Friday, September 25, 2020

UF Becomes the The New Trump University and the Sheep Who Work There


In today's Gainesville Sun one of the main stories was about State and University pressure to have full scale in person classes in the Spring. Yes, that is before or shortly after a vaccine. Plus, Governor Deathsantis wants college kids to party because as he puts it "that's what college kids do."  There is less important story about a doctor (well past his prime in terms knowledge and common sense) who refuses to wear a mask. I am not so interested in the idiot doctor but in the University. 

I am truly mystified by what motivates the State and University to want warm bodies in seats when it could mean some get very sick and some (not many I know) could die. And why would a governor encourage students to party like its 1999? The only things I can think of are funding and ranking because its clear when one makes a cost benefit analysis, those two interests trump (pun totally intended) any interest at all in the heath and well-being of the students and townspeople who must interact with them in grocery stores, drug stores, and every other place it is difficult to avoid even if you are being careful. I mean, there must be some cost benefit analysis that goes on and avoiding death or severe illness get zero points  when it comes to the state of Florida.

But there is a bigger problem. It's the administrators who just follow orders. What is wrong with these people? If a dean or two or three just said we are not doing it it would make a big difference. And what would happen to them. They all have tenure so the worst would be returning to teaching and writing (something they call swore they were devoted to before they tired of it and wanted to join management.) This goes for Fuchs  right on down to the lowliest department head. DeathSantis says who cares if a few students get sick or even die or become carriers who then infect the townies. 

DeathSantis says "kill a few" and UF administrators say "how many.'

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Life of Deans and Side Deals: A Theory

 Trump: The Art of the Deal

In my teaching career I have been through 9 law school deans. One thing I think is true is that there is an inverse relationship between the number of side deals a dean makes and how long they last. Lets see in order, 5 years, 8 years,  5 years, 5 years, 3 years, 4 years, 11 years, 1 year, 6 years. Now, in fairness, one was done in by an extramarital affair, one was an acting dean, and one is still running but is showing signs of being on the ropes.

 Side deals are those that are made with individual faculty which could not be offered generally. Things like remote teaching during a pandemic but not because of an illness. Or, a one or two day teaching schedule because you live too far away to commute. Or, a special leave that could not be available to everyone or the doors would close. Or, a job because the University wants to hire your spouse. Some side deals are implicit. Like you can teach in our overseas program and I expect your loyalty Or you can have a program in Poland but that's because we are buds, right.

Before condemning deans for their side deals there are many things to keep in mind at least as a general matter.  First, deans serve as long as a faculty lets them. In fact, some stop being effective deans well before they realize they are finished. Second, deans are generally people who have lost their taste for simply teaching and writing but have no market value as practitioners. Third, no dean I have known has had any training for or experience in a management position. In sum, they need the job. They got into one job and just did not like it. Deaning was the logical move. MOST important and certainly more important than any of these  is that the work force they "manage" (or who manage them) possess the greatest sense of entitlement of any work force with the possible exception of the Trump family. I am talking generally now. There are some good ones and you can spot them -- they are the ones with footprints on their backs.

So what happens? The problem is that people without management training seem to have no concept of  the long term. Sure, when young, vivacious, and perky Daisy asks to teach remotely from Kalamazoo because it would make her life less complicated you say yes. Then grumpy old Victor shows up and wants to teach from Rome because he has heard there are smoking hot chicks there you say no.  Then people decide they really would like to teach remotely too because they do not want to risk dying. How do you say no? You can lie, admit you fucked up, or start putting your books in boxes. I do not mean to imply being caught once would do it. It's the accumulation of favors that cannot be generalized. When you give out favors that cannot be generalized it almost always comes back to bite you in the ass. Deans think that by making side deals, they are buying time but, in fact, they are sowing the seeds of the end of their deanships.  Bye bye. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Commercial Arbitration Course

Hi,  I am writing here to rising 2 and 3 Ls in order to bring their attention to a course with the mysterious title "ICAM." That stands for International Commercial Law Moot but that does not tell you much.

The first five weeks of the course are devoted the the study of the Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG),  the New York Convention, and the UNCITRAL Model Law.  The CISG is the actual statutory law of the US and about 90 other countries pertaining to contracts between parties in different countries. You would not believe the number of attorneys who have blundered into attempting to apply the UCC. The CISG is much shorter than Article 2 of the UCC but covers basic contract law questions. At the end of the five weeks there is a short exam.

The first Friday in October the international organization in charge of the Moot issues the CSIG problem for the year. It also includes a procedural issue. At that point the class does not meet on a formal basis. We may gather for brainstorming sessions. During that time, students write Claimant's briefs based on the problem. Those are due in mid November. 

At that point students make a 15 minute oral argument based on their brief to me and a couple of others. There is no final exam or further work.

EXCEPT. Based on the briefs and oral arguments a four-person team will be selected to travel to the international competition in Vienna. The Law School covers all expenses. About 200 teams from 100 countries participate over a five day period in arbitration sessions.  It is hard work and great fun. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Compensating the Victims of the Ratings Scramble

Most people know that negative externalities are costs of your activities that you impose on others. With the release of the new US News law school rankings it makes sense to think about whether there are negative externalities stemming from law schools competing with each other to rise in the rankings. And a related question, should those who suffer from these externalities be compensated by those causing them.

