Friday, May 07, 2021

Excerpt from In The Company of Thieves: Conferences and Vacation: Confercationing



    Confercationing is  when law professors claim to be going to a conference on the law school’s dime but are really on a one to 5 day vacation. The biggest on of these for law professors takes place in early January when the Association of American Legal Schools  meet. Not as big but easily a bigger boondoggle is the Southeastern Association of Law Teachers Conference which conveniently takes place in the summer in a family friendly location. Palm Beach is a favorite destination as is Orlando. Since Universities pay for transportation, meals, and lodging for faculty, the only cost to the vacationer and his or her family is transportation for the partner and kids and their meals. Pretty good deal for a week in Florida. I will say this about this meeting. There is very little hypocrisy. No one attending pretends to be doing anything other than vacationing on the school's dime. 

            Three things characterize these meetings. Since law professors are, by nature, climbers whenever you are talking to someone at these meetings they are always looking over your shoulder to see if there is someone more important in the room they could attempt to smooze with. The second is a contest over who know the best ethic restaurant in town. So people with gather in hyped up groups decided were to go eat. The discussion invariable comes down to who know the hippest place to go that no one else has discovered. Third, at these conferences members of a  panel present papers to groups ranging from 0 to 50.  After the presentation people can ask questions The questions rarely indicate something the questioner wants to know but is for the questioner to impress the rest of the audience with how much they should be reckoned with. It's actually pretty easy to seem impressive because the papers are almost always duds. The papers  drawn from already published articles or recycled from previous talks. The main idea is be able to put on your resume that you presented a paper at such and such a meeting.

            These conferences are pretty much a waste in terms of producing anything for the money spend but there is a even bigger sham than these two main conferences. These are the manufactured conferences, Someone gets the idea to have a conference on British contract law or South American Comparative. The law school provides a grant that could be used for almost anything else that would be more  useful. The conferences always take place in exotic places; not some small retreat where there is little to do but actually confer but in Rio, London, Amsterdam, Geneva, Paris, etc.

Here is an example of one of these manufactured conferences:

International Conference on Latin American Issues

Rio de Janerio

June 10, 2015

Friday June 10

8:30 AM Coffee and Pastries in the Lobby

9:30-10.30 AM Session 1. Evolution of the Peruvian Constitution, Room 23

Co Chairs: Eve St. John, Berta Hurns, Georgio Penata, Julio Peso, J.J. Fields


Coby Claster: Early Peru

Sylvia Macado: Peru After the Early Years

Paco Smith: Peru in the 1930s: Penises

Joan Streeter: Peru and Constitutional Reform

Miquel Mendoza: Consolidation

 Audience comments and questions


10:40 – 11:40  Session 2. Brazilian International Policy, Room 56

 Co Chairs: Zeke Palmer, Ted Crammer, Luigi Longo, Roberto Santos, Carmen Zips


Lonnie Funk: Brazil and Slavery

Festus Johan: Brazil and Argentina: History and Perspectives.

Chester Bores: Brazil and Acai: The Importance of the Smoothy

Constance Vaya: Brazil in 2024

Pepe Vargus: Looking Forward

 Audience Comments


11:40 - 1:00 Lunch: Box Lunches Provided in the Lobby 


[there are also two afternoon sessions, a time for a reception and then dinner at a posh restaurant]



            This looks pretty good, right? Maybe even interesting. But let’s take a closer look. Notice the location. Rio! Who does not want to go to Rio. Since the airfare is the same if you stay one day or two weeks, no one in his right mind would only be going to the conference. So this has convercationing all over it.

            You may also notice the number of co chairs of each session. A Chair is someone who contacts and schedules the panels. Having 5 co chairs is a sure sign of a boondoggle. Each co chair can list on his or her resume that they were a co chair without revealing that they did next to nothing and also justify the law school footing the bill. Perhaps their duties involved making one phone call to ask something else if he or she too could be a co chair.

            Now look at each session. They have 5 speakers. The session is an hour long. Take some time for introductions and then some time for audience questions and the speakers are left with about 40 minutes to present their “papers.” That’s 8 minutes each. So let’s say the airfare is about $1200. Two nights at a Rio hotel is $400 and meals, say, $100 a day. Is an 8 minute talk or listening to other 8 minute talks worth $1700. Put it another way. Each session has a total of 10 people involved and there are 4 sessions for the one day conference. That comes out to 40 people at $1700 each or $108,000 for participants costs only not counting any charge for the rooms and meals. There actually may also be a fee to attend.

