Friday, December 14, 2012

Self Gifting for Law Professors

It's the time of the year to think about gifts. Who do Law Professors think about first when deciding who will get gifts and what those gifts will be. That is not a hard question. They think of themselves first. The harder question is what to give yourself. It's so hard to know exactly what to give the person you love the most. Consider me your personal shopper and I have a number of suggestions that will put a smile on your face when received from your loved one who, conveniently, turns out to be you.

1. A new vanity course. What is a vanity course? Its a course that is taught not for the students and not for the clients but because you think it would be fun (or at least easy.) Some of this year's favorites vanity courses are:
1. Let's go to the beach for a week over spring break. 1 credit.
2. Let's see how we are feeling right now by just thinking about it. 2 credits.
3. Wine law and the regulation of tastings: 2 credits, BYOB.
4. Justice (or What Just came into my head While Walking to Class) . 2 credits.
5. Ain't I great. 2 credits.

2.. A new teaching schedule. Yes, tell your dean that you want to teach one day a week even if it means teaching some courses concurrently. This is a gift that is as fun to give yourself as it is to receive.

3. National stature: Every tenure and promotion candidate I have ever heard described is been labeled "rising star" or "nationally known." Why shouldn't you have the same thing. For $20. I will write a letter to your dean describing you as a star, rising star or nationally known. And for a limited it only, I will post it on facebook.

4. The room you want when you want it. As a law professor you deserve respect. If a class is in session or taking a test in room you take a fancy to, throw them out.  This gift comes with a week off with pay.

5. A trip to Paris for the holidays. You can give yourself this and your school will pay. There is a conference there right now, Just figure it out or say you are on a research mission to study the informal law of street performers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Love Letters

A disclaimer first. I have no view on the current candidates for tenure and promotion at my school or anywhere else except at my school I have no reason to think they are not worthy of promotion and tenure. This post is about a process, not individual people.

Ok, having dealt with the niceties, the tenure and promotion process everywhere I am familiar with is a sham -- another way to keep the privileged in their privileged positions. In some respects it is the big version of partner hiring in  that partner hiring (when both would not be hired without reference to the other)  is nothing more than cutting in line. I'm not going down that path having had my say much to the displeasure of  the faculty spouse crew. And, by the way, the cutting in line does not even touch the complexities that can arise later.

Back to tenure and promotion. Some committees evaluate and some just gather information. But from experience I can attest to the fact that even the information gatherers can influence the outcome by the referees chosen.  That is, if they do not let the candidates pick the referees which is something we once did.

So you have outside and inside letters reviewing scholarship and reports of those visiting classes. Let's get rid of the class visits first. Most are preannounced so as not to actually see the teaching that takes place when an observer is not there. (We would not want that now would we?) In 30 years of teaching I have not seen a single negative review of teaching. Why is this? Lots of reasons. First you do not want to hurt someone's feelings when deciding to ask the tax payers to give them a life-time annuity. Second, these are your pals and paldom overcomes objectivity every time, And, if you write something negative and tenure is granted, you have an enemy for life. Class visitations are a time-wasting formality.

The inside letters of evaluation fall in the same category, In 30 years I have seen 2 letters of maybe 400 that could be viewed as kinda/sorta  negative. Yes, nearly every reviewer of every article ever written has found that the work "meets our standards."  If that were actually the truth, time to reevaluation those standards. The reason for the inside letter charade? Refer to the paragraph above. And, you can add, elites evaluating elites. Or, frat boys evaluating frat boys after a short period of law school hazing (requiring the writing of law review articles that are largely irrelevant.)

Then there are the outside letters.I have seen hundreds of these too.  There is a slight possibility of a negative letter here but so many things stand in the way. First, of course,  is the market for letters problem. Yes there is a market for letters and if you are known to write negative ones you are less likely to be called upon again. It's not a business but some people like being regarded as an expert. Like an expert witness, testimony that does not help is not welcome. And, "help" is support for what the faculty wants to do. Second there are the letters involving areas of law that have a definite "correct" point of view. You know those areas. So, if you are an expert in one of these areas you do not respond negatively to an ally no matter how bad the work. After all, they are on your side in the ideological battle. Third, if you write a negative letter you just gum up the works. In all likelihood the faculty is going to grant tenure and promotion (they almost always do) and a thoughtful negative review will likely be ignored and conflict with the internal reviews. I have seen this work repeatedly in the rare instances in which the outside review is negative. I recall one letter in particular by a reviewer  who noted that the new articles for a tenure candidate were pretty much the same as the articles for promotion. In other words. "Duh, there is nothing happening here." This was, of course, not even spoken of. Basically, unless you have principles and are an  idealist there is no upside to writing a negative letter.

So, why do all this?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Law Reviews, Transaction Costs, and Elites

When it comes to law reviews there are some settled truths.Every law review editor I have spoken to assures me that authors from highly ranked schools get a first look so, quite obviously, their chances of an acceptance from a school at any level is higher that of non elite contributors. Thus, if you are not a law celeb, teaching at a very highly ranked school, or at least have the proper pedigree, when your submission arrives it goes onto a huge stack of articles and awaits its turn.  If the review fills before your article is examined, it is not reviewed at all.  And it may be weeks before you are notified.You may or may not improve your place in line if you receive an offer and ask the other reviews to expedite.

This elitist bias has always been part of the game but now the law review business seems to have another dimension that takes it down one more notch in terms or resembling a tolerable process.

This time around, I submitted two articles -- one in early August and one nearer the end of August. The first one was accepted by a mid level to higher review quite quickly although when it was I had heard nothing from any other reviews. I was not so fortunate with the other one and, before long,  I had many many submissions out. Except for a couple of quick rejections -- one from a school that published an article I was critical of and one from the school where the authors of that article teach -- there was nothing. I checked the ExpressO web site and only about 1/3 of the reviews appeared to have received the article.  ExpressO has a note that says all a law review editor has to do is push one key on the keyboard and ExpressO will list the article as received.  This replaces the postcard acknowledgement that existed when I started this business. But, if an editor or secretary does not press that key on his or her keyboard you do not know if your article is even in the stack of to-be-read offerings.

I eventually got an acceptance and submitted an "expedite" request. Again, of  the schools I asked to expedite less that 1/3 acknowledged that they  had received my request for expedited review. Thus, the vast majority of reviews did not acknowledge receipt of the article or the expedite request. In fact, the same percentage did not even reject the article.

I attribute some of this to basic rudeness that seems to get more pronounced over time. Law review editors are short timers. When you think about out, why should they invest in what amounts to an academic one night stand? On the other hand, it may also be attributed to the down side to lower transaction costs. With email and ExpressO, editors have thousands of submissions many of which outstrip any expertise they may have. Thus, while costs have gone down to authors, there is little indication that there are more efficient ways to review articles. So, when you are overwhelmed with articles, or actually most things in life, what is the inclination?  Short cuts. Thus, even more than ever before credentials and other forms of institutional authority are substituted for actual careful review. In effect, lower transactions costs have somehow made the privileged even more privileged.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tabloids,Pathetic Law Professors, and Their Use

Any one reading this is probably aware of the recent study published by the Michigan Law Review on the one hundred most cited law professors.  I wrote in disbelieve , that a reputable law review would publish such garbage.  Not only was the study flawed but the whole subject matter is irrelevant to virtually everyone except a craven group of law professors who truly must not have a life.

