Monday, December 31, 2007

More Class Confessions

Dear Jeff;
I can top anything anyone has listed so far. I was getting ready for the hiring convention. I did not own a suit and had not owned one for years. I can give you details about how that happens but it's not so important. I could afford one but just did not ever need one.

I took off to the local department store to find a "good suit" for my AALS interviews. I knew nothing about conservative as opposed to sporty or anything else. I had never heard of Brooks Brothers. It's a class thing. So what a wonderful suit I found. Double vents, wide lapels and something going on with the legs of the trousers. I am not sure what. YES! I had bought the pinky ring of suits. I would have probably worn a real pinky ring like my uncles but I could not afford that. To top off my fashion statement, at the convention, I wore a tee shirt under my dress shirt. It had a message that could be read right through the dress shirt. I did not realize it at the time having no need to check myself out in the mirror. I knew I looked good.

So, off I go to the convention. When I see my old law profs they do not really seem like the want to talk. In fact, it's almost like they do not want to be seen with me even though they wrote wonderful letters on my behalf. The interviews go OK but with 30 interviews I get only two callbacks -- oddly, one from a top 15 school and one from a below 50 school.

Flying back home I run into a prof of mine on the same flight. We are the only two people from our school on the flight. He does not want to sit together and keeps looking around as I attempted to engage him in conversation while waiting in line.

I got a job and wore the suit for years to all faculty social events. There was always a hush when I entered the festivities. Then one evening at a very posh affair one of my colleagues got a little loaded and said "Just keep wearing that suit and eventually it will be appropriate."

Huh? I was stunned. Was it possible I was not the coolest dressed guy. I went home and began looking on the internet and entered "business suit" which led me to Dress for Success and I realized that I had probably been laughed at for years.

But how was I to know? No mentors, no professionals in my family. And, evidently, not very observant.

So, can someone top that?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More Class Moment Readers' Email

As you can see from the last post, I am publishing comments from readers about moments of class recognition. Here is another one:
Dear Jeff:
I can top those. I was 19 in 1974 and an undergraduate. I spotted this girl and we talked after class a few times. I finally asked here after sociology if she wanted to go have lunch. She said yes. I was confident I knew the perfect place. A new mall had been built in town and it had a Sears. I had been there once already and the Sears had a cafeteria. To me it was heaven. In the dessert section bowl after bowl of cubed Jello with dabs of Cool-Whip. Lots of mash potatoes and Salisbury steak. Yum!!

Yes, you guessed it. That is where I took her. When we drove to the mall, all was fine. As we approached Sears she was walking slower. By the time we got to the cafeteria there was just something about her expression and posture that told me this just was not right. I told her to "eat up." I had the works including two desserts. I tried to keep the mood upbeat but it was not working. She picked at her roll and salad for about 30 minutes. I took her back to campus, she thanked me and that was the end.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Class Moments from Readers' Email

1. I was in 8th grade Algebra. The teacher was using an example that involved allocating a fixed amount of money to buy several items. In the course of it, she says, “Now if you were buying good shoes, you would never go to Sid’s.” [Sid’s was the local discount shoe store.] I had never been to any shoe store other than Sid’s not, as far as I knew, had any member of my family.

2. I was in 12 grade and I needed a pair of shoes. I was feeling happy. My girlfriend had shoes called Wejun’s. I think they were the “in’ shoes at that time. We were going to shop for my shoes and drove by my house to get money. My mom was there. It was Friday early evening and shoe had just cashed her pay check. She reluctantly handed my $10 and I asked for more. She said “That’s enough for shoes. You should go to Penny’s.”

3. Age 19 in 1970, being transported for a draft physical. I am the only white person on the bus.

4. I am a law professor. A privileged colleague and I share a taxi from the airport to a conference site. On the way in she sees that the cabbie has a radar detector. The cab and the cabbie look beaten up. The radar detector is dented. My colleague tells the cabbie she just ordered on from a pricey catalogue. He looks at her not understanding. He has never heard of the catalogue.

5. A colleague and I are law professors. We invited our classes to meet after exams for a beer. Some white students and no Black students show up. She concludes that the black students must not be able to afford a beer. She has no view on why some white students are not there.