            You will notice that there is time for audience participation. What audience? There is actually  no audience other than the people who are participating on other sessions who may or may not show up for anything other than their own 8 minutes, It’s not like a show for the purpose of advancing the understanding of anything by anybody. In fact, I personally have been a panelists when there was no audience at all. But the school still paid for my confercation. Thanks, taxpayers!

Monday, May 03, 2021

Excerpt from In the Company of Thieves: The Senator's Visit


The Senator

[This is an an excerpt from the diary of one of my more elitist colleagues. (Reprinted with Permission) The particulars of the story were generally well know  by every one including me but I will let him tell it in his own words. [I have changed the name of the Senator involved because I cannot guarantee all the facts.]

At Nine couple of weeks ago, I received the following from Dean Bob:


To: Professor Harris

From: Dean Bob

Date: February 7, 2007

Re: Visit of Senator Faceworth

As you are aware [I was not aware] the Law School has invited Senator Jerry Faceworth to guest lecture for two weeks on the subject of Labor Law. I would like to you to serve as his host during this time. I know you have many commitments [actually I don’t] but we need to put our best foot forward given that Senator Faceworth has recently announced his candidacy for President of the United States.

Please advise me of your availability as soon as it is convenient. Senator Faceworth arrives on February 15th.

I responded right away feeling kind of honored. Playing host to an honest to goodness presidential candidate sounded like it would be fun.

So let's  start with Senator Faceworth. First you should know that I read in the Times that in response to some questions about his private life he dared reporters to follow him around. "You will regret it. The boredom will be intolerable."

He arrived by private jet. A squadron of reporters arrived soon thereafter and more were waiting at the hotel when I took him there at about 8 P.M. I gave him my cell number and the phone rang a midnight just as I was dozing off. "Let's have a drink," he said. "I'll be at the service ramp. Be here in 15 minutes" I was and found him, a knit cap pulled low and wrap-around sun glasses. He was very direct about wanting to go to a student "club." I had no idea where to take him but drove him to a part of town with student bars. We parked and went into something called the "Music Store." Average age 21. By now, if you know Senator Faceworth, you know what happened. After 30 minutes he found me. He wanted to go back to his room. "Of course," I said, not realizing that the two coeds - one on each arm - were to accompany him. So, at 1:00 A.M. I left him as he and his new playmates quickly scrambled from the car and darted for the service elevator. This cannot be good. And, he is here for three weeks.
        The next night the same midnight call and it was off to the same bar. This time he emerged with two more pals.  The next day Dean Bob picked up the Senator in the hotel lobby – again was the ever present   swarm of reporters--  and took him to school. My assignment? Go to the service entrance and pick up his two companions from the previous night -- Heather and Misty. They piled in the car and immediately said. "Jeffy, Gar-Gar told us you would take us to breakfast and for tanning." And I did. What could I do? I wore dark glasses but I was a little nervous about the car that seemed to be following.

        So you get the drift. The man who said people would be bored if they following him was and absolute hound for college girls. And this went on non stop. Well non stop until some rapidly unfolded events.

The Senator is off to Bimini for the week end and I am sleeping.

Senator Faceworth evidently came back late last night, having taken Monday off. Judging by his sun burn, the trip to Bimini was a success. Now he is followed by a caravan of pink faced reporters. The cocktail party in is honor is this Thursday. He has not thanked me for the selection of single malt scotches in his office. I am beginning to look forward to his departure. I have had way too many Heathers and Jennifers to escort back to their apartments or dorms.

Two more midnight calls from Faceworth and four more Gingers or Kimberlys -- who knows, who cares. Even though I pick him up at the loading dock of the hotel and he has his stocking cap pulled low, it is not always fool proof. Last night at what has become his favorite bar I spotted a pink-faced reporter who I recognized from the caravan of cars that following us each day. He definitely saw Faceworth and then left hurriedly.

Faceworth finally made his break back to Bimini for the weekend. This time he took two Jennifers who were on the same flight to Miami. I took all three to the airport but dropped them at different places. At one point we were almost spotted by reporters and Faceworth hit the floor while the Jennifers giggled and did other unmentionable things.

 I am not cut out for this!! Word has leaked out among the faculty and today someone accused me of "pimping" for Gerard.

You know the routine. A midnight run and two Jennifers each night.
I find it very annoying that on our trips to the clubs the Senator sits in the back seat and rarely speaks to me. On the way back, he is in the back with his pals.
    Faceworth  left Thursday late for Binimi, too early the see the following article in today's Ivyville Sun. First you should know that that there is big photo on Faceworth on the front page leaving his regular bar at 1:00 with two Jennifers, miniskirts and cowboy boots. I am in the photo just barely. The caption: Senator Gerard Faceworth parties with friends and an unidentified law professor.