A complete analysis would focus on each factor US News reports considers and there is no denying that some of the pressures are beneficial. On the other hand, suppose a school tries to raise its perception by others. It publishes all kinds of crap in big glossy magazines that typically find their way into the trash without being read. Externalities? Of course. Probably at every stage from printing, delivery, and disposal.

What concerns me most are the externalities that fall on students. Take my school (I stress only as an example since this practice is evidently widespread) which shot up in the rankings in part due to the decision to lower the number of students from 300 to 180. Applicants now fall into three categories.  Some with high LSATs scores are given generous scholarships. I do not know this but I assume some are admitted but receive less generous or no scholarships and rely on loans. And some applicants who would have been admitted but for the rankings are rejected in the interest of upping the average LSAT.

On top of all this is important to note that LSAT scores are correlated with socioeconomic class meaning that the externalities land disproportionate on those less able to absorb them. Plus, in the case of UF, there is massive excess capacity both with respect to faculty and physical plant. In short the marginal cost of admitting those students is close to zero.

So what happens to those 120  students per year who would have been admitted but for the rankings? (Please note that I am not worried about those who were made offers and did not come. Instead, these are people who would have accepted their offers.)  They will attend another law school, delay admission and go later, or give up on the law schools idea. In all cases they are saddled with a less preferred outcome. In one way or another, the decision to reject them, even though they were acceptable imposes a cost on them. Sure, maybe they would have been admitted and not been subsidized like their privileged high LSAT classmates but Florida was still what they preferred.

The cost of the rankings is imposed on them as they must move to a less preferred choice.  Maybe the other law school is lower ranked, maybe it is more expensive (meaning more student debt), perhaps it is farther from home meaning more expense to travel home over the holidays, perhaps its placement statistics are inferior to Florida, and it is possible that the quality of the teaching is lower than Florida's. Remember, these externalities last beyond three years. If they are at  inferior schools, employment opportunities may be fewer and starting salaries lower.  The implications could last a life time.  And if they postpone law school or not go at all, the externalities are obvious.

Do any people gain? Sure, accepted students are better off because of efforts to raise bar passage rates and placement numbers and lower competition for jobs. Even with no extra effort one would expect these numbers to improve. Students with high LSATs are better off but they are not responsible for imposing the cost on the 120 who find the door shut. The ones responsible for closing the door and gain by doing so are administrators -- primarily, college Presidents, Provosts, and Deans. Their incomes, statuses, and job opportunities are dependent on having the power to bar qualified students from their favored law school in the interest of increased rankings. BTW, there is no known correlation between a law school's ranking and the quality of the education delivered.

I suggest that students that would have been admitted but for the ranking race receive compensation for the burdens that have been thrust upon them. I understand this cannot happen so a redistribution from qualified students applying to a school with excess capacity to barely higher LSAT students  and administrators (the educational version of the top 1%) will continue.

Ironically this denial of opportunity takes place in the context of a profession that undeniably has a liberal (but definitely not leftist) slant. It's important to keep in mind the words of Phil Ochs on liberals: "ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally."

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Killing the Messenger

When a dean lasts five years at my law school, he or she is evaluated by the faculty in order to determine whether there should be another five years. I note that this evidently has no impact on the actual decision to retain the dean and it's not even clear that such a review complies with University policy.

In this year's evaluation, there were statements with which you could agree or disagree or anything in between. These questions showed signs of having been drafted by people unaccustomed to writing surveys but I hasten add that his year's committee was pretty much stuck with what prior committees had used. There was also space for comments. The results were mixed.  The dean scored high on fund raising and elevating the reputation of the school. She did OK on issues like fairness in salaries and assignments. The comments were also mixed. Many faculty were quite happy with the dean, understood what she faced when coming here, and admired her energy and vision. Other comments were  negative and not something many faculty, except for one or two of my more candid colleagues,  would have the balls to say directly to anyone unless it was a secretary or grocery bagger.  It was all  public and some faculty quickly distributed the results to Above the Law and to the students. No doubt this was done to further disparage the dean. My estimate was there were 18 to 23 "haters" --  the title some of us attach to people who found fault with virtually everything. The dean scored weakest on style, transparency, and consulting faculty before making decisions.

 I chose "Killing the Messenger" as the title of this blog because over 5 years the dean delivered a message many faculty did not want to hear. That message was basically that the law school, teetering on the edge of the top 50,  was, after being run by the faculty for decades, not such hot shit. The title could have been "You Cannot Handle the Truth." And I could have gone with "Uncapturing the Law School." This was a particular apt title since until the not so new dean arrived, the School was clearly captured and run for the convenience and benefit of the faculty. Some examples are found in a article I wrote several years ago: "Faculty Ethics in Law School: Shirking, Capture, and 'The Matrix'", 83 U. Detroit Mercy L. Rev. 397. You know what I mean: foreign programs that made no sense other than someone wanted to do it; course offerings that were truly vanity courses; voting on tenure and promotion based on friendships or politics; reluctance to review clinical offerings, traveling to conferences on the school's dime when the real purpose was a vacation, starting centers that allowed students to concentrate in a area and receive an unofficial certificate without any proof that these opportunities accrued to the benefit of the students, publicly advertising jobs that did not exist.