Now, low and behold, we have a ranking of the 50  most influential law schools as ranked by the Leiter scale. I do not know Leiter  but do not think highly of anyone with a ranking obsession   There are so many things that are better to do. In fact, if I rank the top 1,000.000 things to do in the world, these silly self indulgent rankings would not be in the ranking. I hasten to add that Leiter, whoever he is, is not an author of this particular ranking but evidently it is one of his "activities."

Why is any of this important? The rankings themselves are not. They are completely unimportant with respect to any measure of human well being,  What is important is that they exist at all and what that tells you about the pathetic people who pore over them and the profession they control.  If you followed any of my previously posts, they have been devoted to law professors, most of whom are what is currently called liberal, and their connection to the Romnesian 1%.  In both cases,  they are beneficiaries of a rigged system. And having benefited from the rigged system they want to make sure it stays that way. At the same time they are 1) desperate to know where they rank and 2) they bank on, live on, and salivate over institutional authority. That is, it's fine with them that they are not actually relevant as long as a rankings says they are. In fact, they actually regard themselves as important or as smart as the rankings say they are.

Does this mean I condemn the authors of such silliness. Not on your life. It is, in fact, pure marketing genius. Check out the number of SSRN downloads for this latest effort -- over 1200 in a short period for an article that has nothing to do with law but is full of name dropping. The authors know what sells to law professors. Yes, law professor cannot get enough of their version of grocery store tabloids. Bless their hearts!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Silver Spoon Twins and the Law Prof 1%

A few commentators have question my sanity for equating most law professors with the Silver Spoons Twins -- Romney and Ryan. They say most law professors are liberal, for choice, support Obama care and so on.

I point out that most law professors have their jobs because of a system rigged by the elites -- call them the 1% -- they want to keep it that way.  In fact, they have a trickle down mentality. -- The rich ones supposedly with the knowledges will discuss it and some of the knowledge will trickle down. It never trickles down enough so that the recipients can be as entitled as the 1% but you get the idea.

Out of touch with real America is another way it presents itself.  Here think about the SSTs and their ideas that one can just borrow money from mom and dad to go to college or that a no capital gains tax will be a big win for those earning under 200K. I will not even get into binders.

Now think about the law prof who invited his class to meet and have a beer. When no minority students joined his conclusion was "I guess they could not afford beer." Huh?? Or the Prof who thoughtlessly assigns a $200 casebook. Or the Prof who has never known anyone on welfare, in jail, hungry,  or who recieves food stamps. Like the SSTs they do not have a fucking clue and they prefer it that way.

So their politics may differ but at a base level the are the same. All of them will still see each other at the Vineyard or some other place like that and the class-based bonds between the SSTs and law professors will overcome all disagreements.

Friday, October 05, 2012

What is Winning for Law Professors?

This is not only about law professors but it is in that context that I see it played out. The" it" here is defining what  it means to win.

For example, in Obama's case, suppose someone said to him, "We have decided to allow you to be President but only for 4 more years." Would he define that as winning? If he were a real law professor the answer might very well be no. For many law professors the symbolism of winning is at least as important as, or more important than, the substance of winning. Letting a law professor do anything is not a win for the law professor. Instead, they like to be asked.  It's really a matter of which party is doing the other a favor.

Another example might be many Romney and Obama voters. Sometimes I think the two candidates could both switch positions on every issue but the Romney people who fight for Romney and the Obama people for Obama. Winning means more than substance again.

In Law school I've seen it play out like this. Someone proposes a new boutique, unnecessarily capped course that  is a luxury to be a permanent addition to the curriculum and it is approved, as is every single new course, by the Committee in charge. They are all  approved  because the law school I am talking about is run for the convenience of the faculty and there is almost uniform cooperation in this effort.

So, now the course comes to the faculty and for the first time in history the faculty decides to only approve the course for 5 years. This is because there are major changes to the curriculum afoot and it makes little sense to put anything in stone.

The proponents of the course win, right? Not to them. The substance is that the course will be taught most likely until the the faculty member teaching it retires or leaves. (BTW should any course be offered that will sunset with the retirement of a specific professor?)  Does this matter? Not really because substance is second to victory.

I'd like to provide an explanation for this behavior but I cannot. Maybe it is just the sense of entitlement -- you want people to give you what you ask for AND act happy about it. Maybe it means that the faculty has done a favor for the proponents and that suggests a quid pro quo is requrired. Or perhaps it violates the "volunteer" theory I have written about. Law professors never want to appear to ask for things they but want to appear to "volunteer" to do things. You've seen examples -- "oh yes I will volunteer to take that round the world trip to scout foreign student opportunities."

Actually, maybe I have figured it out. Law professors view life as a negotiation. It would be bad negotiating to appear to be satisfied even when you get more than you deserve.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Faculty Governance or Faculty Capture?

I have written repeatedly and evidently unconvincingly about faculty capture of law schools. What that means is that law schools are run by the faculty for their convenience. The law school exists for ends of faculty and everything else is a means or nothing.  Think of it as police officers deciding that their only job is protect their own safety. The pecking order is like this:

1. Faculty.
2. Faculty.
3. Faculty.

You get the idea. Nothing is in second place and this includes students and others who have a stake in the school. Faculty capture represents the corruption of the broader idea of faculty governance. Nothing about faculty governance means that capture must occur. I really depends on the ability of faculty to, from time to time, do something that is not in its self interest but which makes the institution better.  Saying no to yourself is difficult but not impossible.  I was thinking of a ten question test so you can determine if your faculty has captured the law school.

1. If you have a curriculum committee, can you point to 3 times in the past ten years in which it turned down a request by a professor to offer a new course?

2. When a new course is proposed to the faculty, can you point to three times in the past ten years in which the faculty voted no?

3. Has your faculty ever voted not to approve a new program -- foreign program, specialization?

4. Has your faculty ever discontinued a program the discontinuance of which was opposed  by at least one person.

5. Are most of your courses uncapped meaning limited in enrollment only by the size of the room.

6. In faculty meetings  is reasoning like "the students like it," "other schools are doing it" or "why do you want to punish me" rejected and the person using that reasoning sent to stand in a corner.

7. Over the past ten years, have faculty reviewers of the teaching of untenured faculty been anything but glowing more than once?

8.  Over the past ten years, have internal reviews of untenured faculty scholarship been negative more than once.

9. Are machine graded multiple choice exams rare?

10. Is it rare for faculty to teach 4 credit courses over two days in order to decrease the number of days they are in the classroom?

So, how did your school do?  If you answered no 7-10 times, your faculty has completely captured the school. They run it for their welfare and nothing else. If you said no less than 4 times, you have a principled, ethical and amazing faculty.  Your students should be thankful and so should you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Corporate Wefare and the Complicity of Law Schools

It's a bit different from the lyrics of the song but it means the same --if you've got nothing, you've got nothing to protect.

My hunch is that this provides all the insight one needs to explain the existence of  publicly supported law schools.  That hunch is that if you had money and property back in the day you needed a lawyer. And what could be better than a lawyer you do not fully have to pay for because someone else has been required to train that lawyer.  Thus, the state law school -- almost certainly the creation of the privileged classes so they could tax the general population in order to train people to take care of their wealth. [Did any of them think a public service requirment might be appropriate?]  My definition of welfare would be paying for something at a price that does not reflect the costs of production. And, if you are a corporation hiring public law school graduates (at least from schools that still get public support), you are on the dole. Unlike private law firms that have to compete with the glut of young lawyers, you probably have not heard any corporations express concern. After all, supply increases, price goes down for an already subsidized input.  The subsidization always meant oil companies were collecting welfare but the glut makes it even better.