The article:

"Senator Gerard Faceworth, a visiting professor at the Ivyville Law School, has been photographed with two companions leaving the Campus Buzz, a popular late night gather place for Ivyville singles. Senator Faceworth only recently challenged reporters to follow him around after rumor emerged that he is something of a "womanizer." According the regulars at the Buzz, Senator Faceworth has been in the club several nights, usually escorted by a law professor. The routine is that he arrives soon after midnight and leaves by 1:00 A.M. with one or two college aged women. The hotel management where the Senator is staying declined comment. The identity of his law professor host is currently being examined."

        I am happy to report that Faceworth  called in Monday morning to say that he would be unable to finish his three week teaching assignment here. The Ivyville Sun article about his late night activities -- as surely you know -- has gone national, even international.
        Reporters are everywhere wanting to know the details and trying to identify his mysterious law professor escort. So far no one on the faculty had identified me.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Draft Excerpt for In the Company of Thieves: Grade Appeals to Law Professors


Grade Appeals

To understand my stories is useful to know that law faculties, like most others, are assigned to committees. There are committees assigned to  propose candidates to be hired, committees to approve new courses, committees to review candidates for tenure and promotion. Some committees make long range plans, some study how to increase publications. The one I am on this year is called Academic standards. We typically handle appeals from students when something has been declined by an administrator. For example, a student can take a course at another law school and transfer the credit as long as they got a C. Those who  get a D or lower, which takes more effort than making a B, invariable appeal to Academic Standards to have the grade transferred.

Today the committee met  and had two appeals I had never encountered before. One was from a student who had just finished the first year of school and had received and A in Contract Law. She complained that the A grade, the highest you could get, was unfairly granted. Her story was that in the class she had become friendly with the teacher Ed Freddy, who we all refer to a Mr. Freddy. The friendliness led to lunch which led to dinner (all without the knowledge of Mrs. Freddy) and well you can guess where this is going.

They had falling out somewhere near the end of the semester and their fling was over.  Then the final exam came. In law school in most courses the final exam determines the grade for the entire semester. She took the exam and received her grade which, as I mentioned was an A. Her petition to us was that she only got and A because of the “services” she supplied to Mr. Freddy and that rather be treated like a prostitute she wanted a grade no higher than a B. We tabled this case until our next meeting to give a chance to evaluate her final exam ourselves.

Our second appeal today was equally bizarre. First you have to understand that law schools and other University department hire visitors who teach for a semester or a  year are not on the permanent faculty. Last year we hired Mary McCan to teach for a semester.  She was young, an average teacher, ambitious, frumpy-looking, and  lonely in our small college town.  According to the petition on the last night of finals she when out with a few students including the petitioner and she brought  one of them home with her. They were evidently quite drunk. According to the student, when he got ready to leave she blocked the door. In his words he then “obliged her as a courtesy”. The student got a B in the course and complained he did not deserve a B. In his words he did not know if he had “he’d fucked himself up from a C or down from an A.” He said that neither was acceptable and he wanted us to read his paper to determine if he deserved either and A or a C, which he was willing to accept.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Thieves, Monopoly, Law Professors, and Law Schools

In his classic 1967 article on rent-seeking (which does not actually use the term because it had not been coined at that time) Gordon Tullock explained that the cost of theft was not that one person's property was taken by another. In fact, that transaction in isolation may increase welfare. The social costs were the reactions of those attempting to avoid theft and those refining their skills. Richard Posner extended the analysis when he wrote about the costs of monopoly. Again, it was not that some became richer at the expense of others but that enormous sums were invested in bringing about the redistribution. In neither case do the rent seeking, social-cost-producing efforts create new wealth.

Still, in the case of Tullock and Posner the social costs were at least about something. There was a "there" there in the form of a chunk of wealth to bicker over. But now we come to law professors and law schools.

