Thursday, December 05, 2019

NO, You Cannot be a Law Professor


About once a year a student comes to my office to ask about becoming a law professor. I have to tell him or her there is virtually no chance and that may be overly optimistic. The reason, of course, is that they are not attending one of a tiny handful  of -- mainly expensive private -- law schools that produce what people who went to those schools, and are in charge of hiring,  regard as good enough to be law professors. This always seemed odd to me since some of the smartest people I know went to mid level law schools and some of the dumbest and most narrowly educated  (including some law professors) went to the fancy schools.

Even if they apply to be a law professor they will be quickly vetoed -- without so much as a second look -- by someone who did go to one of those law schools. Strange isn't it. The privileged attend the fancy schools, get all puffed up about it but they actually do not think they are very good teachers. How do we know this? Because rarely, if ever, do they think they have been effective enough in class to elevate even the smartest student to be a potential law professor. They must be lousy teachers since they cannot even explain to others what they claimed to have learned in law school themselves.

So what is up with this. It's either about rankings or some delusional notion that you have to have gone to a fancy school to be an effective teacher and researcher. I've said enough in other blogs about how law schools will sacrifice everything to advance in the rankings. It is the least ethical conduct I have seen in legal education. And, I do not know whether going to a fancy school is correlated with good teaching and research. I once attempted an empirical study of this but could not find enough people who went to non fancy schools to make the study valid.

So what's is it really about? It's about status  and preserving status-- anyway you can. Think about it. You've spend a few hundred thousand to attend a fancy school and you are a law professor. (And you are sure to remind the students of your days at Harvard or Yale,)  Then someone is hired who did not go to a fancy school and is running circles around you both teaching-wise and research-wise. What does that mean about you? It may mean that you are not so hot after all since some poor schlub from the University of Florida is kicking your elitist ass.

So don't feel bad. It's just a way elitists ensure that the caste system is perpetuated. It has nothing to do with your merit and, most definitely, nothing to do with theirs.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Sins in Service to Law School Vanity.


       The promotion of legal scholarship and the massive resources invested in the law school ranking race are strikingly similar. They are net drains in resources that rarely if ever produce anything beneficial to society -- dead weight losses. They are expenditures that serve the personal vanity of professors and administrators -- no more important than an institutional swim suit competition. 

 Consider legal scholarship (or what passes for scholarship since most articles are inflated  short pieces with numerous usually irrelevant footnotes). It has been reported that the average law review article costs about $30,000. As a point of reference, you can build a Habitat for Humanity house for about $90,000 or the cost of three articles. Citations of articles are correlated with the rank of the law review publishing the article, the rank of the school at which the author teaches, and the rank of the school from which he or she graduated. Citations, therefore, do not measure impact or anything else other than citations. A survey of the reasons for citing articles reveals that articles very rarely have any influence on the ideas of other scholars, lawyers, or judges. They are often cited for the facts they state without attention to whether the cited article had any authority for those facts. Alternatively, they simply puff up an article that really is not much more than a two page op ed piece.  Unless a judge, a legislator, or an attorney successfully relies on the (rarely) novel ideas found in an article, the article is a waste of an average of $30,000. There is also no known correlation between article writing and teaching effectiveness. Articles exist almost solely so that law professors can compare themselves and compete with respect to promotion and salary.  So what does scholarship do? It makes the professor look good to himself, may impress those delusional enough to think legal scholarship is real scholarship, and gives law schools something to publicize in the shameful ratings race. It is like deciding who wins a swim meet on the basis of a swim suit competition. 

What about the rankings race?  It too is an expensive effort that produces nothing that is socially beneficial. In fact, the law school ranking disaster is probably worse than scholarship. For example, people are hired to scheme ways to advance in the standings with no consideration for whether the result is more effective instruction. The "marketing department's" principal or only responsibility is to promote the image of the law school including inflating the accomplishments of faculty. Students well-qualified for admission are turned away (or asked to delay their admission) in the interest of elevating a school's average LSAT scores and GPAs. 

High LSATs and GPAs are essentially products sold by students to law schools that pay for them through scholarships and other forms of subsidization. Most tragically, these payments do not go to those most in need. In fact, the affluent and high-scoring students will become attorneys anyway. Paying them to go to law school is purely in service to law school vanity.  And, in the meantime, less affluent students who may be well-qualified to be effective attorneys are ignored. The net effect may be an income redistribution from those less well off to those better off.  

 All of this is especially repugnant when it takes place at a public law school. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

How Not to be a Great University: UF Plunges Into Darkness with Invitation to Don Jr.

Recently the University of Florida celebrated becoming a top 10 public university. Then in a effort to undue this accomplishment a student run organization, spending the money of others, agreed to pay Donald Trump Jr. (well-known big game hunter) and a "campaign adviser" $50,000  to spread their special brand of hatred to those willing to listen. What is stunning about this has nothing to do with free speech or intellectual diversity. I value both and have frequently railed about the lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses. And, as far as free speech, I am an absolutist.

But this is wacky. First of all, free speech does not require paying someone $50,000 to speak. Second, if UF wants to have diversity, how about intelligent, intellectual diversity. The University is supposed to be about ideas and even conflicting ideas. If the student organization in charge of this decision cannot contribute to that mission, it should go into receivership.

