Thursday, July 30, 2009

Class Bias Part 1: Replay

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on em
Thats what the statue of bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, lets club em to death
And get it over with and just dump em on the boulevard.
Lou Reed, Dirty Blvd.

I have been asked to clarify my views on class bias in law school hiring. As I see it, there are three questions. What do I mean by economic diversity? Second, what does economic diversity bring to the table? Finally, how would one go about hiring for this type of diversity? (I’d prefer not to use the term “affirmative action” which seems to have different and shifting meanings.) Before addressing these issues – one per week – I want to add a qualification. My focus is purely utilitarian. Will an increase in economic diversity (assuming the premise that it does not currently exist is correct) enhance teaching and research? Although I personally feel that children of poor and working class families have been excluded and there are issues of equity to consider, that is not my concern here. For now at least, I am not willing to ask today’s taxpayers to compensate today’s working class children because of what may or may not have happened to their parents. In the context of public schools, that may be nothing more than an intra-class redistribution.

To me class differences in the classroom and in scholarship are not about likely positions on specific issues. If that is what I were after, I am not sure economic diversity would get me there. (Plus, to be honest I am weary of hiring decisions, particularly at my School, based on how the candidate is likely to vote on specific issues.) I am thinking about a different perspective or sensitivity. I know this gets uncomfortable but a good example of what I mean by sensitivity or awareness involves an experience I had a few years ago when I shared a cab with a very privileged colleague – one I have enormous respect for. It was a battered cab with a driver whose clothes and demeanor said “working class.” She noticed a radar detector on his dash and attempted to engage the driver in a conversation about it. He nodded in response to her attempts. Somewhere along the line she announced with a big grin, “We got our radar detector from the Sharper Image Catalogue!” (This was several years ago when the Sharper Image had just come on the scene and carried with it some status.) She said it as though they had now bonded and would begin sharing Sharper Image stories. He was deer in the headlights. She was clueless that she was from a class of people who were inundated with Shaper Image catalogues and he was from a class that had not heard of the Sharper Image. This is all very dated now. Shaper Image has been exposed is now discounting on Ebay. So, substitute in this story something like the Design Within Reach catalogue. Or, virtually anything from San Francisco, of course.

This is just an example but I see the same disconnect played out repeatedly. I have talked to students who were turned down by my colleagues for research assistant jobs, but I did not tell them that jewelry, wide lapels, crooked teeth, and make-up make law professors nervous. Similarly, I have been in job interviews for teaching positions that were dismal because the candidate could not connect with interviewers by name dropping Guido, Cass, Eric or Ian; discussing biking in Italy or anything in the New Yorker; and let it drop that having a brand new car, as opposed to a fashionably old Volvo or Mercedes, would be cool.

If you agree that there are differences, the next question is whether having people on a faculty with this different sensitivity would make teaching and research richer. I will have a go at that next week.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Madder Than Gates

Professor Gates got pretty mad about his run in the the police last week. I doubt he got as mad as I did. After a break in in my middle class neighborhood the police decided to question the usual suspects -- teen age boys (beer was taken). So with no adults at home my 17 year old was awakened by three police detectives standing in his bedroom.

Their reason for entering the house without permission: Although the screened door was closed they could see that the back door inside the screen door was ajar (We do this so the cats can go out.) and who knows what awful things may be going on inside. The fact that they were wandering around in the back yard of the home of a person they only considered a suspect because of profiling was just a coincidence I guess. Yes we are talking about pretense.

They told my son that if he would just confess the would go easier on him. I am not kidding. I have no doubt he wanted to confess but they were being cagey about the exact crime and he could not think of any he had committed. So he was stumped. They finally left with the parting shot that he was not telling all he knew.

I do not know what Gates said exactly but I'll bet it was tamer than my reaction would have been had I not had time to cool down after hearing the story of teen age male profiling. I also know that not being a Harvard professor and a friend of the President would have meant the consequences for my tirade would have been harsher and if I were African American might still be in jail.

I do not doubt for a minute that African Americans deal with profiling more than any other group in American. My hunch is that teenage males are in the top ten and the lower the socioeconomic class the worse it is for both groups. And the Gates episode also shows what we know exists for all groups: people of privilege and with connections are almost always going to have their way.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Trout, Liposuction, and Foreign Programs

I am eating words right not because I am teaching in UF's summer program in Montpellier, France. Some readers my recall my criticism of these types of programs. In my defense my primary argument was that no new ones are needed especially in western Europe -- adult Disney World -- because there are more than enough to supply every student.

But participation has changed my tune a bit (not about the new ones) about these programs. In fact, this one seems to have three characteristics that make is work well. First, Florida requires its programs to break even -- no taxpayer subsidization. Second, you need a director who does not allow a program like this to turn into a vacation. In our case, the course load is tough and the director constantly finds ways to integrate the local culture into the program. Finally, and this is something I did not think of but should have, the students are self-selecting. They are looking for something other than a vacation. I've been happy with their level of engagement.

I ate all those words because I really wanted to talk about trout and liposuction. Montpellier has a market one place or another everyday. Markets with fruits, veggies, cheese, etc. are not that different from each other. Except for the one I saw today, at least for me. One vendor had a pickup truck with a pond in the back for trout who were swimming around. I've seen this. No big deal. When a customer wanted a trout, the vendor would catch one in a net and whack it on the head with a stick. Sounds tough, I know, but these were dead fish swimming as soon as they got in the truck. The most interesting part was he then gutted them and used what I assumed was a hi tech Wet-Vac to suck the guts out. Yes, the principles of liposuction were applied preparing fish to eat.

On the eve of the anniversary of the first moon walk, its good to think about the good things the space program has brought to all of us. Actually, I cannot think of any. BUT, depending on which came first you can thank medical science for a new way to clean a trout or trout seller for a way to suck out those unsightly fat cells from thighs, tummies and butts. Let's just hope those fat suckers do not slip.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

It Takes a Worried Man

Most law professors are worried people and worried people are not much in the sense of humor department. Crack a joke and the first reaction is "is this a joke? what does this really mean? is it OK to laugh? what are the political and social implications of laughing? If the humor is on the irreverent side you are better off saving your breath.

That all makes them pretty easy targets. Easy targets or not, a recent article by Ezra Rosser, On Becoming 'Professor': A Semi-Serious Look in the Mirror" 36 Florida State Law Review 215, is a wonderful, dead on, and hilarious take down of professordom. There are too many zingers here for me to summarize only a few so just read and enjoy. If you are worried, because it is funny, do it secretly. Close your door and look in the mirror. And one more thing. Thank goodness for the group of editors at the FSU law review who elected to published it.

I do not know if any reviews rejected it but if it had been rejected by all it could have been submitted to the new review just starting up, The Review of Unpublished Law Review Articles. This is a very slim new journal because with over 7200 articles published, there are precious few left for the R.Unp.L.R.A. This is not to be confused with its sister (or is it brother) review, The Review of Unpublishable Law Review Articles which is, obviously, peer reviewed.