Law professor efforts to self-promote have exploded. Included are repeated visits to the Dean asking for one thing or another, resume padding, massive mailings of reprints, posting SSRN download rankings, or, even better, emailing 200 friends asking them to download a recently posted article, churning out small symposia articles because deans often want to see lines on resumes as opposed to substance, playing the law review placement game, and just plain old smoozing ranging from name dropping to butt kissing. Very little of this seems designed to produce new wealth. If fact, think of the actual welfare-producing activities that could be undertaken with the same levels of energy -- smaller classes, more sections of needed courses, possibly even research into areas that are risky in terms of self promotion but could pay off big if something new or insightful were discovered or said. But this is the part that puzzles me. Whether the thief in Tullock's case or monopolist in Posner's, the prize is clear. What is the prize for law professors? Are these social costs expended to acquire rents that really do not exist or are only imagined? What are the rents law professors seek?

Law schools make the professors look like small potatoes when it comes to social costs. Aside from hiring their own graduates to up the employment level, they all employ squads of people whose jobs are to create social costs (of course, most lawyers do the same thing), produce huge glossy magazines that go straight to the trash, weasel around with who is a first year student as opposed to a transfer student or a part time student, select students with an eye to increasing one rating or another, and obsess over which stone is yet unturned in an effort to move up a notch. I don't need to go through the whole list but the point is that there is no production -- nothing socially beneficial happens. That's fine. The same is true of Tullock's thief and Posner's monopolist. But again, and here is the rub. What is the rent the law schools seek? Where is the pie that they are less interested in making bigger than in just assuring they get the biggest slice possible? What is it made of?

At least thieves and monopolists fight over something that exists. And they often internalize the cost of that effort. Law professors and law schools, on the other hand, may be worse. They do not know what the prize actually is; they just know they should want more; and the costs are internalized by others.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Draft Excerpt From "In the Company of Thieves: The Character of Law Professors (most of them anyway).


For most law professors I have known, life is an extended negotiation to advance one’s self interest. They are their own clients. Their constant obsession about where they rank means a complete lack of humility and the use of certain devices. The most common device is to show no weakness. This leads to a number of things. One is to never seen to care very much about something, at least publicly. To show you really want something is to reveal a weakness. For example, when I was chair of the appointments committee, I asked members of the committee who wanted to go to the meat market. This duty is something that is usually coveted by mid or early career professors. No one said he or she wanted to go in the meeting. In a few hours after that, every member of the committee called me privately to say they were “willing to go.”

This leads to the volunteer scam. Law professors never want to demand to do something -- -- they volunteer. When you volunteer it is not like you wanted something but you were willing to help out. Helping out, in this life long negotiation, means you are owed. For example, one of the plums of my teaching career was to be appointed to summer abroad teaching program. One year the person who was set to go could not go at the last minute. I called the person running the program to see if I could go instead. I was informed it would not be necessary because the head of the program had “volunteered” to take on the assignment himself.

Another part of not showing weakness is to try to get others to do work that might expose your own weakness. This means office to office visits and indirection. Let’s say you think someone who has been appointed to chair a committee is an awful choice. You would go office to offices saying something like “what did you think of those committee assignments.” In other words, you throw out the bait and see if anyone bites. Eventually, you might find some people saying they were disappointed and then you roam the halls saying to others “I heard that several people are upset with that committee assignment.” You say "several" even if it is one. Note, you do not say you are upset but that others are. You, of course, just want to be fair.

There are also ways of disagreeing. Suppose Jack at a faculty meeting proposes that teachers have more office hours than currently required. You hate the idea but you do not raise your hand and say so. Instead you say something like “It’s wonderful to be available to students but I have “concerns” about Jack’s proposal or “if gives me pause.” These are ways of saying “that is the dumbest thing I have every heard”

No matter what, you are too busy. You have students, exams to write, phone calls to return, and papers to grade. In reality you may be on Amazon looking for a new toaster or frying pan. You may take a nap. But you never admit to anything other than being overwhelmed with how much work you have.

Being sneaky is important. You do not write down what you could say. If it is written down you have accountability. If you say it, then if it  is passed along you can claim you were misunderstood or taken out of context.

Working the students for high teaching evaluations. You can do this by being funny or radiating your deep concern for their well-being. It does not hurt to bring cookies when their evaluations of you are distributed. One neat ploy a colleague freely admitted was designed to help is evaluations was passing out his own evaluation form before the official. This communicate that you value the opinion of the students and more or less lets them vent if they are inclined to as a way of lowering the chance they will unload on you on the official evaluations.

Information among law faculty is power. If you have it, you can dispense it in the way that best serves your ends. It may be rumor, it maybe something that has very little foundation. Important things are generally bad news about someone else – their article got rejected, they failed an interview at another school, the Provost is angry with the Dean. You can use the information as currency and you spend it to get what you want – usually that is a reaction that advances whatever is in your self interest.

