Monday, August 24, 2009

Machine Graded Exams Again

I've written about multiple choice machine [not multiple choice with explanation] graded exams over on Moneylaw but not here on Classbais because I was not sure there was a class or entitlement factor involved. Now I am not so sure.

First my view is that professors who give 100% or even more the 50% machine graded exams are shirking their teaching obligations. To me there are two huge problems. First, I think every teacher claims to teach analysis which means the recognition of ambiguity and gray areas. Yet they test on something else when the use machine graded exams. The students know this ahead of time and alter their "listening" and note taking. There could be exceptions but the writing skills needed would exceed that of anyone I know. Second, teaching has a diagnostic component. You read answers to spot reasoning and writing problems. For example, if 25 people in a 100 person class have the same misunderstanding of, let's say, proximate cause and that is the reason their answer goes off track, you cannot know this using a machine graded exam. This means you do not know how to improve your teaching the next year in order to help them through analysis. Whatever they say, most users of machine graded exams just do not want to grade. I dislike grading as much as anyone but believe it's part of teaching when done right.

I am not sure this has much to do with class and privilege but this did occur to me. Virtually every teacher hired by a law school graduated from an elite school. One of two things has happened. First, maybe their teachers at those schools used machine graded exams. If so, it explains the decline in intellectualism and the increase in "technicianism" among beginning teachers. Second, maybe their teachers did not use machine graded exams. If that is the case, they must view themselves as slumming it when they give machine graded exams at schools ranked lower than the ones from which they graduated.

I've always wondered why teachers from elite schools typically regard their own students as unworthy candidates for law teaching jobs. It strikes me signifying doubt about their own training and teaching. A version of that would be why their own students to not deserve the quality of teaching and evaluation they got. Of course this assumes the elite schools do not rely on machine graded exams and I do not know that either way. I just know I would not vote to hire a new law teacher with a high GPA if I knew it reflected performance on machine graded exams.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Trailing Spouses

Sometime ago I wrote about the blatant class bias and self-referential aspects of the Sloan Foundation's study of how to increase job flexibility for academics. Yes, it was a little like studying ways to make Yao Ming taller.

Another aspect of academics that reveals a huge class bias is the problem of the trailing spouse. This the case of one department in a University -- say engineering -- interviewing a candidate and deciding to make an offer. (Of course no questions about marital status are permitted, not because it is not relevant but because it could mean a law suit.) Now that candidate says, "Oh my husband, Phil, will have to have a job in the Math department. " Sometimes the Math department is happy. More often, all kinds of squirming goes on to twist the arm of the Math department to hire him. A person gets hired who would not other wise be hired and there are side payments from engineering. The reasoning by the engineering department is "We could not have gotten Carol if we had not done this." Of course for what they are paying Carol (some of which shows up on Phil's check) they could have hired someone much better than Carol. In fact, the people who should be most unhappy are Carol's counterparts who are single or married to non academics. What Carol has managed to do is parlay being married into a higher salary than that received by her equals. Or you could say the counterparts are paid less because they are single.

One reason this persists is the view of the privileged that they are entitled to it all. It does not cross their minds at a critical time that one has to make choices in life. In fact, the vast majority of people make choices. Some are married or have partners and others do not. Some have working spouses and some have stay-at-home spouses. Some have children and others do not. No one except the married professionals seem to expect to be immune from the costs of their choices and it seems likely that we are talking, in those cases, about two people of privilege.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Class Bias Part 3: Replay

BangersThen I got Mary pregnant
and man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
and the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

The River, Springsteen

Parts one and two of my discussion of class bias in law school hiring addressed the different perspective that economically disadvantaged people (e.d.p.'s) bring to the job and the ways more of this perspective would improve the service, teaching and research of the institution. This last installment is about finding those people. In a sense Jim Chen has made all of this easier. I am tempted simply to say: do everything he outlined in his latest piece, but first screen out all candidates who attended private schools or high-tuition state schools.

There is also another short cut way to describe it. Most law professors know how to find good e.d.p.'s – all it takes is acting counter-intuitively. It’s along the lines of "if it tastes good or feels good, it is probably not good for your health." In hiring, if you feel comfortable with and connected to the candidate, it’s probably bad for the School. That is what it is about, right? The School? Or is it about hanging out with similarly privileged buds?

There is some profiling to be done here, but it is okay here since the only groups affected are those who are economically advantaged or disadvantaged. I concede that screening out all private school and high tuition schools can mean losing some good candidates but, if you take a look at the numbers published in the latest issue of the Economist (September 23, 2006, p. 38), you are mainly passing up on beneficiaries of affirmative action for the privileged. Moreover, what we know is that the only things positively correlated with expensive credentials is the probability of landing a law school teaching job and the level at which one’s articles are placed. There appears to be no correlation between expensive credentials and the ability to carry on an interesting conversation about art, music, history or not to be hopelessly boring.

