words, we actually do live together – all classes and all races.

What this makes me wonder is whether those Northerners and Westerners who thumb their noses at the South and who, more than likely, claim to crave diversity only crave diversity for others but want no part of it themselves. I have written that it seems to apply in law faculty hiring decisions. Why not in where you live?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Did You Get Your Prius Yet?

The other day I told a friend I was thinking that my next car should be a Prius. His response, "Don't be silly, let someone else by a Prius." This person is not a law professor and probably has never heard the term "free riding." It was, though, a great example of free riding. That made me look around the parking lot at my School. Not a single Prius or other hybird car. I have written before about the fact that those with a sense of entitlement are most likely to be free riders.

One way it shows up is in the decanal glossy or law school porn, it is also called and the near uniform lack of law professor response to the waste. You know, that oversized postcard in the mail from another law school announcing that this year the Benjamin Robinson speaker will be Horst S. Butt from Harvard or Yale. Or the glossy announcing who is visiting that year. You can bet that I was just wondering about that. Or the big juicy glossy listing faculty publications right down to every op-ed piece, one-page introduction, tape-recorded commentary and speech to the Elks Club that every law faculty member insisted was scholarship and worthy of publicity and that every dean could not have been happier to add to list. Most of these come off a negative advertising both for the schools and for many of the faculty -- and I do not mean just those with very short lists.

Each day it comes and, like other matter, is shoveled from the mailbox to the trashcan. Yet, no matter how much you throw away, it comes again. It’s like the scene in Sleeper when Woody Allen is still pretending to be a robot and does something in the kitchen – I’ve forgotten what -- and it keeps expanding and expanding – and he is left to try to beat it to death with a broom. I do not recall if of prevails because at about this point in the film he discovers the orgasmatron.

Where does this stuff come from? No, I know who mails it: Panic-stricken law school administrators afraid their schools will drop a slot in USN&WR and the faculty, students for alums will be up in arms. I mean the paper, the ink, the labor, the money to pay the salaries of those assigned to prepare and mail it. Also,where does it all end up once it is carried away, largely unread, by the trash person? Most importantly, were is the outcry from potential Prius buyers who are oh so sensitive to the environment. Why aren't they demanding that law schools do something more useful like, for example, digging holes in the sand and then filling them back up and then using the money to put back together some 19 year old that Bush and Cheney sent off to be blasted apart.

I know why. The porn is about them. Stopping it is not.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You would be right if you think you see a silver spoon on the cover of this book. It has been out about a year now. It is The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, by Daniel Golden.

This is part of a review for the Washington Post's Book World by Jerome Karabel :

"That virtually all elite private colleges give preference to the sons and daughters of alumni will come as a surprise to no one. But preference also extends to wealthy applicants whose families have been identified as potential donors -- "development cases" in the parlance of the trade. Golden documents that even Harvard, with its $25.9 billion endowment, is not above giving preference to the scions of the super-rich. His primary example, however, of development cases being central to the admissions process is Duke, where the university embarked on a systematic strategy of raising its endowment by seeking out wealthy applicants. Golden estimates that Duke admitted 100 development applicants each year in the late 1990s who otherwise would have been rejected. Though this may be something of an extreme case, special consideration for applicants flagged by the development office is standard practice at elite colleges and universities.

Also enjoying substantial preference at elite colleges, both public and private, are varsity athletes. In a fascinating case study of women's sports at the University of Virginia, Golden shows how the effort to comply with Title IX, a gender equity law that has the praiseworthy goal of ensuring equality between female and male athletes, has had the unintended effect of giving an admissions edge to female athletes who play upper-class sports. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of college women nationwide in rowing, a sport highly concentrated in private schools and affluent suburbs, rose from 1,555 to 6,690; more recently, the number of female varsity horseback riders increased from 633 to 1,175 between 1998 and 2002. The net effect of the rise of these overwhelmingly patrician sports, Golden argues, has been to further advantage already advantaged women.

A recent study by the Century Foundation estimated that only 3 percent of freshmen at highly selective colleges came from the bottom socioeconomic quartile, compared to 74 percent from the top quartile. Growing awareness of this shocking disparity has led a number of leading private colleges and universities, including Amherst, Harvard and Princeton, to take measures to increase the number of low-income students. But Golden is surprisingly ambivalent about these efforts, fearing (perhaps justifiably) that the admission of more poor and working-class students will be accompanied not by a reduction of preference for the rich, but by a decline in the number of middle-class students. The Caltech model that he finds so appealing is utterly inadequate to address the problem. Given the magnitude of class disparities in educational achievement, only affirmative action for the disadvantaged -- what former Princeton president William Bowen has called a "thumb on the scale" for low-income students -- promises to produce significant results.

The Price of Admission estimates that the end of affirmative action for the privileged would open up roughly 25 percent of the places in the freshman class at elite colleges and, in so doing, free up spaces for aspiring students of modest origins. Based on my own research, I would estimate a figure of 10 to 15 percent -- still a considerable number. But the main beneficiaries of such a shift -- absent a more profound change in the prevailing definition of merit -- would not be the socioeconomically disadvantaged, but rather the children of the upper-middle class."