Law professors call what they do “scholarship.” It almost never is. You could count on one had the number of times a law professor actually tries to find the answer to an important question. Instead, consistent with their training they are advocates for their own notions of what should be. Their research skills are limited and the idea of putting anything to an empirical test is frightening to them. You might compare this with seeing a doctor. Usually you tell the doctor the symptoms and he or she tries to match with with a cause, Suppose instead you walked into the doctor and he or she said "you have typhoid fever" and then ignored every thing you said except those things that were consistent with typhoid fever. That's legal scholarship.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Draft Excerpt from "In the Company of Thieves:" Foreign Programs



Foreign Programs

One way mid and lower level law schools compete with each other is by offering foreign opportunities. In some cases the students can spend a semester studying at a law school in France or Italy or Germany. They get a semester worth of credit for traveling and drinking for 3 months. These are programs for the well to do, of course because there are airfares, apartments to rent, etc. Nevertheless, they can be rewarding and informative.

On the other hand, summer abroad programs are a bit of a scam. These are essentially law schools acting as travel agencies. The idea is that a couple of professors travel to Paris, London, Rome or where ever and take 15 or twenty students with them. Then the students hang out with each other, drink, travel, and spend a modest amount of time in the classroom.  They, of course, pay extra for this and that extra is what covers the housing and expenses of their teachers. In short, the students subsidize the summer vacation of the profs and they, in turn, get academic credit. Their actual emersion in local culture is kept to a minimum as they search out the closest McDonalds.

Now that you know the background, you should know that one of the committees I am chair of is the “Programs Committee”.  A summer program has to be OKed by the programs committee and then voted on by the faculty. Very often it is a fait accompli. For example, one year at a mid summer faculty meeting 17 members of the 60 person faculty voted by 9 to 8 to have a summer program in France. Unusually only 2 faculty can go at a time but most deans also feel it is their duty to stop by, at the school’s expense, for a few days. And sometimes, someone from the Programs Committee is also “obligated to go.” In the case of the France program all 9 yes voters went at some point over the next three years although at times the enrollment dwindled to 12 which was not enough to cover their expenses.

Here is the proposal the Programs Committee considered last October for implementation next summer. I’ve inserted some information in brackets to help you understand:

Re: Summer Program in Italy

Date: February 12, 2007

Supreme Senior Vice President of Foreign Programs, Hugo Valencia and I [Chadsworth Feldman] are happy to propose a new study abroad opportunity for our students. The details are as follows:

A. Location:

Three weeks in Rome, three weeks in Florence.

B. Expected enrollment and student costs.

For the first year, expected enrollment is 30 but the actual enrollment can exceed this. The program has no upper limit on enrollment. The initial tuition is $3,000 per student. This includes all housing and transportation, to the extent those are necessary.

C. Need and Opportunities

This program will complement our other excellent foreign study opportunities. Many of our students have expressed a desire to study in Italy and to learn Italian law. Many of our colleagues have connections with scholars in Italy and would gain a great deal with respect to their work in comparative law. It is critical that we have a presence in Italy.

Several members of our faculty will be invited to travel to Rome or Florence to serve as guest lecturers and to attend graduation ceremonies at the end of the term.

D. Staffing.

Professor Feldman is the Director of the Program and will go each year. In addition to the director, one other full time professor will travel to the site. Two assistants will accompany the professors. These will be the spouses of the professors as long as they accept no salary. Of course, all their expenses will be paid.  After the initial year, it is anticipated that the position of professor will be circulated among the faculty.

E. Students Activities

Students will earn six credit hours. In addition, they will be taken on several tours of important Italian sites.

F. Budget:

Airfare for Professors and assistants: $10,000

Housing: $80,000

G. Impact

This program will put us in the first tier of foreign program offering schools. The net cost to the School, other than trips of guest lecturers, is zero. The two professors involved will be paid the usual stipend for summer teaching.

            Nothing seemed unusual about the program although everyone knew it was the usual faculty boondoggle. The Committee approved it and then then faculty. Then things started to unravel. By December several students had put down their deposits.  Over the next few months some issues came to light. Two stood out. One was that Hugo and Chad, with spouses, had already, with the Dean’s permission and on the law school’s dime, spend 10 days in Italy scouting out, as they put it, suitable restaurants, clubs, spas, and coastal areas for the program. Ok, it’s like what we call in the trade convercationing. That is you are paid for a business trip but you are really taking a vacation while checking off the boxes to make it seem like business.

