Saturday, March 29, 2008

Your Poor Baby!!

Yes, I practically weeping. And what about? It's those working conditions for Law Professors. No I am not talking about the secretaries who come to work everyday at 8 and leave at 5 and must use sick leave to take a sick child to the doctor.
I am talking about law professors who are so very important that their teaching schedules have to be just so or perhaps they "just cannot take it."
Think about it:
1. Some need Friday off because they go to so many important conferences where there are many other important people.
2. Some can't teach after 3 because that means hiring a care taker for the kids. By the way, who is taking care of the secretary's kids?
3. Some can't be on campus all that much because they live so very far away.
4. Some can't teach early in the morning because that would mean driving in when traffic is at a peak.
5. Some can't possibly teach more than 2 days a week because they have so much research to do. Poor things!!
6. Some just can't be in class more than 9 hours a week because, again, it would get in the way of all that important research.
I am so sad.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What's a Dean To Do?

When I first started writing for Moneylaw and for this blog I was very hard on deans. In part as a result of comments I have softened my view and come to realize what a pickle deans are in.

I am not thinking here about a top 10 or 15 school but a School ranked lower, let’s say 50th with little hope of moving to the 30s and unlikely to drop to the 60s. What does a School like that want from a new or old dean? For example, do the faculty want the dean to move the School to a higher ranking? Probably yes if it means doing so by increasing placement rates and entering GPAs or LSATs. Probably no if it means raising bar passage rates by revising the curriculum or increasing national prestige through increased scholarship. What’s the difference? That’s easy. What 50 wants is 39 while making 50 effort.

The dean could hire more productive people. That might work but, unless there is a huge number of retirements or resignations, the dean cannot hire enough at the margin to push 50 to 39. The dean could pay more to more productive people. But, when you think about it, deans do not have much money to play with and it takes more than a few more productive people to move a faculty up. Plus, if they are productive enough to make a difference, they are likely to be targets of other schools. What’s worse is that the group the dean really has to worry about is the 75-90% who are not leaving, ever. Those are the people who must be kept happy if the dean is to keep his or her job. Push too hard and the dean may be looking for another deanship. Thus, to avoid trouble the dean is well advised not to make too many distinctions.

Back to a version of the original question: How do you determine whether the dean at 50 has been successful or not? It cannot possibly be by keeping faculty 50 happy. That’s like telling the Devil Rays manager not to worry about a losing record as long as the players are happy. Moving the school’s ranking up by somehow making the faculty more productive is not in the cards. If that could happen, they would already be more productive. Perhaps it is to move the ranking up with smoke and mirrors. This means all kind of decanal glossies and advertising five-page articles as “meaningful” scholarship. Maybe that is the answer: The dean of 50 keeps his or her job by being a magician who attempts to make everyone, including the faculty at 50, appear to be something it is not. Poof!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Privileged Hats

As a law professor, one of the many things I cannot figure out is whether we are management, workers, or professionals. It seems we are all three. Supposedly in the context of governance we determine rules about the operation of a law school. In this role we make decisions ranging from courses offered to our own work loads. As workers we complain about management and policies unilaterally made without consultation. We see ourselves as working for a specific school. As professionals we have primary allegiance to the role of “law professor.” We can move from school to school and fit right in fairly seamlessly. Our focus is on profession-affecting developments.

Here is an example of the different perspectives. Two professors have offers to leave for other schools. One, the professional, says to the administration. “What package can you offer me to get me to stay?” “Me” is the operative word here. The other professor says “I’d like to stay but I would like the School to be a better place. Please tell me what it will be like here in the future.”

Here is another one. A huge meeting is called to discuss modernizing the curriculum. The discussion is about what the School might do if resources were available. See the division here? Now professors take on the worker mentality and the focus is on what could be done if management did its job. No one notes that every proposal is possible without additional funding if faculty would agree to work a bit harder and give up some activities that may have run their course in terms of effectiveness. In this context, faculty have no ownership in the operation; they are hired hands.

On the other hand, when an administration begins to take the lead and actually treat professors like workers, their role shifts. For example, an administration, after careful study, designs a fall schedule that includes all appropriate courses and places them in slots that minimize overlaps. Professors are notified with due consideration of their teaching specialties. The Administration quickly learns that this is unacceptable. Professor X says, “But it is my turn to teach Advanced Rigatoni.” And Professor Y, “I told you I do not want to teach in the first year.” And Professor Z, “I only teach two days a week.” In unison “We were not consulted!”

The problem is not that professors wear three hats. That seems unavoidable. The problem is how quickly so many switch hats when it suits them. Those less privileged have only one hat -- two at the most.

Monday, March 03, 2008

T.O., Law School Stars, and the Team

Over on Moneylaw, Jim Chen has noted the importance of playing for the team as opposed to oneself. He is writing about the Louisville basketball team but suggests the question can be applied to other university units. No doubt, he is thinking about law schools.

When it comes to a law school, is it possible that trying to rack up individual statistics detracts from the success of the team? Before thinking about this, one other factor should be noted. If players are too self-serving and the team suffers, the team loses. If the team loses enough, the coach is fired. Consequently, there is a control. A player who tries to run up his or her score by taking the shot and not passing to an open teammate will be benched.

In the context of law schools there are, therefore, two issues. How do we know when a law professor is detracting from the team and is the dean comparable to a coach who can control this problem?

Running up individual stats for a law professor may mean publication after publication -- lines on a resume -- without any real consequence. This means being on the "take" for every 10 page symposium opportunity, accepting every opportunity to speak even if it has all been said before, patronizing the students to inflate teaching evaluations and so on. In the individual race, all of these things look good and enhance the image of the individual especially to fellow self-promoters who want to legitimize these activities. Much of this activity is "froth" that is unrelated to the actual overall quality of the team's effort.
Deans have a choice. They can facilitate this process or take a closer look at what is good for the team and, thus, the school. Specifically, a dean can be a counter -- how may times has your name appeared on an article, how many talks did you give -- and ignore actually "nose to the grindstone" efforts. To this dean, a 5 page symposium piece is the same as a 60 page article. That type of dean is a disaster for the team. By encouraging individual stats the nature of the game is set. Competition among team members means more wastefulness. Or the dean may choose to put some faculty on the bench by indicating what is best for the team. This means not counting but actual attention to depth. For example, is the work original? Does it represent painstaking research? Does the work represent a new direction for the faculty member or another safe effort?
Finding a losing law school team often means finding a coach who does not know the difference between running up individual stats and winning.