The new form of corporate welfare which my faculty (full of "liberals") adopted is the corporate extern. Goes like this. The school collects tuition from students who then work for corporations but then get credit from the school. And to make sure it works, the faculty get a kick back for all the externs they can hand out to corporations. According to one proponent "Other schools do it?" So what? Some also report false figures to the ABA.

And then the case is made that  "we are doing this for the students." Really, oh come on! I guess the $20,000 a faculty member makes for facilitating these handouts has no role in the process. After all, it is for the students but only as long as they pony up big bucks that find their way into faculty bank accounts. If it is for the students,  then hire specialists to do it and cut the costs of the entire effort by eliminating faculty payola. With the money saved maybe something could actually be done for the students.

Yes, greed is not limited to corporations.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Anacronism: C'est Moi


I strongly oppose the corporate extern proposal for a variety of reasons that you can imagine a lefty dinosaur would come up with. I’ll save you all of that since, in the aftermath of Citizens United, I suppose there is no distinction to be made between public and private interests and rights. To me, we will be the instrument of corporate welfare in the sense of providing free labor, which means lower costs and, wow, more money to spend on greed, avoiding regulation, taxation, or  lobbying to downgrade environmental standards. Or maybe the little boost we will provide will go right to the Presidental Campaigns of the silver spoon twins. In fact, I think  we are neglecting our public interest duties (which I suppose dwindle as the State become less supportive) by giving credit to students who work for corporations.  Ok, so I am voted down 60-1 and do understand our financial reasons for doing this (although I have  never understood paying people based on externships supervised but not on the basis of how many students we teach. ) And, since it is not distinguishable I suppose the vote would be the same if the proposal were for a new Corporate Law Clinic. 

More realistically, I do wonder if it would be possible to request these corporate entities to pay the extern’s tuition that we now collect from the students for the credit we award them.

And I also wonder if there is a conflict of interest issue to be addressed. As it stands now, faculty are governed by a number of conflict of interest regulations. When we start arranging and supervising externships with for profit entities I am not sure I see how we distinguish, at least in principle, the conflict of interest issues. No matter how interpreted, the for profit externship mean a student pays us for credit and then lowers the costs of the corporation. In addition, the faulty member is paid to broker or make this subsidization possible.  In effect, a faculty member favors a particular profit making entity by arranging or supervising,  and it seems that is only proper if the faculty member has no financial connection to that entity.  I am not sure how to put this in law-professor-as-indirect-as-possible language but suppose Professor A does corporation B a favor because he has consulted with them in the past or hopes to in the future.  Or, he may be in the process of asking for a grant or would like to make a talk there. Maybe this is just mutual back scratching but it is also a process that clouds the faculty member’s judgment about a placement.

I suppose we could have sponsors of corporate externships sign something that prevents them from personally contracting with the corporation. Something that might get at it indirectly is not allowing corporate externship supervision to count toward the award we give those supervising externship.

Two final and most likely annoying points. In a principled context, faculty who stand to benefit from this program should recuse themselves.  But I know that kind of principle is just not part of our culture and that goes back much further than externships. Second, in terms of public interest I think a better case can be made for law firms some of whom from time to time may actually have a needy client as opposed to corporations.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mitt, the Humility Problem, and Law Profs.

In the last two posts I have mentioned the similarity of Mitt Romney to many law professors. Some commentators have noted that Mitt and most law professors do not share the same political positions. I think that is correct on a very superficial level. What they both stand for is a class system in which those in control feel completely justified maintaining the status quo.  And, of course, that status quo, just coincidentially, favors them.  The other similarity is an ability to describe what others should do but an inability to actually adhere to those rules themselves. These are values that transcend tax rates and similar policies.

The Economist captured the essense of Mitt with this:"WHEN Mitt Romney was governor of liberal Massachusetts, he supported abortion, gun control, tackling climate change and a requirement that everyone should buy health insurance, backed up with generous subsidies for those who could not afford it. Now, as he prepares to fly to Tampa to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president on August 30th, he opposes all those things. A year ago he favoured keeping income taxes at their current levels; now he wants to slash them for everybody, with the rate falling from 35% to 28% for the richest Americans."

 Compare that with today's Mitt and you have no choice but to conclude he is an unprincipled person and a hypocrite. The Economist only calls it world championship flip flopping. In 30 years of law teaching I've seen similar flip-flopping and principles based on which way the wind is blowing. I can count on two hands the number of times someone actually stood up for principle as in; "We should not be doing this." I've seen people hate programs until they began to benefit them. I've seen people teach cooperation, mediation or ADR berate those lower in the pecking order. And, of course, like Mitt, law profs are often masters of "not technically a lie."

The catch is this: Their arrogance and sense of entitlement,  like Mitt's, cancels out even the smallest possibility of humility. They would not regard any of this as hypocritical or dishonest or even flip flopping. Why? Because since birth they have been told they are special, the regular rules do not apply to them.  This is different than simply being sleazy. Clinton was sleazy at times, Nixon was sleazy too. A bit of sleaze, unfortunately, is part of being an effective politician.  The shamelessness (and I mean literally an inability to experience a sense of shame) of people like Mitt, like that of too many law professors I have known, makes a person dangerous regardless of their political views.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Entitlement Quiz: Find Out Who You Really Are

Here is a little quiz I ran across in a Scandinavian publication. You are supposed to answer each question with the appropriate number.  You've done it before. There are 8 questions and you add up your score at the end.

I. When meeting new people I generally let them know in one way or another I went to an Ivy League school within an hour.

1. Strongly disagree
 2. Disagree
3. Huh?
 4. Agree,
 5 Strongly agree.

[On number 1 double your score if you make a point of telling students.]

II. You attended two Ivy League Schools and ended up  with less than $40,000 in debt. If you attended Exeter, you are automatically in the "Yep, that's me" category.

1. NOT ME.
 (No in between possibilities here)
5. YEP, that's Me. 

 III.  Your Dean announces as a budgetary matter the school will not supply toner for individual office-kept printers.

1. You do not have an office printer,
2. You have a printer but use  it rarely
3. You see no problem buying your own toner.
4. You are offended because it will slow down your work
5. You view the decision as punitive because the nearest community printer is several feet away and you are way too important to walk that far.

IV. At the beginning of each year your Dean gives each person a travel budget.
1. You rarely use the budget.
2. You use some of the budget but only if there are professionally meaningful events.
3. You use all the budget and when it runs out, you pay.
4. You use over half of the budget and, at the end of they year, try to figure out a way to spend anything that is left.
5. You don't really pay attention to the budget, If you go over the school better pay because, after all, you are world class.

V. Which of these would you consider a legitimate event on which to spend school funds.
1. Giving a Paper at the AALS convention.
2. Giving a Paper at the annual meeting of a national organization.
3. Attending a meeting of an organization that you know something about in NYC
4. Serving on a one hour long panel with 6 others in Rio.
5. Traveling to Quebec city to confer with a coauthor whose office is actually three doors down from yours.

VI.  You post office hours for student drop ins for
1. 10 hours a week
2. 8 hours a week
3. 6 hours a week
4. 4 hours a week
5. less than 4 hours a week.

VII. What would you cancel class for?
1. Death in family or serious illness
2. Nuclear fallout.
3. Did not get prepared enough.
4. Got an invitation to teach in Rome for a week.
5. I sneezed a few hours ago and could be getting a head cold.