The second matter had to do with the budget. Usually there is a host institution that provides a  low fee some classroom space.  My curiosity piqued, I asked Chad about this. He seemed a little sheepish but something you never do as a law professor is show weakness or admit wrongdoing. His answer. “That is the beauty of the Program. It will all be conducted by Zoom with the students staying at home. Hugo and I will Zoom not just classroom activities but dining out, clubbing, sight seeing, the works. It will be exactly like they are there.” He went on. “I am sure it will be appealing to the students since they can stay in the comfort of their homes and not worry about finding housing, eating in strange places where no one understands a word they are saying.” Finally, “If there are technological problems we will send them postcards.”

I was reeling from this revelation when I got back to my office. None of this was revealed when the programs committee met or at the faculty meeting. Everyone was too busy, I suppose, booking passage to Italy for some year in the future. When I got back to my office, there was a phone message to call Linda James. I knew I had a student in my class named Tom James but I did not make the connection. I called and she told me that she had tried to reach Professor Feldman but he was not in. The secretary had directed her to me since I was chair of the programs committee and she had a question about the program since her son James was going. She started by saying how excited James was and how she and her husband planned to meet James for the portion of the course in Rome.

Her question was what types of things should James bring – clothing, dressy or not, extra notebooks, computer, and so on. I lied, I told her that I did not know. I did chair the committee that had approved the program but that she needed to talk to Professor Feldman. I assumed she did eventually because I the next day I received the following email from Chad:

Today Tom James’ mother called and asked what sort of things he should bring from his summer in Italy. I told her that the students were not actually going to Italy. She asked what the $3000 is for and I said "expenses." Then she pressed me and asked about the $80,000 for faculty. I told her that was the going rate for appropriate housing for the Professors and any guest lecturers who might join us. She seemed miffed about no students going. Isn't that just perfect!!! You try to do something for the students and you get in hot water for it.

Later the same day:


So far two more  sets of parents have contacted me. It seems to have come as a surprise to them that the Summer Program in Italy does not involve their dear children actually traveling to Italy. Hugo and I designed the whole program on the theory that he and I and our spouses would go to Italy and show the lectures and sights by Zoom (or postcard). We would do the heavy lifting and the students would have time to study. Do they not get it.

             In any case the “program” ran for one summer only.  The revenue did not begin to cover the expenses which the law school ended up eating. I suppose it was a success because I received the following email from Chad:

Here is the great news. I am writing from Rome. Yes, the summer program is in tact and Hugo, Marvel, Caroline and I are here working hard for the students. It is true we are down to 5 students and it is true that those five did not actually make the trip to Italy but we are working hard.

As you know, some of the students were upset that the Summer in Italy program did not actually mean they were going to Italy -- only the professors. Some parents were quite rude and the initial enrollment dwindled to 5. Good riddance I say. Those students obviously were not cut out for foreign travel. The Law School decided we had to operate the program anyway because the American Association of Law Schools had already purchased 30 tickets for a team to come and inspect the program.

We are doing our best for the five students. Each week we send a postcard with some interesting fact about Italian law. In the interest of giving the students what they want, we have decided not to administer a final exam.

As for me, being a dedicated teacher of young people is its own reward.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

DRAFT Excerpt from "In the Company of Thieves": The Tenure Process


Law professors are evaluated to determine if they should be tenured. Supposedly you must excel in scholarship, teaching, and service. You would think that if someone actually excelled at all three, he or she would be hired away by better law schools. Very few are. Why? Because in actuality there are three requirements:

1. write something – anything would do,

2. be politically correct, (or very quiet),

3, be acceptable socially.

(4. I have also heard isolated inane standards like “she is a good mother.” but these usually do not count.)

As noted, decent teaching is supposed to count but I have seen many instances in which awful teaching was explained away as actually an indication of good teaching. To determine  a candidate’s teaching there are class visitations by 2 or 3 professors and the students fill out anonymous evaluation forms at the end of the semester. Not wanting to offend someone who may get life time employment if they meet the above “standards” the visitors uniformly say the teacher was brilliant, engaging, showed respect for the students and so on. One has to keep in mind that the professor knows in advance who is coming and when. Not to be well prepared and energetic those days would mean you are an idiot. Still, there are some who go one step beyond. For example, at one point several students asked me why their professor gave the same lecture day after day. As it turns out these were the days when there were class visitation, and I suppose he had the one lecture down perfectly.