6. I am in law school. Because we are from the same small town I befriend another student. His face is pock-marked, his teeth chipped and some are brownish. He is a smoker. I notice people are friendly to me unless I am with him. They tend to avoid him.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

1970 - 2005 -- Class Consciousness

I am not surprised anymore about class differences but I am surprised by the lack of sensitivity to class differences especially among the privileged. One of my first real experiences with this goes back to being an undergraduate in the late 60s. Periodically there would be meetings of all sorts of leftish, anti-war types. It occurred to me then that the group could be broken down into three categories. There were the rich kids for whom being a “revolutionary” was fun. Like a role playing game. When the marches and arrests were over they headed to Europe or on ski trips. The working class kids, those who could pay a heavy price of being too revolutionary, struggled to find summer or holiday break jobs. In these groups were also Blacks – a handful of students and some towns people. What did they think? My sense is that they rightfully were not fully trusting of their allies. They understood that, at least for the rich kids, nothing was on the line. Grow long hair, smoke dope, get laid, paint your face, march, and the safety net was always there in form of mommy and daddy. Only the rich kids seem to be completely ignorance of these differences.

Now flash forward 35 years and the same rich kids are in charge of legal education and still protected by one safety net or another. More importantly, they still remain utterly insensitive to class difference. They is by design. To recognize class difference is to accept the fortuity of their status. If a seed of recognition creeps into their consciousness their instinctive reaction denial. For most privileged people, recognition the their current status is a result of the luck of the parental and genetic draw and not merit can result in ego free fall. Think of it. Where to they go – emotionally, that is – when they give up the idea that they are entitled to what they have.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just Wondering About None of the Above

Over on Moneylaw I have posted my annual objection to multiple choice machine graded exams (MCMG) for law students. To me it is a sign of laziness. And, since it denies the students the opportunity to communicate that they know law is imprecise, fuzzy, and inconsistent, it is also demonstrates a disregard for students. (Of course, students may like them but that is a different question than whether they are consistent with the best possible evaluation.)

One of the consistent themes of this blog has been that elitists have a powerful sense of entitlement. In law teaching it translates into "what is in my self interest must be right." There are many ways this manifests itself, one of which is the all out effort to avoid merit-based decisions. The example of this I have stressed lately is elitist hiring policies. These policies are not supported by a molecule of evidence that an elitist education makes for better law teaching.

If the sense of what is good for me is good for you extends to hiring policies, could it also apply to testing. Is there a correlation between reliance on MCMG exams and elitist tendencies? It stands to reason. MCMG exams save time, do not permit student communications and do not test what law school is supposed to teach -- reasoning and analysis. The only way to get to the conclusion that they are acceptable is to view law school as all about the professors as opposed to the students.

So, as an empirical matter is reliance on MCMG tests correlated with class? If so, does this also mean that missing classes then up went it suits the professors as opposed to the students is also a class related matter. How about traveling on the the School's tab when the travel is actually more for fun than work. Let's add support of programs and centers that are unrelated to the welfare of law school stakeholders.

I cannot conduct that study but if I could my money would be on all these things being more prevalent among elitists than among the few non elitists found in legal education.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Informal World of Non Elites

A friend suggested to me that class bias is so powerful that it never really wears off. What he meant was that even if a non elite cracks through, somehow gets a law teaching job, and then tenure, many things remain the same. The clique of the elites is never open to the non elites. You know this by the way the elites "connect" on a social level, drop the same names, and observe the same social mannerisms. It is not something I had thought about. The humorless and dull world of elites has never been attractive to me. I just cannot get the hang of the minuet.

Reflecting in this idea, though, made me realize that sometimes the treatment of non elites who do sneak in is quite damaging. I recall one non elite recruited early in my career who was quickly assigned administrative duties that placed his scholarship in jeopardy. He obviously was not taken seriously as a potential scholar. Other non elites got tenure with flying colors but just never seemed to get the recognition they deserved. The celebrations and congratulations seemed to be reserved more for elites.

On the other hand, I cannot say that I have seen a non elite run into a higher or different standard for tenure and promotion. And, at my school, the market has worked to the advantage of non elites since they have been recruited away in relatively greater numbers than elites. This I regard as supporting the idea that mid level law schools like mine would do better to recruit highly ranked non elites.

So what does this add up to. First, non elites are virtually closed out of law teaching. Second, if they somehow get their foot in the door, I cannot say that I have seen any out and out discrimination in terms of tenure and promotion. This may simply be a part of the overall characteristic of elites never to admit they have made recruiting mistakes. Third, I am convinced that non elites do work in a very different world. For example, law reviews make publication offers on the basis of credentials. Elites can call on the elite networks and old professors to read their work and to be thanked in the name-dropping acknowledgement footnote. And elites seem far happier to see elites succeed than they do to see non elites succeed. It is an affirmation of their own claims to be entitled.

Mainly, as I told my friend, "Why worry about this?" Would you really rather be one of them?