Sunday, May 13, 2018

Volunteering and the Quandary it Presents

One of the more fascination ploys of the upper classes or elites is the volunteer “move.”  It means never asking for something (asking implies the other person has power) but volunteering (which implies you are doing the other person a favor).  This means no matter how much you want something, when you get it, it was a result of your charitable instincts.  For example, I once chaired the committee that was to go to the meat market. Not everyone on the committee needed to go so in a meeting I made the mistake of asking who "wanted" to go.  Not one person “wanted to.” Within days every person on the committee contacted me privately to say he or she was “willing to go.” And then when I announced I had too many people who volunteered to go, no one volunteered  to stay at home.

It is pervasive. I was in a meeting a few months ago when one faculty member described how he did not want to hold an administrative post, a position now held by that person with an iron grip with no signs of change. And, there was a past interim dean who was described as being forced to be interim dean. The problem was it took a crowbar to get him to move on.

My favorite recent one involves the director of a set of programs that involve traveling to interesting places. When I asked to go, I was told that he had already “volunteered” to do it.

And, there are plenty of people who volunteer to teach an extra course, organize a conference, or teach at an inconvenient time. Sometimes volunteers are solicited and sometime people volunteer to do things that really do not need doing. It is the appearance of volunteering that is important.

But here is the quandary. If you volunteer for something and then do it, can you turn around and complain that you have too much on your plate or that you are deserving of a pay raise higher than that of someone who did not volunteer? This gets even stickier when you volunteer to do something that is not really needed -- you kind of made up a project, a program, a course, -- and then you turn around and want to be rewarded for it.

Perhaps those who step forward when volunteers are solicited deserve recognition. On the other hand, volunteers who create work for themselves and then seek a reward are not volunteers at all. They are operators.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Legal Education, Public Goods, and the Ratings Race

Once upon a time the public good rationale might have been  the basis for subsidizing legal education.  Personally, I never bought the rationale. Instead I figured that people with property and money -- the ones needing lawyers -- decided it would be great if everyone could be taxed to help produce lawyers so that legal fees might be lower.  After all, this is America.

You could think of it as income redistribution from the less well off to those better off.  One of the great examples of this, which many people hate to hear about, is the state subsidization of tax LLM. programs.  (Do you think Sally, the single mom down at the 7-11 needs a tax lawyer?) I actually do not know as a factual matter whether state operated tax LLM programs continue to be subsidized but, if so, let's hope we come to our senses.

But let's say I am wrong at least with respect to JD programs (even tax LLMs)  and that there once was a legitimate public good rationale and subsidization was based on that rationale. Or, more cynically, a public good rationale had nothing to do with it  but, as it turns out, there were unexpected positive externalities. Put differently, left to market forces, legal advice and assistance would be produced at inefficiently low levels. (If you know a thing or two about public goods you may be wondering who the free riders would be that would mean that demand for lawyers would be suppressed leading to too few lawyers. But let's say for now that 50 years ago the system made sense if only by accident.)

The fact that many people trained as lawyers cannot find jobs does not necessarily mean the public good rationale does not continue to exist. Maybe the problem is that people still cannot afford to or are unwilling to pay for legal services. Could the subsidization be too low? Perhaps all law school grads should get government stipends so poor people could afford their services or maybe the costs to  those who demand legal services should be reimbursed. All we know is that many people graduating from law school cannot earn a living selling their human capital and have to find other employment. Pumping out even more  publicly subsidized lawyers without determining the extent of a continuing public good rationale makes no sense. If  there remains inefficiently low levels of legal assistance being sold, other avenues of subsidization should be considered.

But let's suspend our disbelief if necessary and say there continues to be a public good rationale. Let's see how law schools are responding in the era of a rankings race (or law school mutually assured destruction). Law Schools cut the size of classes as a way to increase their entering class GPAs and LSAT scores. The compete for and recruit  students for the same reason almost as aggressively as college coaches. They attract students by paying them -- REGARDLESS OF NEED - and, unlike college athletes, there appears to be no limit to what can be offered. Yes, they pay students to attend a specific law school who would attend a law school somewhere without the payment.  Law schools operate  massive "development" offices that seek financial support for their addiction to the rankings racket.

How many of these practices are responsible reactions to a possibly imaginary rationale for public subsidization of legal education?  None. The benefits flow to very very few and certainly not to the public.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The Best Job in the World

This is partly about me and not just about my faculty since I have heard these stories from many people at other schools. In fact, I've never visited a school at which I was not eventually cornered and told who the good guys and bad guys were.

Law teaching is a pretty great job. You are paid more than most academics (although this is lost on most law professors who have never lived the life of a real academic) and you get to do pretty much whatever you like assuming you are intellectually curious. A few times a week you teach a group of students and the only real downside is about two weeks of grading twice a year.

Cool job, right? So why do I see so many people who seem to be so unhappy. Drama is pervasive, Demands are made about the most trivial things. There are always conspiracies afoot. Someone else is racist, sexist, or homophobic, that is, if you listen to the gossip. High blood pressure is far from rare. Emails are sent that demand attention yesterday. There is never enough for whichever "me" you happen to be.

Is it the job or is that people cannot accept having one of he best jobs in the world? What is this with the office to office gossip, the complaints about the wrong room, the wrong secretary, and imagined slights? Really, do people need to be unhappy about something?

[Time out for a sec.  I need to see if the dean answered my email yet. After all, I send it almost 20 minutes ago and she has not answered. Who the hell does she thing she is!??]

[Sorry, I am back now but first I had to figure out why Jane's office is being painted. No one asked me about painting my office. What is wrong with these people?]

Ok, so what made me do that? Why bitch about the dean and feel slighted. Why worry about Jane's office since the paint on my office is completely fine and it would be more inconvenient to have it painted than it is worth.

Why roam the halls, trying to convince that that guy who blogs should not be hanging out our dirty laundry. If you get 10 people to agree with the obvious (of course he is hanging out the dirty laundry that's the whole point and maybe if it is hung out and it looks bad you will make it less dirty) where does that get you? He obviously does not care because he is so uncollegial. I really hate that blogger guy because he might be talking about me.

[Sorry, I need sec here to tell the dean that I gave an important talk to people at the highest level at the Gainesville Car Wash Society. Also I need to put it on my resume. Actually one person was not that high.]

Ok, I am way too pissed off about my job to keep writing this and I feel a high blood pressure attack coming on. Really, I am never treated fairly. This job sucks.