The students fill out evaluations at the end of each semester. These are pretty much ignored whether high or low if one passes the three part test above. On the other hand, if they are low to average, they become the hammer to justify getting rid of the candidate who fails the three part test. But even here, many professors do not want to leave student evaluations to chance. I have seen professors going into classes with the forms the students must fill out in one hand and platters of cookies or boxes of pizza in the other. Sometimes the bribes are so shameful that even the students know what is up but this does not discourage them accepting the bribe. One professor would sponsor a softball game in the afternoon for his class followed by cocktails at a local pub. The tab could run in excess of $1000 dollars. There are far more subtle bribes like not calling on students and appearing to be deeply concerned about their welfare when you could not care less. One very subtle effort involves handing out your own evaluations a day or two before the official ones. A colleague who does this says it takes the sting out of what the students may say on the official evaluations and illustrates how seriously he or she takes teaching.

Faculty who are able to turn evaluations into popularity polls take high evaluations to mean they are good teachers. Yet, the vast majority of studies find that there is no correlation between student evaluations and student learning. In fact, some find students of the highly rated professors actually learn less than those who have professors rated lower. Actually no one knows what student evaluations indicate. One interesting study showed students very short silent movies of teacher and asked them to evaluate them. After the course, they also filled out evaluations and they were about the same as the first set. One interpretation was that the students were responding to body language and facial expressions as much as anything else.

If the whole evaluation of teaching process is a joke it stands right beside the evaluation of scholarship. I am pretty sure if someone wrote nothing, not even doodles in napkins at Starbucks he or she would not get tenure. I am just as sure that a person who writes next to nothing but satisfies the three part test described above will be tenured. There are two things at work here. Letters are sent out to experts in the field. It’s a small honor or form of recognition to be asked to review someone’s scholarship. Like many things in the law professor world, it is something people want to be asked to do but pretend that it is burdensome. And, it is actually burdensome to those who are popular reviewers. Who are the popular reviewers? Typically, they are people who write positive reviews. Who are the unpopular reviewers? Reviewers who are honest. The popular ones use terms like “rising star,” “insightful,” “major contribution,” etc. The unpopular ones are not afraid to say unoriginal, not carefully researched, a repetition of his or her earlier work.

It is not a stretch to say there is something of a market for letters. Tenure and promotion committees want positive reviews for those passing the three part test. If someone fails the three part test they would prefer negative reviews. But negative reviews are hard to come by. Why? Because if you write  negative reviews you may not be asked again and, remember, being asked is a feather in your cap.

There s a second factor in this letter solicitation process. What happens if someone passes the three part test and a negative letter slips through. The negative letter is either ignored or is subject to scrutiny with the result being that is is rejected. Let’s take the case of a professor who I believe had the most expensive education available in American – Exeter, Princeton, Harvard -- a nice enough guy who fits in the category discussed later of law professors who really do not want to be law professors so they change the job. He passed the three part test. In fact, one colleague noted  how upsetting it would be socially if he were denied tenured. His specialty was writing about meditation.  A negative letter came in observing that one of his articles was in large part the same as an earlier article the reviewer had been asked to review for promotion. In this case, the faculty ignored the letter. The recycling of an idea was not addressed. In some cases, the treachery is especially extreme. We call the collection of review letters a “packet.” I have seen packets that included quite negative reviews and the committee making a recommendation to the faculty has said “all the letters were positive” and no one uttered a word because the three part test was passed with flying colors. 

Remember, these are law professors so they will often game the system. They may tell the committee doing the evaluations who not to ask for a letter and who to ask for a letter. It can get pretty extreme. One well know professor/politician was said to have mailed drafts of an article to possible reviewers before hand to make sure when the reviewer received the manuscript to review they would, in effect, be reviewing themselves.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A People’s (with apologies to Zinn) Ranking of Law Schools


Actually I cannot give you the rankings other than to say it would look nothing like the elitist, manipulation-prone ranking of US News. These are, however, the factors that would go into a true ranking of  law schools.

1. Percentage of class with less than 160 LSAT score. Why? Dolts can and do teach students with over  160 scores. That does not take any real teaching ability. Those students will get it. Teaching them is like teaching native German speakers how to speak German. 

2. Percentage of students with below 160 who pass the bar. This is the real measure of teaching effectiveness because those students may actually need teaching expertise.

3. Number of citations by courts of scholarly works per faculty member. In a prior study a colleague and I demonstrated that citations by other law professors are irrelevant. They generally do not rely on anything but factual assertions and rarely engage the thoughts of the works they cite. Let's face it. If courts do not cite your work, you are wasting your time and writing for a very small and irrelevant audience.