VIII. The Dean notes you teach about 80 students a year, well below the faculty average. He or she asks you to teach more. You.
1. Say you are concerned about pulling your weight and volunteer to teach another section.
2. add writing assignments to the usual class material because the small classes are an opportunity.
3. explain that you have pressing other duties.
4. explain that the material is hard and you spend time with the students outside of class.
5. say, "I am teaching 9 hours and that is the average load."

Total Score: 41 and up. Retake the test. That score is not possible but the highly entitled person may feel deserving of numbers over 5.
30-40  You are insufferable.
20-30  You should take good look at yourself. If your smile is out of place. Well, you know the rest.
10-20 Are you sure? If so, get ready to be appalled by the activities of some of your colleagues.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Yale Don't Wanna Hear From No Dumb Ass Legal Writing Teachers and Paul Ryan

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em,
Lou Reed

This (below, not up there)  is lifted from a  post on Prawfblawg   that quoted another blog which quoted a letter of advice from the Director of Admission at Yale to a transfer student wannabe.  I really don't like putting in all the links but you can find it. It's quite creepy but don't blame the Director. She is telling it the way it is.

 "The other part of your application that is going to carry a significant amount of weight is your law school recommendations (we require two).  We use these references to place your grades in context and also to determine what kind of student you are.  A common mistake on this front is to make one of your two required recommendations from a legal writing instructor -- most students do this because they've usually had much more one-on-one interaction with their legal writing instructor than with their other professors, and so the instructor usually knows them well.  There's nothing wrong with this per se, but the Admissions Committee generally likes to have at least two letters from one of your first year core subject area professors, who can speak to your ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts (a third letter from your legal writing instructor is fine).  Letters from professors who went to YLS -- who as you probably know are ubiquitous in the legal academy-- are often especially helpful, since they usually discuss why the applicant would fit into the academic and cultural experience here.  But don't go stalking a Yale alum just for this purpose -- just pick professors from classes in which you have performed very well and you'll be on the right track."

There are so many things wrong with this that I do not know where to begin. First, it is a tremendous dis of Legal Writing instructors many of whom are excellent, are grads of elite schools, and are teaching legal writing because they have limited geographic options due to one factor or another.  In fact, one of the people in the chain through which I received this quote teaches legal writing, went to an elite school, and could teach the pants off most people I know. So, Yale elites cannot even get it straight when trying to make sure no riff-raff gets through.

That riff-raff, by the way, would be students at non elite schools  who, according to the author of the letter, must have had the misfortune of having Yale grad profs. Why misfortune? Yale professors must be awful teachers because none of their students at those schools, when they become legal writing teachers, are good enough for a letter of recommendation that counts.

Second, it tells you what Yale folks think of writing. They don't want to hear from the person most informed about writing and speaking. Opps, isn't that what lawyers do?! Not all Yale grads can find  jobs writing incomprehensible law review articles that are never read.

Third, there is the "get Yale prof letters if you can" suggestion. Why? The answer is because they know whether you will fit into Yale's "academic and cultural experience." (Excuse me for a sec. I am barfing as I type this. . . . Ok, I am fine now.)  Now talk about a disaster. Is she saying what I think? We sure as hell do not want any diversity here. We want people who fit.  Only a Yale grad now in law teaching would know  if the candidate is sufficiently boring, one-dimensional,  Yale ass kissing, grade grubbing, and underachieving enough to fit in at Yale.

What does this have to do with Paul Ryan. It's easy, the Director's letter describes classism in full bloom. We do not trust someone who is not already in our cozy little class. And what do we know about huge numbers of people in that class. They're always circling the wagons because they know that they got there through connections and mommy and daddy's money. They are largely privileged people with an insatiable sense of entitlement. Actually, they are Paul except for some superficial political views.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Law Professors for Romney/Ryan

Finally, a ticket that many, if not most, law professors can get behind. Here are two silver spoon candidates whose hands were probably never dirty. Opps, correction. Ryan does like to sneak around in the woods with his bow and arrow and try to kill unsuspecting animals and sometimes there is dirt on his super duper big boy bow. What bravery! One of those chipmunks could charge you.

It's just perfect, both are in their jobs because their parents and connections. There is no sign that either could have made it on their own intellects and work ethic.  Ryan, it appears, actually never worked a real job other than part time stints. He does list "marketing consultant for family business" but, come one, if you wanted to make sure little Rye could get a cut of the take and you could write it off this is exactly what you would do.

If they were in the AALS sheets and had gone the law schools their parents could afford and made decent grades they would be scooped up faster than a Supreme Court Clerk. In fact, they would have been Supreme Court clerks. No one on a hiring committee would ask:

1. What have you actually done in your life?
2. Have you overcome anything that was difficult?
3. Who do you know who has helped you?
4. What do your mommy and daddy do? (Ok I know Ryan's dad died early but here I am talking about the status they were born into.)
5. What do you bring to the table that every other privileged person does not bring, other than dressage experience.

The dominant culture in legal education hire these people every year and I assume they will vote for them. They have finally found their political and social counterparts. I am surprised the law professor vote is regarded as so important to result in such an obvious appeal.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

WTF, The Wonderful World of Won't: Summer Rerun

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.

Friday, July 20, 2012

$10,000 Reward for Anyone who "Built it Alone"

I am pretty upset with Obama and his "you did not built it" comment. Sure, people are taking it out of context and making a big deal but uttering that sound bite was like fumbling the ball at the worst time. And, it was not a fumble after a vicicous hit. No he was just running in the open field and lost his concentration and dropped the ball. Whether it will be run back for the game winning touchdown remains to be seen but, if it is, he alone is the goat.

Just to test those who are offended because they "build their business on their own" I am offering a  "blow hard" reward to anyone who can demonstrate that the Obama statement does not apply to them. I guess this is an offer to small business owners but it could be to anyone who thinks they earned what ever they have without assistance. A non exhaustive list of the things you would have to prove are:

1. You did not attend a public school or recieve any scholarships.
2. You have not purchased for your business any items that were produced by a firm that employed people who attended public schools.
3. You have not employed people who attended public schools or whose parents did.
4. You have not used, for money earning purposes, public roads, sidewalks, libraries nor  have any of your employees or the people from whom you have made purchases.
5. Your parents did not pay for your education.
6. No one ever told you something you did not already know without being paid the full value of that information by you.
7. You have not purchased any items the quality of which is assured by any kind of goverment regulation. This includes engaging the services of anyone who the state has deemed qualified as a result of passing one type of exam or another.
8. No worker you hired was ever paid less than the revenue to which their efforts gave rise.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Yale Tries to Lock Up Law Professor Market With Yet Another Brand

It has long been known that one way to buy your way into law teaching, other than receiving a JD from a elite school,  is to buy a  LLM or a SJD from a comparable school. In fact, the highly ranked law schools offering those programs aggressively promote their graduates as potential law teachers. But now Yale is prepared to go one better. Yes, a Ph.D. for those who want to be law professors. OK, so what happened to the LLM and the SJD?  My guess is that this is just a move to differentiate the product and the substance will not be that much different.

On the other hand, it could be very different. There are some things a law professor might be able to learn in a program specifically designed to prepare him or her for law teaching that might be left out of another program. Here are some courses that are likely to be offered:

LAW 200: Conserving and Promoting the Brand

At the end of this process, you will possess the Yale brand. Protect your investment. This course concentrates on preserving the Yale image. For example, should you have a vanity license tag? How about a sweat shirt?  How can you mention you went to Yale and make it seem natural? How to ensure your children are admitted to Yale. How to make sure Yale grads are at the top of the list of people your future school will hire.