UF is saying the could not find another more qualified speaker from the conservative world for $50,000. Let's face it, this is nothing more than a direct contribution from a few (frat boys?) UF students, using student funds that are not their own,  to the reelect Donald Trump for President campaign. And with the current Governor and the two current Senators, why should that be a surprise?

It is utterly irresponsible but since we are now inviting speakers from the dark side I have a few suggestions myself. Next up: Mohammed bin Salman

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Choke an Orca

My law school, perhaps because it is relatively fortunate financially, has lunches for everything --speakers from inside, speakers from outside, faculty interviews, staff interviews, new babies, high school graduations, acceptance of articles, having had a good class, setting your personal best for beer pong, catching the biggest fish at the annual faculty fishoff, divorces, pet births, speakers at other schools, going up in the rankings, almost going up in the rankings, helping students in trouble but do not know it, surpassing 10,000 steps on your Fitbit. Trust me, this is a partial list and does not count the countless efforts to feed the students or the ubiquitous plastic trays and tops that contain the food much of which is uneaten.

But the main thing we do is choke orca. Yes we eat off of, drink from, and lift our food with plastic. So let's say 40 weeks of 2 lunches a week and 25 people eating. (These are conservative estimates.) I think that adds up to 2000 plastic plates s+ 2000 plastic forks + 2000 plastic spoons + 2000 plastic cups + 2000 plastic knives in just one year. If you are counting that is 10,000 chunks of plastic each year. And since this has gone on as long as I can remember -- let's say 5 years -- we have contributed 50,000 chucks of plastic to the environment that will biodegrade sometime after Trump finishes off the earth. So, I guess in a way it does not matter.

But it could matter! What if not only the Law School but the entire University and not just the University but all Universities decided no more single use plastics. When you get down to it there are climate deniers who say so expressly and there are climate deniers who say it by their actions. Looks like academics fall in the second category or maybe they just do not give a fuck. [And please no comments that I should try to initiate change. I have.]

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Toasting Kavanaugh

It will come soon if it has not happened already. Justice Kavanaugh will be the esteemed guest at many law schools. All will  be forgiven just as it has been with Justice Thomas. Most liberal law professors will crowd around at the inevitable faculty lounge brunch or afternoon coffee. I've seen how it work at my own law school which has had Justice Thomas in for two extended visits. With yet another to come. I am surprised we have not invited his wife to guest lecture.  I am sure if we could get Donald Trump in to teach negotiations or even ethics we would do it in a heartbeat. I would not let any of the three of them tie my shoe.

It is not just us and it's just not law schools. You might say that people put their convictions aside when a celebrity enters the room.  What is it with that? I can think of two explanations. The first is the "respect for the office." Total BS! It's more like being in awe of the office and being careful not to offend someone who is higher up on the status totem pole than you are. Anyone who kowtows to Kavanaugh or Thomas out of respect for the office misses the point that neither should be in the office.  Respect for the office would mean snubbing those two. If you really respect the office, do not toast the pretenders.

The other one -- which I have heard -- is "he is really a nice guy." Really, really! By that standard everyone is nice. How hard it is to seem to be friendly and impress people with superficial affectations of warmth. Oh, let's just have a beer together. (Or in Kavanaugh's case, make that a keg.) Being a nice guy, which anyone can do, is one way to hide your actual values. Being a nice guy should not be assessed on the basis of a 20 minute talk or a dinner but rather on what you actually do that affects people you do not now.  Thomas, Kavanaugh, and Trump are not nice guys no matter how "nice" they can be in a social setting.

But somehow, after the smoke clears, Kavanaugh will be the toast of many faculty gatherings attended by liberals and conservative alike. Because, we know when you get right down to it, he is a nice guy and we must have respect for the office.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Is it Time for Law Professors to Walk out to Protest Trump

I've always had mixed feelings about the student demonstrations of the 1960s. The cause was a good one but I felt there was also way too much fun involved. Plus, it seemed to be an activity one could participate in only if you could afford it. Too many of my fellow impassioned demonstrations were also planning their family funded back packing trips to Europe. In short, there was definitely a bit of self-indulgence. And, of course, my personal interest in class-based justice was dropped as soon as the war wound down.

My one bit of something akin to civil disobedience since those days was refusing to teach on the day the state of Florida executed someone. I did this once and the only official reaction was my Dean telling me I should make up the day. So, I ended up inconveniencing a class of students and the execution took place and it was all bit foolish.

Over on Facebook on other places people alarmed about Trump (I personally have never felt stronger hatred for a politician except maybe Mitch McConnell)  make a comparison to nazi Germany looking for a way to head off this country's downward spiral. The question that arises is what can anyone do. I have a couple of suggestions. One is to stop legitimizing members of the Trump cult by being anything but civil to them. Do not buy anything from a Trump supporter. Is your doctor a Trump supporter? Get a new one. Is your grocery store manager a Trumps supporter? Go to a different grocery store. Economic boycotts can work if people will make the collective sacrifice.

Here is a touchier suggestion. I think everyone agrees that the vast majority of law professors are liberal leaning. I've always regarded them as limousine liberals because other than talking a good game I see little action. So, liberal law professors, do you want to do something that will show you care? Walk Out. Yes, I propose a day in which every Trump detractor cancel class for the day. Call in sick if necessary. Call it a strike if you like. That may be the most effective teaching you could do and it may give some support to the few souls who are actually willing to put something on the line to get rid of this monster.

Of course this will not happen because, when it comes to really questioning authority, we are a profession well-versed in free-riding.