Thursday, September 22, 2011

The New Cronyism

Cronyism is an interesting word. It sounds bad. No one says, "my heart is filled with cronyism" or "that was the cronyiest moment of my life." Yet crony just means friend. Somehow by adding ism it become a serious accusation: The hiring or granting of a right based on something other than merit. Recently I noted two new examples of changes in hiring practices: one is close to cronyism; the other dead center. But in the elite PC world of people who used to rail about ol' boy systems and favoritism, these practices seem to be OK.

1. OK, I am not sure this first one really is cronyism but it is close and I have been meaning to write about it. I was talking to a friend of mine at a different school who is on his hiring committee. I asked him if anything was different in the way it works as compared to, say, ten years ago. Without hesitation and with some level of frustration he said "yes." "I get a constant stream of letters from from well known law profs at highly ranked schools pushing their students. It's almost always the elite schools." My friend observed that ten years ago these efforts were not as aggressive. Of course these letters generally go to graduates of the same elite group of schools who desperately want to please and be remembered by their old profs. After all, a visiting position could be in the works. I understand the letter writers are not necessarily friends but they purport to be close to the candidates they are plugging and they want them to cut in line based on their connection.

2. The dead center one involves couples. Evidently, hiring a spouse or partner these days automatically means taking on the responsibility for finding employment for the other partner either in town, in another part of the university or in your own department. This is discrimination not on the bases of marital status but on the basis of to whom you are married -- cronyism.

As noted there are three forms: A person is hired who has a spouse who wants to be employed in a non academic setting. Deans call in favors to find him or her a job. Or, the person wants a job in a different department. This is actually one of the most undermining. For example, sometime ago my school sought to hire a lateral at a high but not "star attracting" salary. We found our person only to hear that the school had to fund another department to the tune of thousands of dollars to hire the spouse. WTF, I thought. If we knew we had that much to spend we would have been in the "star" market.

The final case involves the couple who teach in the same department. For me that is law. The trailer is usually someone the school would not and did not consider. The desired candidate is hired and the challenge is what to do with the "other." Others can be found stashed all over Universities -- assistant lecturer, research fellow. (Why don't we just call it what it is "Spouse of Tenure Track Professor," "Crony Professor," or "Special Position Filled on the Basis of to Whom you are Married") They go to the head of the line for any position that would fit, they make friends in a context in which social connections are almost everything, and all of sudden the are elevated to "incredibly well qualified" for the same job as the spouse holds. Of course, this is because they have cronies. I see no principled distinction between this cronyism and the 1970's version that usually involved white males and their pals. What I have learned (no surprise here) is that people who criticized cronyism in the past never did so on the basis of principle but simply because the wrong people were being hired. In both cases, though, friendship means thousands of equally or better qualified candidates are ignored.

I will concede to having some biases: First, in my experience, far more often than not, having spouses teaching in the same department has been worse than having two unrelated people holding the same positions. Second, I am so tired of hearing "We need to find a place Angelo. or we might lose Phil." Get real, from about the 20th ranked law school on down we are all basically fungible. No faculty member leaving any of those schools will create a hardship or a change in quality. The next entering class will not know Phil even existed.

I suppose someone disagreeing with me would say they learned so much about the other that he now feels the other is great. Lame, so lame -- you never compared him or her to the others.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Justice O'Connor's Gardener

I did not attend the period celebration of Sandra that we have here but here is an excerpt from the Gainesville Sun. The reporter usually gets it right.

"About half of U.S. states no longer require civics classes, she said. She contrasted that fact with the requirement that new citizens pass a written exam about government.

"Our high school graduates cannot pass that test," she said. "I mean, it's appalling we make some stranger pass it but we don't require it of our own children.""

So here is the deal. If you are a naturalized citizen, you are a stranger -- not one of "our children." That is, if you were born here and had no choice but to be an American, you are one of us. If you chose to come here, did a crap job for years, learned some English, and passed an exam you are a stranger.

Sandra's (people delight in being in the realm of those permitted to say Sandra.) classism and entitlement tendencies are showing. There are those of us born to be on the inside and then there are strangers -- the little people who work in her yard, no doubt

Sunday, September 11, 2011

O'Connor Again? UF Grovels

Sandra Day O'Connor is, again, visiting the UF. I think she must be on the lecture circuit more than any former member of the Supreme Court. Does she wait by the phone for our call?

It's ironic that UF rolls out the red carpet for her. Her shock at the possibility that Gore would win Florida in 2000 election is well documented. Bush v. Gore was easily one of the Modern Court's most unprincipled decision and she telegraphed her vote before she heard the arguments. It was a vote that essentially said we are terrified of knowing how Florida actually voted.

Then we had the the Bush wars, the war on the environment, Supreme Court appointments that turn back the clock, and the economic melt down that seems never to stop. The whole thing illustrates how we grovel around high placed people even when they tell us their ideology trumps our fundamental rights. People always complain that law schools are populated by liberals. They are right but, as the O'Connor visits illustrate, they are elitist liberals without an ounce of conviction.

The 2000 election also makes me think of the Florida Nadar voters whose little snit made it close enough that any of this mattered.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Conferences and Opportunity Costs

One of my facebook friends, Babara Burke, wrote the following dead solid perfect post:
The NYLJ reports that Suffolk City has depleted its 18-B attorney funds. Adequate representation to the indigent, welfare for lawyers, call it what you will but it provides a needed service in the county. Perhaps, my alma mater the only law school in Suffolk will see this as the impetus to awake from its complacency, and channel its own funds into creating a post-graduate grant program for those wanting to assist the poor. I'm thinking one Prof's trip to Brisbane can pay a year's salary.
This makes me thing of all the upside down priorities in which law schools are involved. Conferences and foreign travel are good examples. I can read much faster than I can listen. And, people can read what I write (if they care to) much faster than I can say it. Mostly at conferences you see people preaching to the choir, showing off, goofing off, or hanging with pals. A huge portion are trolling around looking to relocate. I'd make an exception for the recruiting conference which does seem like a good way to see many candidates. On the other hand, why send more than 3 or 4 people?

I'll pass on some of the ways my own school has chosen to spend money but there are some doozies. So many seem to exist because no one has the balls to actually say "Why are we doing this." They don't ask this because we know the answer: We do it because someone on the faculty wants to and will have a tantrum if anyone questions the program. As far as I know, like most schools, no program has ever been discontinued. Is it really possible that we got it right every time? I am not sure I have met a law professor who fully understands and has the courage to act on the notion of opportunity costs.

We used to have ridiculously expensive retreats. We'd go to the beach at the School's expense, eat, drink and talk about nothing. I once asked to have the cost of my attendance contributed the county we are in because it could not afford school books. I was looked at like I truly had lost my mind. Turning down a free trip to the beach? Thank goodness we now have a dean who has retreats at school with sandwiches for lunch.

To bad every law school can not start over -- add courses when absolutely necessary, reevaluate all tenured faculty, and only add programs when disinterested people say so.