Any of these titles would have worked. There was one comment that captured the sense of most negative comments:"Leave, please, please, please leave our College. Go on your way and leave us." Note the use of "our" and "us." The idea is that the law school is owned and operated for the benefit of faculty In reality the law school's stakeholders are students, taxpayers, and donors. Faculty are just hired hands and what makes them happy may have little to do with what makes the stakeholders better off. Generally trusting faculty to do right by stakeholders at a state school is foolhardy.

So, let's go back to style, transparency, and consulting. I personally do not understand the style issue but it seems to have something to do with saying fuck, maybe "pounding the table" (whatever that means), or being abrupt. I cannot address the style issue since I have not personally witnessed any of these activities. More interesting is the transparency matter. As far as I know, the dean has taken no major steps without informing the faculty. There were mutterings in the comments about not getting enough information about budgets. As best I can tell, no prior dean explained much about budget matters unless it was bad news with respect to raises or resources. I think the budget questions could be reduced to "you did not spend the money the way I would have" with the "would have" meaning on my pet project.

Congratulations if you made it this far because if you have followed the gist of this blog, which I assure you is boring me more than you. you may have noted that it comes down to "consulting the faculty." Here it gets tricky. Say the dean makes 4 decisions: a 10% raise for you, no more 7 AM classes, begin having a full range of classes on Friday afternoon, and exams must be anonymously graded.  You like the first 2 and hate the second two. The ones you agreed with will get no complaints about consultation. The one you disagree with will irk you because you were not consulted. So really "I was not consulted" often comes down to "I disagree."

And in this case nearly all the "I was not consulted" versions of saying "I disagree" amount to being unhappy about changing from a sleepy, faculty-run, pet project tolerating, law school effectively "owned' by the faculty to something that is better for actual stakeholders.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

I'd Do Anything for Rankings But I Won't Do That

If you are a law professor, take a good look at these shorts and assume USNWR added a new category for ranking -- number of faculty wearing see through shorts.  If that happened, I  promise you that you would be encouraged to wear them. Of course, wearing them would not mean your law school is actually better -- no, but the ranking would be higher and that is infinitely more important than actually being better.

OK, the shorts example is (I hope) not realistic but if it happened wouldn't we all agree that the rankings had become a joke.  This begs the question. Aren't they already a joke? For example, take one of the recent ranking-increasing strategies -- lowering the size of the entering class. At my school the latest move was to lower the entering class from 400 to 300 to 180. And, get this. I am not kidding -- we regard it as a feather in our cap that the percentage of students accepted has gone down. Or to put it more accurately, we take pride in rejecting well-qualified applicants. Yes, we turn more students down not because it makes us a better school or that the public will be better served by fewer students. Naw, it's just to ratchet up our average LSAT scores and GPAs. At UF this is in the context of physical plant that was designed to serve 400 new students each year.

Think about it. Is a school training 200 students with LSATs averaging 158 somehow inferior to one with 100 students with an LSAT average of 159? By what possible definition is the first school worse than the second. In fact, rather than average LSAT why not rank schools based on the number of students times average LSAT score. (My apologies to utilitarians who see that I have adopted the utilitarian dilemma.)

It would be unfair to pick on my school. If you look at the selectivity rates recently published over on the tax prof blog my hunch is that UF is far from alone. This ploy of lowering the entering class is off set at many schools  by admitting transfer students whose scores do not count in the annual law school evaluations. And then there is counting people as faculty who were not previously faculty, rearranging finances so it appears that expenditures per student go up. (In fairness, I do not know whether my school does any of this.)

 Schools go out in the market for students with high LSATs and GPAs and bid against each other to lure the students. The need of students is irrelevant, rich or poor, if you score high you get the dough. (I cannot prove it but I would bet high scores are correlated with higher socioeconomic class.)  Law students are the equivalent of college football players. They are really not wanted because of who they are-- character, experience, probability of doing good deeds upon graduation -- but because of how many games they can win. They are means to an end.

Law schools  now teach to the bar, offer courses on how to pass the bar, and activity discourage students who are at risk when taking the bar. No one knows how many are talked out of taking  the bar exam who would have passed had their confidence and self esteem not been undermined. All in the interest of boosting rankings. If it were for the benefit of the students schools would have done it decades ago.

But is there a limit? I have not seen one yet. I predict that by 2030 the rankings race will tighten as every law school had an enrollment of 1 student with perfect scores, faculty student ratios of 50 to 1, expenditures of 10 million dollars per student, and plastic shorts. There is a good outcome when the rankings are finally regarded as a joke. Maybe law schools will stop spending millions of dollars on personnel, publications, and whatever with the sole purpose of moving up a slot or two.