LAW: 300 Networking

The successful law professor networks. This means forming connections to people you do not know but who may be of use to you. Topics include: how to only network with those who can help you, how not to network with people who would like help,  compliments to offer when approaching a potential network partner, remember what people look like, remembering names, name dropping, etc.

LAW 400 Confercating

A successful law professor never pays for a vacation. Instead they go to conferences. This course stresses how to create a conference, how to get invited to a conference, how to classify expenses to ensure reimbursement. A significant part of the course is field work in which conference venues around the world will be visited.

LAW 500 Ingratiating Behavior

This is cross listed as Butt-Kissing. Whose butt should you kiss? And when? This is a skills course. You must learn to stroke the egos of those who can help you but not in a manner that is obvious. In addition to class there is a 2 hour lab.

LAW 600 Planning Your Teaching Schedule

Your research demands long stretches of time unencumbered by pesky students. All classes should meet from 11-12 AM on Wednesday.  Teaching on Friday interferes with Confercationing. Monday classes are not held at all at any reputable law school but if they are held you are entitled to  claim it was a plot to impede your productivity.

LAW 700 Testing and Grading

One word here:  Don't worry. In this course you will learn about delegating the entire process to others. Key areas are: How to download multiple choice exams from other sources, how to give the exam to your secretary to grade, and how to avoid students who have questions about the exam.

LAW 800 Getting What You Want

It is always better to get what you want in any manner other than by asking. Subject matter includes: Waiting to see if you can free ride on the requests of others, making pleas based  in what is fair, claiming that not doing it your way is punishment, volunteering to do what you want to do instead of asking. For example, "I volunteer to travel to Rome."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Season of Confercationing

I have not read anyone who captures the conniving by academics to vacation on someone else's dime better than David Lodge.  I do not recall the book title but in one he has a character doing the grand tour of Europe by linking conferences together. That is probably not uncommon. I think some academics only vacation when its paid for by their school or, at the very least, they can write it off. Let's call it Confercationing.

Sometimes the Conferences are held by actual organizations. I have been to both Geneva and Amsterdam in connection with one such organization but I do not want to be too hard on that organization since it was international and strives to rotate the meetings.

Some Conferences are just people who decide, "Hey lets have a conference." I was casting around for an example of the "Let's have conference so we can have out trips paid for" and I found a humdinger. I am not going to name names because I'll bet this is representative of hundreds of others.

To have a really good Confercation you need to have an organization with members in foreign lands so you can go there or, if there is no organization, it needs to about international something or other. This is especially true if all those Confercationing are from one school. But if they are all from one School it is, by necessity, small but has a big title. For example, the Conference on International Judicial Systems which I made up but, if it exists, would mean that 10 or 15 people from a school and their buds could go to a difference country each year -- not including any of the "Stans" or anywhere too hot, too cold,  too far from a fancy hotel, beach, or mountains or too inexpensive. You really have to watch that last one. Too inexpensive means no one will show up.

The conference I actually found was thousands and thousand of miles from the school hosting it and it was necessary for 13 members of the same faculty or some pals to go along. It was of the international variety although some participants seemed to have no connection with international anything except subsidized travel.

When you are confercationing you do not want waste too much time on the actual conference and you sure do not want anyone to prepare anything very scholarly to present. So, a day and half will do it and, lets see, sessions on "directions," "prospects," and "considerations" are all important as is an opening and closing session. Six people per hour and a half means not having to say much especially if the audience gets to ask questions. And, no need to schedule any time between sessions as that would mean they might actually go the full hour an a half and require each person from thousands and thousand of miles away to speak for a full 15 minutes.

Damn! I gotta go. My plane leaves shortly for the Greek Islands where the Comparative Contract Law Conference, which I organized, will be held. To economize I only invited myself but I promise to present my paper "Comparative Implied Obligations to Street Entertainers" to someone. I'll have plenty of time on the plane to scribble down my remarks which will last 10 minutes, max.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Law Professor's GPS

I finally have a car with a talking GPS.I have many complaints about it.  Mostly it is culturally insensitive. For example, the speaker might say, "turn left in 400 yards." Suppose, though, I were a country boy. Wouldn't it be better for her to say, "Bubba, when you get on down the road aways, hang a left." Or, if I had the low self-esteem model I want to hear after a turn, "Excellent" or "you are such a good driver." In fact, just periodically she could say, "I am still here and you are doing fine." There are so many variations. If Valley Girls is still relevant concept how about, "like really! how about making a right turn." For the hippie, "Duuuuude, if you want to a right turn in 400 yards would be like groovy. I'm just sayin."

 The biggest problem is that law professors cannot possible understand what she means. I want something a bit more Socratic:"Which direction do you think you should turn" and then, "Ok, but suppose your destination is on other side of town?" And then, "But why would you want to go there in the first place.And, then, "so what is the answer? turn left or right?

 Or she could do what many law professor do when a student gives exactly the wrong answer in class, "Yes, that is wonderful and thoughtful turn but think about the possibility that we could improve that analysis by considering two right turns." Or for the law professor who is even more sensitive it would be "Please consider making a right turn but first 'how does that make you feel?'"

 If you are law prof with a strong sense of entitlement her lack of indirection and sensitivity to status must be quite upsetting.  For example, what is this with "prepare to make a right turn in 400 yards" or "make a right turn now." Does she know to whom she is speaking? Does she even know that "to whom" is used correctly in the previous sentence. Frankly, I think apologies may be in order. The one I dislike the most is "make a U-turn." The implication is that I have made a mistake. That, we know, is not possible. Why doesn't she say, "I am pretty sure you are going the right way but just to placate my anal propensities would you consider turning around?" Or better yet, "Professor, you have made an excellent turn but I have some concerns about reconciling that turn with the destination you entered."  Or even better than that, "You are right, I am wrong, St. Augustine is west of Gainesville. Please forgive me."

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Anthropological Notes 5: Michigan Law Review Cite Count Project (Is this serious)

As some readers know Michigan Law Review has published an article on the most cited law reviews articles. Before I go on to the frightful possibility that anyone takes it seriously, I need to make a few points. First, I'd be happy to be on the list. Second, the authors on the list are certainly not responsible for creating the list. Finally the  assessment of SSRN is the best I have seen and the Michigan authors' discussion of why their numbers could be off is first rate.

 But, ultimately there are many anthropological observations to make based on the list and its existence.  Let's start with one of the last and perhaps most nonsensical passage in the work: "In the end, regardless of the publication venue, all involved in publishing legal scholarship should be striving for an environment in which authorship, affiliation, and editorial responsibility are clearly marked so that readers can fully evaluate the credibility of what they are reading."  So in the end, the authors suggest, the credibility of what is written can be determined by who authored the work, their affiliation and where published. To quote a former famous tennis player "YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS."  My goodness not only do we hire on the bases of institutional authority but now we assess the credibility of what is written by the same standards. Here are a few points.

1. Authority

This type of thinking leads to something I found when recently reviewing a piece for a colleague. He wrote something like this: "It is well known that poor people have less access to dental care."  I do not doubt that this true. His citation was to a Supreme Court Justice who had said just that, without any analysis what so ever. When did a Supreme Court Justice became an authority on income and dental care? I suppose when you join the institution of the Supreme Court you are deemed to be an authority on everything. Of course that is hogwash just as is the suggestion that credibility should be assessed on who said it (not their support) and where is was published (as determined by a third year law student) and where the author teaches (as determined by a system so rigged it would make professional wrestling look legit.)