This Place

There is a wonderful book about the working class academics: This Place So Far From Home. It is a book of essays by working class people who find themselves in the foreign work of academia. A strange land, to be sure. Several of the essays remind me of trying to explain to my grandmother than just because I had a doctorate, I could not prescribe medicine for her aches and pains. The editors are C.L. Barney Dews and Carolyn Leste Law. Published in 1995 by Temple University Press. It's nice to read about a common experience.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Strategic Life

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about volunteers. It was inspired by an incident at my school that involved a person in charge of a cushy assignment “volunteering” to do the assignment himself. Here are some other examples. At my school, because we do not hire people to teach what the students need, 5 people are now teaching two large first year sections. I think when we all agreed to do it, it could be legitimately be regarded as volunteering because it looked like it would be difficult. Now a few of us have decided it is a breeze. One prep and 6 or 8 hours of your teaching obligation is done for the year – hardly anything that should create in the School a need to “compensate” us in one way or another. But a person employing the volunteer strategy will continue "I am doing you a favor" charade. I do not know if anyone is in this case.

Here is another one. In my second year of law teaching I was on an 8 person appointments committee. At our weekly meeting it was announced that the budget allowed for 6 people to go to D.C. Now we all know that profs moan and groan about going to the meat market but they really love it – be a big shot for a few days, drink, clown around. So, at the meeting the Chair asked, “Who wants to go.” Not a single hand went up. At the next meeting the Chair announced that every person on the committee had contacted him privately to “volunteer” to go. Wanting to go created no implicit debt but a “volunteer” deserves something in return.

Where is this going? Actually I know and I may be manufacturing something here that does not exist at all. But, can the volunteer schitk be part of an overall pattern of professional strategic behavior? If it is, is it a law professor thing, an upper class thing or just something everyone does.

The overall strategy has three components. First is the voluteer. Second, you are always working hard and overburdened. Even if you just finished an hour of spider solitaire, webboggle, or surfing the net, when you come of your office you are in the midst of something pressing. So many things to do! Third, there is the “show no passion” strategy. Best to appear indifferent. Basic bargaining -- no one has any leverage with you when you do not care. Be sure to use words like “Aren’t you concerned about X” as opposed to “I really do not like X.”

Am I describing my school? Actually, I can only think of a few people that consistently fit the model and you would be hard pressed to convince me that my School is different from any other. Have I used these strategies? I am sure I have from time to time.

But think about the hell of keeping all of these going all the time. Such is the strategic life and my hunch is that it is a behavior found mainly among the privileged.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Low socioeconomic class professors can experience one pleasure that is not available to their elitist counterparts -- out performing them or doing more with less. Not that all do but many do and I sense there is an underlying sense of pride when this happens. On every faculty I have served on there have been faculty members who did not have an elitist background and who ran circles around their colleagues. They overcame not only the initial prejudice in hiring but the documented biases of law reviews and a strong tendency by the elitist to discount their research. It has to be inferior, right? After all, they are not graduates of Ivy League schools.

I do not want to generalize too much here. It is not every elitist, by far, who wraps him or herself in the trappings of eliticity. On the other hand, I have heard that in actual experiments Harvard graduates mentioned that fact within, on average, 3 or 4 minutes of a new discussion. And, how many Ivy League law professors attempt to impress their classes by letting it "slip" that he or she is and Ivy League grad. My guess is that it is a high percentage.

But this is what really puzzles me. What exactly goes on at these elitist institutions? In my limited experience there appears to be no correlation between the level of elite education and the ability of a person to discuss art, music, history, or anything else. I could be wrong but, if not, is it possible they were so worried about grades that they forgot about the education itself. Or are these esteemed institutions simple selling repuation?

So you lower socioeconomic class achievers, stop feeling sorry for yourselves and feel sorry for your elitist colleagues. They can never experience of joy of doing it the hard way. Nor will they ever know if they could.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Are Students Exploited?

My view is that a legal education is an enriching experience even if it does not turn into a $100k plus starting salary. For many students, though, I think it is an investment in human capital. Based on the entry level salaries and placement data it is hard to believe it is an investment that is justified by the rate of return. Yet, I hear little discussion of either decreasing admissions or even placing in the recruiting literature a disclaimer that law school may not be a life changing efforts -- for the better that is. Some of this can be found in US News and World Report but that data is questionable and the massive advertising and student recruitment budgets, even by public schools, are hardly full disclosure.

The reason, albeit not the complete reason, is that lower enrollments mean fewer jobs and if there is anything the privileged are entitled to it is a cushy job. The fact that thousands of law students may be burdened with debt is simply not part of the equation. So let me ask you this: If some portion of law teaching jobs are made possible because students with incomplete information go into debt, or forgo incomes, or have two jobs, is there a moral distinction between those making law school policy and the coal mine owners of say 1920?