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.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Kings and Queens of Transaction Costs

[Sorry about the photo but when I Googled "smarmy" this was what a got as an image.]

Granted, I have not had very many jobs but it is hard to believe that individuals in other jobs rely on transaction costs to promote their ends as much many law professors. It may be a minority of law professors but that is all it takes.

Transaction costs typically refers to the costs of, well, transactions, and law professors are rarely contracting with each other. It is probably more accurate to say law professors rely on raising information costs as a means of achieving their own ends. In any case, let's stick to transaction costs because so many people in the business regard life as one big zero sum negotiation . The cost raising is in the form or misrepresentations, half truths, withheld information or engaging in the "not technically a lie" process which, I now understand, is a way of achieveing "plausible deniability." In every exchange, when one person is not on the level it means raising the cost of others to discover the truth or take on the risk of making the wrong decision because of imperfect information. This list is hardly exhaustive. Indeed most self-promotion is overstatement meaning that to know the truth you have to incur costs yourself. Thing of law review submission cover letters, letter or recommendation, and so on.

So here is a small example. The issue was whether to give 9 hours credit toward an LLM to students who completed a night program we voluntarily teach elsewhere. The supporter of granting credit provides accurate information about the off site program that is designed to make granting transfer credit reasonable. The evidence is that there are standards for grading since there is no curve and the grades can be lower than the ones we give our students. What is not said is that there are language problems and we give very easy tests and are careful to pass almost everyone because if they learn anything it is better than nothing. The fact that the curve could be lower is irrelevant with respect to what actually happens. But to know that, you have to incur some costs. In fact, this a a good one in that the person in the best position cost-wise to describe the reality passes that responsibility to those for whom the cost will be higher.

How about one that affects the lives of people who have no idea what has happened to them. A school conducts a national search to fill three positions all currently held on a visiting basis by three people in the neighborhood. The search yields 80 applicants but guess who, out those 80, are deemed to be the best? Need I tell you? Yes, the three locals who are already friends are better than any of the other 80. Is that really possible? I'd say, it's very unlikely. Anyone who wants to challenge this obviously shaky outcome would have to absorb enormous transaction costs.

These are small things. Want to see bigger ones? Take a look at Texas and their "loan" issues. Do you think the availability of those loans was widely understood or did the professors who eventually exposed the scheme have to incur costs to do so? Do you think the recipients talked openly about the "loans" or kinda maybe did not really mention them? It looks like the system persisted because it was not widely know and it would have required some investment by someone to discover it. The Texas example is also good to illustrate why I am betting all the hoopla will not result in any reforms at all. Too many law professors are invested in playing the system and playing means keeping transactions costs high. They seem to believe they are better cost raisers than others.

Indeed, much of legal practice and our system of advocacy are based on raising transaction costs of opponents. If there is anything we know about law professors it is that their most important clients are themselves and they take that responsibility very seriously.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Making Some Real Dough in the Law School Business

In the last post I was able to present a course proposal from one of the more serious scholars and law professors I know. Now another colleague has presented a proposal for an LLM in Advanced Law. The proposal follows:

LLM in Advanced Law

A one year graduate level program.

Cost: $20,000 per student payable in advance.[This is a bargain compared to other LLM Programs.]

All admissions will be determined by ability to pay. If you can pay, you are in. If you can not, you are out.

Program of Study:

This innovative program involves two components.

A. The first is devoted to practical experience. Consequently the first semester is composed of an externship. All students will participate in a work experience off campus. It may be paid or unpaid. Some examples follow:
1. Practicing law. If you currently working for or at a law firm you have fulfilled the externship requirement.
2. If you are gainfully employed in any industry that is subject to government regulation -- fast food, table waiting, floor sweeping -- you have also fulfilled the externship requirement.
3. If you are unemployed and collecting benefits from a government source, you have completed the externship requirement.
4. If you are unemployed, not collecting benefits but living with someone who is, has been or will possible be employed some day you have completed the externship requirement.

B. The second component of study reflects the Law School's commitment to public service. All students are required to have completed 20 hours of study in a program that grants a degree or certificate of achievement or the equivalent. The Law School accepts these hours as transfer credits. Students will not be admitted who do not have 20 hours of study in a program somewhere in the world. This public service is required to complete the second portion of the program.

Degrees and Diplomas

Your diploma will be mailed at the completion of the above requirements. Those applicants who have already completed the requirements may enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope with the tuition payment. The diploma will arrive by return mail.