Saturday, April 30, 2011

Public Documents: What Does it Mean

Some of the characteristics I have identified of elites is a desire to maintain denyability, the tell half truths, and to volunteer but not ask. This is all below in one of my posts. Clearly though, the desire not create a written record is hardly a characteristics of elitists. It is actually a characteristic of most administrators whose positions are political -- whether an actual politician or just someone trying to please as many people as possible.

This article about a Florida official raises an issue. I understand that documents, other than some exceptions, must be public. On the other hand, is it also required that a document be made in the first place. To me purposely not making a document for fear it will become public defeats the purpose of the law. On the other hand, lawyers and administrators seem not really to worry much about the spirit of the law as long as they can find a way around it.

In one recent experience, I was asked to make an evaluation. So I did and submitted a very long written report. The person to whom is was sent apologized for not letting me know that the written document could be a public record. My response, "I hope so, that is why I wrote it." Several others were asked to make a similar evaluation. This was, by the way, an evaluation including several variables. To my knowledge none of them wrote anything down.

I assume they acted within the law as a technical matter but perhaps not in spirit. But, I do not know.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

There's something happening here (and there), what it is ain't exactly clear...

Recently I had an interesting trip into the world of anonymous and unrestrained of blogging. I attempted a relatively mild defense of UF after the embarrassing publicity of last week (which, by the way, common sense would lead one to believe is based on a partial story) and got clobbered by a few anonymous commentators. Not all of the personal criticism was unfair.

Some of the more interesting quotes are these.

"It’s ironic how UF Law professors complain about their students being unprofessional, when UF Law professors are violent, rude, unprofessional, not collegial and childish in their daily actions."

"Unfortunately, the Dean and the professors at UF School of Law have created and fostered a very hostile and unpleasant environment. The professors don’t seem to get along with each other and most of the professors seem to dislike the students."

"And, it is known that the faculty isn’t a student-friendly faculty—the students make that clear. Maybe to each other, the faculty pretends they are student friendly and you can feel better about yourselves, but the students and alumni know."

"I have taken many classes where the professors openly talk bad about students during class—either about students in another class they are teaching or a previous year’s class or the student body in general. In offices, the courtyard and in the hallways, I have heard many professors talk negatively about their colleagues and the students in general or talk about how their fellow professors hate teaching or hate the law school students. I’m tired of hearing from UF law professors that we act entitled, are lazy, are worst than previous classes, that we don’t work as hard as you professors did when in law school, that the professors deserve to be teaching at better schools with more intelligent students, that we are racist or homophobic, that we are elitist, that we are conservative bigots, that republicans are evil, that all southerners are bad, that we are rich snobs, that the grading curve is too high, that we are idiots or disrespectful when we may disagree with your jurisprudential views, that we are inappropriate, and that practicing lawyers are bad people."

"My classmates and I have heard professors bitching ad nauseam about students and other professors. It is a ramped problem at the school. Most students don’t even want to hear these things. But, it does create an unhealthy, negative environment. As for the students taking responsibility for being spun--spin or not (we may not believe the spin being shoveled), it nevertheless creates a feeling that the professors are “nasty” and makes the law school’s environment unpleasant--a place where students don’t want to be."

Much of this was delivered an what I would call an angry tone. Of course, I happen to appreciate strong feelings, even anger, when there is an injustice. Moreover, the commentators represented a small but perhaps representative sample and all were anonymous. Nevertheless the themes were consistent: 1) Faculty do not respect students; 2) Faculty do not like each other and 3) Faculty take their gripes about each other to the students. I am sure all of this is true at every law school and have had personal experience. I recall a recent conversation with a new colleague who said had been "briefed" within a day or two of his arrival able how evil I am. The faculty flowing to his office to recruit him one way or another (not with respect to me) has surprised him. He heard so many different versions of UFs history I am sure his head was spinning. The question is whether these thee conditions exist only at the margins of a School or begin to define a School. I do not know.

It is ironic that this exists in an era in which the Socratic method is dead and the average student is guaranteed a B+ average. In fact, at a recent retreat with faculty and alums the alums seemed generally surprised that teaching styles had made a 180 degree turn from what they were used to. My perception was that they felt it was a bad idea.

So, what is going on here in a era in which at least on a formal level things would seem to be the best ever for students but, in fact, they may very well be the worst.

I do not know but I think any explanation that focuses only on UF is too narrow. There is something bigger going on here. My own theory, upon which I hope no one will place any reliance, is that it starts with the late 60s, the generation that came of age then or shortly thereafter, a culture of over-affirmation, the pervasive sense of entitlement, and the lessons many of us influenced by that generation have taught our children. It may be a sign of an experiment that did not work

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The NCAA and Law Schools

One of my students alerted me to this NYTimes article which I had missed. It reminded me of a blog I posted some time ago about the exploitation of college football players and the cross subsidization of other sports played by predominantly white and middle class students. I wondered where all the liberal outrage was. There is none. The NCAA can get away with this in large part due to a Supreme Court opinion which, without needing to in the context of the issue at hand, exempted colleges when it comes to the exploitation of mainly minority and lower income students who happen to be good at football.