So narrow the universe to candidates who excelled at inexpensive (some State) law schools. Then narrow your scope to the top ten – not top 10% -- in the class. Now it gets tougher because some e.d.p.'s will try pass for privileged (pfp). With hard work you can “out” most of them. You want to eliminate anyone who traveled widely in the summer, spent any semesters abroad, and did not work at some menial job for, at least, some summers. The keepers are ones with crooked teeth and pock marks. For a woman, look for a skirt that is a bit too short, heels too high, or too much make up. (For men the make up is OK only on Elvis impersonators -- in fact, maybe a per se hire.) Gold jewelry on a man or a woman is a good sign. Any inkling of a mullet is a definite yes for a man as is a jacket with a double vented back or a tie that is too wide or too narrow.

You have narrowed the universe to e.d.p.'s. Some of those who have figured out how to pfp will also be eliminated. Not a big loss because they may also pfp in their service, teaching, and research.

Now proceed to the Chen questions and you’ve got it.

Finally, a word on race. Race is not per se indicative of economic disadvantage. That’s not to say there are not arguments for considering race for other reasons but in recent years, at least in my hiring experience, there is a tendency for law faculty to feel most comfortable with minorities from private or high priced schools who have professional level parents. These folks are indistinguishable from whites in terms of their sense of entitlement. Thus, even with minorities it is important to look beyond the surface.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Atticus Say it Ain't So

I thought I was up on law and literature but evidently not. The latest New Yorker includes a bit of a deconstruction of Atticus Finch, the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird. If my memory serves me, at least one law professor, Monroe Freedman, is quoted. It seems that the honorable Atticus was only able to offer his moral lesson by strutting his sexism and class bias. It's an interesting read, especially for any law professors holding Atticus out as a model to their students.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Class Bias Part 2: Replay

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV.
And you think you're so clever and class less and free.
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
A working class hero is something to be.
Working Class Hero, John Lennon

In part one of this three part series, I discussed the different perspective of those who were economically disadvantaged people. I also noted that I am not confident that e.d.p.s (OK, no pun intended) share a view of how specific issues should be decided. Instead, I wrote about bringing a needed perspective to teaching and research. I should have included service as well, especially faculty governance. At the outset, however, consider the proposition that is opposite of the one I will discuss: The quality of legal education is increased by systematically excluding e.d.p.s from the profession. I doubt many would say they agree with that view. On the other hand, maybe actions speak louder than words.

With respect to governance, I have noted that when in the company of other professors with working class backgrounds, we seem to have a greater understanding of the fact that we are making decisions about spending the money of others. Colleagues with senses of entitlement, on the other hand, are less likely to have a vision of those who actually pay the bills. (Do they ever think of the convenience store worker or stock person at Wal-Mart when deciding that sending a group of faculty to a conference in Geneva is just the thing?) Recognition of concepts like “can we afford” something or “is this the best use of the money” seems to follow more readily when someone has been forced to deal with those same issues in his or her own life.

This sense of fiduciary obligation affects the way in which e.d.p.s approach teaching as well. A sense of entitlement seems to go hand in hand with canceling classes at the drop of a hat, taking off a couple of weeks in the middle of the semester for a foreign conference, teaching a self-indulgent course with a tiny enrollment, and feeling annoyed if students ask too many questions. It comes down to a view, shared by the children of privilege, that law schools exist for the faculty as opposed to the reality that faculty are but an input. Think how everything changes when faculty realize that they are not there to be served but to serve – and their jobs depend on serving. For those who have had a lifetime of being served, this an alien perspective.

When it comes to the substance of teaching and research, it is not that e.d.p.s are better, only different, and that teaching and scholarship are enriched by different perspectives. For example, a contracts teacher who has experienced being on the losing end of an exploitative contract is better able to understand the illusion of Pareto superiority and discuss, in real terms, the failings of contract law (as it has been shaped to serve those of privileged classes). My hunch is that this same perspective carries over to any course in which there is an interactive element.

Finally, on scholarship. Where do the ideas for articles come from? What fuels the analysis? That spontaneous flash that leads to questions or that leads to analysis and research is akin to “taste” – here a taste for which questions one will devote his or her life to. Taste is hardly the result of eight or more years in college. Different life experiences result in different tastes. Look at most faculties. Which people are writing about race? About woman and families? About environmental questions? There is a self-referential and oft times a self-interested element to how tastes are formed. In each case, there is a story that connects the person’s life with the direction his or her research has taken. Now compare a faculty that has screens out an entire segment of life experiences and compare its diversity and quality with one that purposefully includes all qualified people, whether or not they increase social comfort. My case is simple: when it comes to the analysis of law and the teaching of future attorneys, the second faculty is superior.