2. Why are Some Cite Counts High

A friend once told me that he found a really good article in the Buffalo Law Review but he was looking for the same general statement somewhere in the Harvard Law Review. I asked why and he said "So the editors will be impressed." The Michigan article notes that articles published  in elite journals and  written by people at elite schools are cited far more often. Thankfully, except for the quoted passage they do not otherwise say those are the best or most influential articles with respect to anything that matters. That would be like saying "We have found the 100 best articles and, oh, what a coincidence, they just happen to be in elite journals and written by people at elite schools." This would overlook the reason they are are cited. They are in the top  one-hundred in large part because of where they are published and who wrote them. Their inclusion in another article is a bit of advertising. --  the implicit message of the author doing the citing is sending is "What I am writing must be good because look where what I cited was published and by whom." In short, another word for "cited" is "used" and it means used as a means to an end and the ends is publication, regardless of quality.

3. Guess what.

 The authors do think since we are talking about law review articles it might be good idea to see how they have affected actual law.  This, however, is way too hard  especially when we can so easily count articles citing articles. The authors evidently make a stab at it with the results appearing in Table XI. I am sure this is my mistake but the pdf available from the law review web cite does not have a Table  XI that I can find. Nevertheless,  I agree that assessing impact by looking at case citations is difficult (Coase, by the way, the leading article, has 47 in 52 years according to ALLCASES in WESTLAW. That's less than one a year and if you toss out the 7th circuit opinions the total shrinks) but what they conclude is that the legal citations to the most cited articles in law reviews is "respectable." "Respectable" is not defined but I suppose that includes the whopping 4 citations in 49 years for number 15 on the list. And the 10 for number 33. And 10 more for number 19. There are 18 for number 8 on the list.  I did see some that were relatively high but I am no more sure what "relatively high" means here than the authors are of what "respectable" means. Perhaps on Table XI the numbers are higher but what does that tell us much without knowing how often other articles -- including those not in the top 100 -- were cited.   Hey, I am beginning to wonder if someone will cite the Michigan article for the proposition that the courts cite the 100 hundred at "respectable" levels. After all, it did appear in Michigan so it must be true.

4. Impact

The authors tell us they are measuring impact. Let's think about that. There is "impact" and there is "impact." If  you write something for a fancy law review and someone cites it because of who you are and where it is  published in hopes that their own article will be cited, I suppose that is impact.  But it is impact within a group that largely write for each other and have no impact outside their society. Think of 20 films directors. The make movies they exchange. Very few others see them. Periodically they rank their movies based on how often the movies are paid homage in other movies. Is that impact? And is counting the number times this happens scholarship?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Revisiting Anthropological Notes 3

What follows is a comment on Anthropological Notes 3. I am posting it because I think it is a very insightful  and partially correct criticism of the original "Anthropological Notes 3" and I wish I had thought of some of it.  I'd comment further myself but I have forgotten what irked me as much as it did. I think the commentator is right when he or she mentions "the context."  In fact, I was mocking the context because of its standards for what was to be regarded as noble and what was regarded as an appropriate reaction.  In a way, I guess that supports the thesis found in this little series of "notes." The context is an unusual and bizarre society. As an aside please do write any comments complimenting me on admitting my original blog might have been off a bit. Admissions like that are what normal people do.

Hi Jeffrey,

I am a fan of your blog, but I think you've got it wrong on this one. I was one of the law professors who complimented Rod Hills on his post and I did so precisely because he did something that you have repeatedly noted elites are almost constitutionally incapable of doing: demonstrate the self-awareness and sense of shame that are necessary to combat the sense of entitlement that you regularly rail against. 

I think you are correct when you write that Hills was not fishing for the kind of praise he received. Interestingly, this very fact seems to make the compliments paid to him--the very compliments you mock—even more warranted; in fact I am surprised you did not join in the complimenting. Others, many of whom think like you do, saw the genuineness of his humility and self reflection and thanked him for it. It's important to do this in a culture (that is, legal culture generally) wherein it seems the default response is to see such humility as a sign of weakness rather than to praise it as intellectually and personally brave and of great utility for systemic change. 

So I agree that Hills' post was not the Gettysburg Address but that actually helps make the point. It merely highlights the very premise driving Hills' apology and post. Given the insular nature of law professors' existence, such manifest shame is so unusual that the self-awareness he demonstrated becomes almost profound in context. Everything is relative. The commentators realized this and were thus inspired to give Hills a shout out. And I don't think the specific wording they chose to use was as inflated as you seem to think—again, given the context. The commentators were perhaps a bit more sensitive to the key considerations than you are being, which is, to your credit, not necessarily the norm. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Anthropological Studies 4

Over on facebook I sometimes field letters addressed to the Law School Ethicist. It's a take off on the New Times Sunday Magazine column. I don't attempt to answer the questions sent to the "ethicist."  I am not qualified. I also do not make up all the questions asked. Almost all of them are based on actual incidents or are submitted to me. Recently I received this from a  close law school friend. His question in many ways captures something of the strange world of law professordom. 

Dear Jeff: Could you pass this on to the ethicist? What is the intention of the hiring process, exactly? I know that there are more than two views, but let me try to limit my question to two, since these two seem to me in tension. The first is a transparently meritocratic intention that acknowldeges a glittery resume indicating the potential for success in an academic post (success meaning advancement of various types for the new hire, the school, and its students). If the potential is realized, then so be it; if not, then it seems either the new hire squandered an opportunity or was overestimated by the hiring powers. Time for both to move on. The second is an opaquely nurturing intention where the hiring powers accept responsibility for the new hire as though the act of hiring was something they have done to (as opposed to for) the new hire. If he or she tanks, it is the fault of the hiring powers, not of the new hire. Accordingly, the promotion process is influenced by feelings of compassion manifested in utterances like "we need to bring Johnny up to speed before his next review. Let's get him some mentors!" Under the nurturing approach, the decision to hire carries an obligation to promote the new hire if at all plausible. Does the Ethicist prefer one approach to the other? Please advise.

My answer is that I personally prefer to first approach albeit administered in a helpful way. In the real world of law school hiring the second may be attractive but quickly morphs into a process that is really designed to avoid change and reinforce the power of incumbents. Nurturing has a nice sound but the goal of "nurturing" is to avoid having to admit a mistake. And nurturing, in the world of law professors, soon becomes creating an illusion about the new faculty member. Lousy scholarship is phrased and mentors scramble to make sure it is placed and then that it is positively reviewed. Someone who is slow in producing becomes "brilliant." Someone who has trouble in the classroom will have the classroom visited and the report will invariable be that he or she is a well organized and caring teacher who is actually too good for the students.  

Hiring someone does carry with it the obligation -- to the institution -- to do what is reasonable to help them succeed. But remember, they are typically adult graduates of elite law schools. What is reasonable stops well short of the hand-holding which is what typically goes on -- teaching loads are reduced, summer grants are granted,  and multiple mentors are appointed. In a very real sense it should be insulting to the new hire. What is reasonable also stops when those hiring begin to act like success or failure reflects on their own judgment and grease the skids. When they do that all they do is tenure someone and donate to them for life a position maybe a person who actually would be productive would hold. But such is this strange culture. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anthropological Notes 3

I have spent some time lately reading other blogs. I like Above the Law and find The Faculty Lounge interesting. There is another blog, however, that makes my efforts at exposing the bizarre word of  privileged professors look feeble, at best. On that blog one can easily find commentary over days and numbering close to triple digits on what to do if someone does not keep an appointment or if an email is quoted. There are issues like just how oppressive it is to grade exams.  Just go there and forget about this blog. Entire dissertations could be written about the characteristics of the culture you will find.