4. Percentage of students who are first in family college graduates. These people are likely to have a different perspective on virtually everything than the entitled ones, Want to have lively class discussion? Admit these people.

5. Percentage of faculty who did not graduate from top 15 law schools. Quite honestly, in 42 years of law teaching, the most poorly educated and laziest people I have met came from elite undergraduate and law schools. I could name names but that would take 5 blogs. They are the grade grubbers who focused on one thing -- what is on the test. Want some diversity away from the same old name dropping dolts, expand your hiring horizons. 

6. Number of African-American faculty. I know there are all kinds of minorities these days but none come close to this group in terms of having been kicked around, discriminated against, and pushed aside. Want you students to be more well rounded, better able to interact with diverse clients, then hire these people.

7. Percentage of financial aid distributed on the basis of need. Yes, this is different from the School were I taught which engaged in a bidding war for high LSATs.

8. Percentage of graduates who opt for public interest employment. Hopefully, 3 years of exposure to law school and the way law is consistently applied to favor the haves would encourage some students to, at least for some period of time, do the right thing. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Bill Barr School of Law School Deaning


BOOO Bill Barr, you unprincipled Trump sycophant. You rascal. All of us, (well  not all, there are a couple of numbskulls who admire you ) principled law professors and administrators think you are an awful example of the profession.

But wait Billy Boy! There is a job for you. It's even better than Trump University. You open a school for wannabe Law school administrations. You know, Bill, the number one goal  of any law school dean on the make is to climb the USnews ranking.

So that's what you teach. Some Units of the course would be:

1. Hire your own graduates to do something, anything, so you can report high post graduate employment rates.

2, Lower first year admissions but increase the number of transfers because the transfer LSAT and GPAs will not count against you.

3. Oh, what the hell. Just do what UF Law has perfected, However qualified a student, do not admit him or her unless he or she improves your ranking.

4, If a student is admitted and it looks like he or she, in hindsight, might lower your scores, pay them not to come.

5. Make sure all law school employees are called faculty. This will raise your teacher to student ratio.

6. Throw every cent you can get your grubby hands on to pay high scoring students to come to your school whether they need the money or not. 

7, And Bill, here is what you can bring to the course your specialty.  Just lie. What the fuck, you are not hurting anyone so it's not like a real lie.

But Bill, there is one catch,  All of these things have already been done. Yes by the same people who say that  you are the crook, not them.

So you will have to be imaginative. Your primary mission is to stay one scam ahead of what USnews is onto and cares about. This should be easy, They don't really care if they get it right as long as it sells,  

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Law School Stimulus (Reparation) Checks to Come with Rejection Letter

 I've beefed about an obvious misuse of funds to fuel the egos of the privileged so I will try to provide a short version. UF law has the physical plant and faculty to admit 600 qualified students a year. By qualified, I mean those with high enough GPAs and LSAT scores to indicate they can do the work and become attorneys. Currently half that number are admitted each year. The reason is by rejecting highly qualified applicants the school can raise the average LSAT and GPAs of admitted students and rise in the US News Rankings. 

This quest for rankings does nothing for the public but gives something for administrators to crow about. Who pays for this crowing? Rejected students who must go to more expensive schools, less prestigious schools, or farther away schools. And they may have fewer employment opportunities and lower life time incomes which may have implications for their families. Screw them is the attitude of UF and its Law School administration. After all, screwing them is a small price to pay to go from 49th to 25th. No one puts an asterisk by the ranking to note those school who did the equivalent of cheating on a test and then bragging about getting a higher score. 

The qualified rejected students are like the residents close to a polluting factory, They suffer so the fat cats can get fatter. The solution? Stimulus checks equal to  the damage done and it should come with the rejection letter.

Something like this:

Dear Mr. Zinn:

Unfortunately we cannot admit you to the UF College of Law. This not because you would not be  a successful student and lawyer, It it because if we admit people like you our average LSAT would slip to 159 and our USNews ranking would go from 25  to 31. So you see it is simply not possible.

We  know this means attending a lower ranked school, a possibly more expensive school, or one farther from home. Tough Luck! Maybe you should have spent a few thousand dollars like other applicants on preparing for the LSAT or not worked while an undergraduate  so you would have had more time to raise your GPA. 

Rankings mean more to us than anything and we owe our ranking to  your extraordinary (albeit unwilling) contribution to UF LAW. We have, thus, enclosed a check to show our appreciate, to offset the damage done to you, and to atone for our hypocrisy by pretending not to be putting our obsession with rankings ahead your career.