I cannot help but see in Law School externship programs some of the same factors. Under these programs, students pay law schools tuition and in turn the Law Schools allow the students to work for no income during the summer in order to earn credit. Or more crassly, schools charge students for the right to work for free. The exploitation issue is not as severe as in the football case. A student with little income or no income cannot be farmed out and must get a paying, no credit, job.

Like football, it's a huge money maker where the institution profits from the labor of others. Some schools, like mine, have even even created incentives by paying faculty on the basis of how many externships they can stack up. These are faculty who evidently were already fully occupied with full time jobs and being paid a salary. So, what are they not doing now that they were doing?

According the the US Labor department, to avoid falling under the Fair Labor Standards Act and, thus being afforded the protections for other workers, "The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship." What I could not find is the part of the process that says to earn credit students must not be paid. Luckily, a colleague helped me out here. It is evidently found in an interpretation of 305-3 of the

ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools.

Interpretation 305-3

A law school may not grant credit to a student for participation in a field placement program for

which the student receives compensation. This interpretation does not preclude reimbursement

of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses related to the field placement.

So, let's see, attorneys and law schools agree that students cannot be paid if they are to receive credit. As far as the Law Schools are concerned does his amount to a horizontal agreement? Surely one way to compete would be to say to externs that they are permitted to be paid. And, is there a class of past externs who had no choice but to pay for credits and work for nothing because law schools agree to award credits only if the salaries are fixed at zero? This is all fanciful, I suppose, but isn't it interesting how those in charge of the law don't seem to stick to its spirit.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

WTF: Welcome to the World of Won't

Sorry if the letters offend you but it really is the phrase running around in my head when I think of this: One of my first jobs was a laborer. Unionized but still low pay. Florida sun, 8 hours often in the mud and so tired at the end of the day it was a beer and bed. The only disagreements were between the foreman and the union steward over how many cinder blocks I should carry at a time. I kept my mouth shut and needed the job. Just like being a law professor, I knew if the truth were out, a zillion of people could do what I did. I did not say when I would come to work, how long I would stay, what I would do, when I would do it. I just did it every day to get a check.

If anyone has had that type of job -- the type most Americans have had or do have then their only reaction to law professors has to be WFT?

Like the meeting I was in the other day in which the question came up of why someone only taught a handful of students each year. The answer? "I talked to her and she won't teach more than that." WTF?? WON'T?? When did won't become an employee's response. Yes, working Americans, law professors get to say that and no one gives them a spanking or fires them.

"Dude, gotta be out of town for a couple weeks to teach somewhere else. Don't worry, I'll work when I can (or not), a little extra here and there or maybe 5 days straight at end." Law professors reading this know I am not kidding but this is fair game if you have a job in which you "won't" do things and the only response from the person nominally in charge is "oh." WTF

How about this one. Don't want to teach your classes at 9 or 4 or on Friday,Monday or Wednesday (or at all). OK, my dear what would work for you in the world of "won't." WTF?

OK, how about not really teaching in person but taping an entire course and them picking your your check as usual. Tape for two days and semester is done. Is this the same as phoning it in? I wish I could have phoned it in the day my finger was almost taken off while I was hooking a giant bucket of cement to a crane. WFT?

You don't really want to teach what the law is but what you wish it were. No problem, if you are in the world of "won't." No one knows and so what if the students' clients are blindsided by the attorney on the other side who actually does know the law. WTF?

What? me grade exams? Don't worry, just use that recycled machine graded multiple choice one. WFT?

I think one of the qualifications for being a law professor is to do hard labor (not in jail although that is a thought) in order to get just a taste of reality and humility. As best I can tell those who do not make use of the "won't" culture, in John Lennon's words are "still fucking peasents as far as I can see" or they will be treated that way.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Liberals and the Working Class

One of my Facebook friends linked me this interesting article the gist of which is the poor, working class, poorly educated and religious tend to be conservative. Their actual ideology cuts against their economic self-interest. The data are all presented on a state by state basis which can be terribly misleading. South Dakota counts as much as New York.

The data also tell us what many of us have known. OTHO, the conclusion that working class people vote against their economic self interest may be a bit hasty. Are working class people really voting against their self interest? Think about the liberal ideology of the last 40 years. The primary liberal focus has hardly been on class. It has been on historically disadvantaged groups that are minorities within the poor and working class. The hypocrisy of the liberals is that they are happy to do good for some of the poor and working class if the burden falls predominately on others who are poor and in the working class. If a cause, like those that are class oriented, would actually mean liberals are affected, it somehow loses its attraction.

There are broad strokes but for the most part Left means caring about the poor and working class of all types, Liberal means not caring and Right means using them to advance your own ends. Of course Liberals do this too but it is more like collateral damage.