It is somewhat like a faculty meeting -- a great deal of aggressive self-interested behavior carefully disguised so as to appear like civil discussion.  It's amazing the number of ways people can tell others they are idiots but maintain their deniability. And, some of the butt kissing is embarrassing. When you like someone's post or comment there are congratulatory platitudes that will make you want to look away. "Thank you for doing this, and for contributing to thoughtful discussion on the internet." says one. Another goes with, "An extraordinarily gracious and knowing post." And how about,  "This post is a remarkable act of introspection and self-interpretation." And what are these comments referring to: The Gettysburg Address? Letter From a Birmingham Jail? Meta World Peace's after game commentary?

Not exactly. These comments are for an admittedly privileged and sheltered law professor who wondered "out loud" on a blog what one might do to overcome the handicap of privilege. Yes, in a sense he was wallowing in the self pity induced by knowing he has it made. No, I am not kidding and I want to quickly add that I do not think the writer of the original piece was fishing for this level of gushing.

In subjective competitions it is said that judges keep the scores of the first competitors low in order to save something up if another competitor blows them away. What have these commentator held back? What do they say if they read a spectacular article or a moving poem. Maybe "Your analysis of Citizens United made me weep." "I knew from the first line that I was not worthy of your genius."

Remember, this was for someone -- one of their own -- who basically asked "Is there a way for me to be less of a jerk."

Monday, April 30, 2012

Anthropological Notes 2

In visiting the tribe over an extended period of time one thing that stuck me was the emphasis on a game that when I was a child we called "make believe."  In those days we might pretend we were doctors or police men. The "make believe" I have observed can only be called "I am important."  The truth is that almost no members of the tribe are important except in the context of the game.

For example, thinking I was part of the tribe a book publisher called me. He asked me to collect articles from members of the tribe on a particular subject and, if I did, he would publish them in a book. My name would go on the book as editor. But then he added,  "you really do not have to do anything. Just tell us which articles you want to include and we will get them for you." I was puzzled.  I would have my name on a book -- something highly valued by the tribe- but I actually  would not do anything useful.

This pretending to be important ritual can be observed at annual meetings.  Members of the tribe from all over gather. They give speeches to each other which no one remembers. They seem to take turns giving these speeches. After each one, they clap and then they are viewed as having done something important.But they are only important in their own minds. The game, as best I can tell is that I will act like you are important if you will return the favor. This reciprocity does not carry over to financial matters. For example, there is usually a contest to see who knows the best restaurants in the cities where  these meetings are held. When the bill comes, the members can spend hours calculating who ordered what and what each person should pay.

One prominent example of the "I am important" ritual actually occurs at these dinners when the waiter-person comes to ask what each person would like to eat. Each person has very special needs. Like "water, no ice," no nuts," "dressing on the side," "please substitute peas for the Lima beans," "is the chef unionized," "please place my order in the original Cantonese," "was this plate washed at the appropriate temperature," and so on.  And that is only for the appetizer. The wine ordering ritual is far longer.

The "I am important game" is far more extensive than this. Each member of the tribe does some work teaching and writing but far more work publicizing his or her work. Announcements are made about meaningless efforts, lists are created. Often they measure their importance by the number of article they have published but that are very rarely read.  So, instead of being noted for what was said of importance, the publicity may be "Professor Tom has published 56 articles." This is regarded as better than 35 articles regardless of what the 35 said. Often the articles are based on the talks they gave to each other in return for listening to the talks of others. In fact, these talks and articles are frequently all about one thing but have different titles in order to create the image of importance and higher number. One thing is clear. The tribe has great tolerance for repetition.

I cannot figure out how one knows for sure if he has won the game.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anthropological Notes

Most of my blogging is devoted to observing a culture that I did not know existed until I jumped a class or two and wound up as a Law Professor. It is as strange to me as it is to anyone observing a society that he or she did not know existed. Some things are small like why everyone is on a first name basis but sometimes in faculty meetings they shift to "professor" this and that. Why is there laughter at the dumbest wise cracks. Why to people say  things "are not personal" when ten minutes earlier they were referring to the same person as someone not to be trusted.

There are more serious practices that also seem odd. Why do they value facial collegiality so much when privately they complain about each other. In fact, the most uncollegial thing one can do at times is to tell the truth.  And, it is far more important and acceptable to create history as opposed to saying "Yes, I may have screwed up."

In a field study a few days ago I think I observed the "not technically a lie" norm used again. It evidently is so ingrained in the culture that it not viewed as a negative. For example, a committee comes to the faculty for approval to hire one of 4 candidates on a slate. The committee does not reveal that there is one person of the  4 who is related to a faculty member and will be the choice if the 4 are approved. That one is made an offer and when it is suggested the committee (which in theory works for the faculty) should have indicated what the vote was really about the answer is "we said there was a slate of 4 candidates and there were 4 on the slate." How odd that this is acceptable.   But this is a very simple example of the norm which is pervasive -- not a lie but avoidance of transparency.

But this only leads to the second oddity. It seems like for a majority of those in this culture, allowing line cutting is fine. They would not like it if it happened in a line for movie tickets (a small matter) but when it comes to a friend or relative looking for a job, it's evidently understood that line jumping is normal behavior. So, for example, you might search for someone to fill a position and actually interview or consider 80 people and almost invariable the the "best candidate" is someone you already know or are related to.

Another odd characteristic of this tribe, as I have written before, is the desire to never appear to want anything too much. For example, people are forever volunteering to do what they want to do as opposed to "getting" what they wany. That is, they want to appear that they were asked and are only doing whatever because they were talked into it. They volunteer to be on committees they want to be on, to take trips they want to take and to be the director of departments or "centers" that they want manage. The idea, as best I can tell is a view that all of life is a negotiation and to appear to want something just reduces bargaining power.

There is also an unusual division between management and workers when it comes to committees. Committees are made up of faculty who, in theory, represent and report to the faculty on matters ranging from hiring to what courses will be offered. The committees are, however, appointed by management. Plus, some individuals really want to be on specific committees -- it makes them feel important. So, rather than represent workers (faculty --  and, yes, I use the term loosely) they do what they are told by management. And, if this is questioned, they are appointed to examine themselves to determine if they are doing everything right. In short, there is no accountability to those they purportedly serve.

More reports to come.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Law School Titanic

Almost 100 years ago the Titanic went down in about three hours. If you cut through the details it was about hubris, greed, disorganization, carelessness and uncertainty. The Titanic "administrators" consistently ignored warnings of icebergs and sped at nearly top speed through the ice fields of the North Atlantic. No doubt that decision was made by those in charge in part because there was tremendous emphasis on being on time. The externalities of hubris and a focus on a singular goal was the lives of hundreds.

Are there signs you are aboard the law school Titanic? Of course. Here are a few:

1. On an ordinary school day you are called by an administrator calls and asks if you are holding class that day. You ask why and the answer is "Because so many others have canceled class."

2. Your dean sends out regular emails congratulating people for their accomplishments. Accomplishments include include being contacted by a newspaper but not being cited by a court or another scholar.

