Monday, July 19, 2010

White v. Black

Thanks to one of my facebook friends, I came across this dead on NYT op-ed piece today. The theme is familiar -- whites and minorities pitted against each other for the benefit of the privileged.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Democrats and the Working Class

I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that read:

“A working man who votes Republican is like a chicken who likes Colonel Sanders.”

I personally think this is true but, if you live in the South and many other places as well, you know it is not a slogan that most people pay attention to.

What makes working class people vote so often for politicians who promote the interests of their bosses? So-called liberals chalk it up to racism because this helps justify their lack of interest in class issues.

I think there is a different, more subtle, explanation. For whatever reason, the “face” of the Democratic Party is one of elitists. After all, Bill Clinton tried to appoint to his cabinet Zoe Baird, half of a $600,000 a year couple who were willing to pay only $24,000 to the caretaker of her only daughter. Rock stars, movie stars, glamorous authors tend to be Democrats and behave in a way working class people regard as immoral.

The Democratic image problem seems unfair because there must be as many elitists and rule-benders among Republicans. But Republicans are perceived to be less likely to use bad language, more likely to go to church, and to listen to country music, and more likely to fly an American flag with pride: cultural mores that working class people tend to share.

But the problem is not which party has more elitists. The actual problem is two-fold. First, Democrats have become progessively less interested in class in the last 50 years. Second, even if they claim to be advocates for the "working man," they are woefully ignorant of the what it means to be a working class person in America. A law professor would have no idea, for example, what it would be like to get up at 7:00 and return home at 6:00 after a day of physical work - no leisurely visits to the faculty lounge, no extended gossip sessions, no time to go to the dentist, etc. A law professor could not conceive of living on $15.00 an hour or his/her spouse bartending nights to make ends meet or worry about the price of ground beef or deciding to eat hot dogs once a week in order to make ends meet. They tend to shudder at things blue collar.

I watch this process play out at my job. I think I am pretty good at spotting the very few working class students who filter into even a state law school. It is profiling to be sure, but they are more likely to have acne scars, poor dental work, out of date hair styles (no mullets thank God) and to be overweight. When the first “dress up” occasion is held, the men and women are more likely to look like they read “court attire” to mean “Scarface attire.”

As these people move through law school, they get a belly-full of “liberal” indoctrination that is at best class-neutral and probably anti blue collar. When it comes to research assistant positions they are befuddled by why they were not chosen and Ms. Perfect Smile is. And when profs chum it up with students, you can bet it is not with the students who have even a smidgen of working classness about them. Perhaps this is understandable: people are more comfortable around those who are like them. So much for "embracing diversity."

Who would get your vote. Someone who does not care about you but is honest about it. Or someone who claims to care but actually finds you an inconvenient reminder of his own hypocrisy?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Strategy and Volunteers: Summer Rerun

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 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.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Bait and Switch?

If there is a theme among the many student and professor posts about law schools it is that they are involved in a bait and switch. Students are attracted by the promise of employment in high paying and exciting jobs. They then discover there are not that many jobs, they do not all pay well and they can be boring. The problem here is that law schools involved in the USN&WR game want to and do inflate their employment figures. Ironically, these misleading figure may benefit students by making their degrees seem more valuable.Just think how the students would feel if, after enrolling, a school's decided to play it straight and its ranking dropped from 30th to 50th.

Playing it straight means not hiring one's own graduates, not paying firms to hire them and not giving grants to students while working. The employment figures would drop and the School's ranking would suffer. Students would have a better idea of exactly what to expect upon graduation.

What students seem to want may be hard to achieve. I think most want the world to believe that their schools' degrees are highly valued. On the other hand, they also want to know the truth. But if the truth gets out, it undermines the first objective.

I do not know what will happen. When the market for Ph.D.s dropped several years ago, applications fell and departments got smaller. The market worked. I do not know if that was because departments did not make false claims about placements or would be applicants realized that having a Ph.D. most likely qualified you to drive a taxi.

And lurking in the background is that the students are in many respects means to the ends of law professors. Without applicants and high enrollments, teaching jobs for graduates of elite law schools would dwindle.

Finally, there is a point of view perhaps held only by me. I don't thing not finding a job means legal education is a waste. Instead I think a legal education is part of becoming a well educated person. In fact, I wish Law School administrations would stress this in their sales pitches.