3. You have an externship program under which you charge students for credit hours but do not teach them and, as far as you know, no one else does either.

4. You approve a battery of courses about "Feelings." Not the song, that would be better.

5. Every peer evaluation of the teaching of every untenured faculty is extremely positive.

6. You fudge, lie or massage employment data.

7. Being a "good father" or a "good mother" or a friend or a spouse become relevant in tenuring and hiring decisions.

8. Procedure is created to achieve the desired ends of a few.

9. Warnings of trouble go unheeded until they become incidents worthy of investigation.
10. As the ship sinks (employment rates decline) you take aboard more passengers who are even less likely to know how to swim.

11. When things get nasty, the captain and his crew have a private lifeboat.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Law Schools Discover the Real Market; Something for Nothing

This post reflects two things. One is that having been in law teaching, in fact university teaching, most of my life, I have witnessed the gradual privitization of what once was public higher education. The other is the market working. The problem is that education markets often have an odd characteristic. Students pay for something and many -- not all -- want the least amount possible for their money. It would be like going to the Steak and Shake for a shake, paying your $4.00 (assuming you are not there during half price hours) and then saying, 'hold the shake, just give me the cup."

What is means is that light assignments are often preferred to heavy ones. Missed classes, to a limit, are applauded and dismissing class a few minutes early is highly desirable. If I compared the number of times a student asked "Do we need to know that" with the number of times one said "Could you give me some extra reading" I do not need to tell you the winner. The shorter the length of a required paper, the better. Of course, please no class on the eve of a holiday break. And a higher curve is the icing on the cake as well as unlimited pass/fail options.

How would one draw this demand curve? I am not sure and maybe it is different at schools where tuition is massive. Then again, the cost of going to the library and reading and learning virtually anything is close to zero. Among students, the quantity demanded at that price is tiny. Let's put this way; at every price, many students would prefer less rather than more of what they are paying for.

Now the financial squeeze has forced the hand of law schools. On the cost side there is greater reliance on adjuncts who will often teach for free in order to be called "professor." Teaching responsibilities are increasingly handed off to non tenure track professors whose jobs do not reflect a legitimate search process for the best candidates.

The demand side in more interesting. Law schools are finally getting around to giving many students what they want -- less of everything except nothing (there is plenty of that). On great example is externships which amount to Law schools pimping out the students. The law students work for nothing, the law school collects hefty tuition and engages in what too often is nominal supervision. Some schools have gone as far as offering finder's fees to faculty who "supervise" externships.

Another example is selling credits. For example, suppose you are a foreign student looking for an LLM program. You'd like to transfer some credits to lower your tuition. How does a school make money by decreasing the credits required to be taken on campus. It's easy. Say a one year program consisting of 26 hours of credit costs $26,000. It draws 4 students. Instead give the students 9 hours of credit and charge $17,000. Now you draw 10 students. $170,000K is more that $104,000 and marginal cost does not budge. In fact, credit transfer competition may just be heating up.

I know where this is going and I am ahead of the game. Mail your $1000 to me and you will receive your diploma (please indicate if you want a J.D. or and LLM) within a month.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Refining My Teaching Schedule

Dear Dean Associate:

Thank you for sending me my teaching schedule of the 2012-13 academic year. I see I will be teaching 9 hours. In the first semester it will be 4 hours of contract law. In the second semester, it will be 3 hours of copyright and 2 hours of law and economics. My teaching slots are all on Monday-Thursday between 10 AM and 3 PM. This is a wonderful schedule and I am quite happy except for some very minor adjustments as described as follows:

1. I love teaching contracts but feel I most effective teaching it to students for whom Portuguese is a first language. So, could be put a small requirement that all students registering must be fluent in English and Portuguese. I only ask this to enhance the quality of the students' (or should that be student's) experience.

2. Also, could you schedule contracts for two two hour blocks instead of four one hour blocks. To ensure the best possible use of the teaching facilities, please schedule those two two hour blocks to run concurrently so that actual demand on classroom space is 2 hours per week.

3. I love teaching copyright but have discovered that I am more effective teaching for 3 hours on Friday afternoon. The starting time will have to be flexible and will depend on the start time of the newest film arriving in town. Oh, and please schedule the class to meet in theater 6 at the Regal Multiplex.

4. In the interest of teaching economy I have already videotaped the entire law and economic course. Fourteen 2 hour tapes have been left with your secretary. Please have him upload the tapes so they will be available for the students when they find it convenient to view them.

5. If you would now schedule the two concurrent sections of contracts for Friday morning, that is the last thing I would ask. I will have office hours also on Friday. I am not sure which Friday at this point.

Thank you so much for my schedule. If you need to reach me on Saturday - Thursday, I can be found at by beach house in Amelia Island.

Best, Tristan

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hey Colleague, "Eat My Externality."

I am sure everyone deals with the externalities of others. This is even true for law professors and, I assume, other academics. Take this example, recently a colleague proposed a new course that would be co-taught and capped at 16 students. What is the externality you might ask. At my school students must take 88 credit hours to graduate. Suppose your school has 1000 students. So over any 3 year people the school needs to generate 88000 student credit hours. If you have 60 faculty that means over a 3 year period each must generate about 1460 student credit hours or about 500 credit hours per year. If you teach 16 students a 3 credit course you generate 48. If it is cotaught you can view that as actually 24. Let's suppose you teach the capped course once a year. You teach another 3 credit course with 25 students and a 3 credit course with 50 students. That brings you up to less than half your share if the teaching task were allocated equally.

Now suppose your best bud 25 students is not the only one. Another professor teaches 9 hours with an average enrollment of 20 and another 9 hours with an enrollment of 15. The first generates 180 student credit hours and the other only 120. Remember, this is out of a fair share of 500 per year and the externality accumulates.

Do they think about it? I doubt it. Have you ever heard a law professor say "I just do not feel I am pulling my weight. I'd like to teach a bigger class."

I have framed this as choice but it may not always be. Evidently one of the ways to avoid to the fair share is to be awful in the classroom. So, you might be assigned to teach a potential large group of student but they do not enroll. Or, as happens in some schools, you assign the person to a large first year section, the students protest and the response is to reassign the teacher to something no one is required to take and very few do. It may not be a choice but it is an externality nonetheless.

Teaching is not the only place where professors are quick to let those they refer to a "colleagues" eat their dust. When do you want your classes to be? How about 10-11 MWF. Due to space and scheduling conflicts, not everyone can have that time and those days. Has a law professor every written to his or her dean "I've asked for and received the perfect schedule the last 5 years. I know that means others have not. Consequently, please determine my schedule after accommodating others." I did not think so.

There are many other examples of shifting costs to others. Here is another. Your school schedules class for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. And each year students ask "Are you going to hold class on the day before Thanksgiving?" Odd question, you might think -- the schedule does not say it is a holiday. Eventually you learn that a fair number your colleagues cancel class that day and the pressure is on you to make it a clean sweep. Does the canceler ever think "Does this effect others?"

Then there are, of course, the make up artists. These are the folks who leave for a couple of weeks and then make up the classes (if they do at all) at semester's end. Here the externality is principally absorbed by the students but it is also not productive to try to teach students who have just had a marathon make up session. At my school we actually have a sanctioned program that requires people to miss class for two weeks. Yes, institutionalized externalities.

My hunch is that this goes on in most jobs but, in my view, law profs who talk about collegiality while producing externalities wouldn't know what collegiality meant if it bit them in the butt.