Saturday, December 10, 2011

So What's Up Texas!!?? Ain't It Cool!

If you have been following the law school news you know about the events at UT Law School leading to the "resignation" of the dean. Seems he was paying some people more than others and then not exactly being direct about what was up. My particular favorite is the forgivable loans. Yes, a loan that you do not have to pay back

But let's just hold up a sec. What is a forgivable loan? It's just pay, right? In law teaching these little side deals come in a variety of forms -- lower teaching loads, more trips to China, higher travel budget, having your own foreign program, capping courses, extra research assistance, a little secret bump on your summer grant, etc. True, I had never heard of the loan that is not a loan but rather than regard that as a new thing, why not call every other side deal a "loan" that is not repaid. Same thing, right. And, if you know of a School not making these loans or side deals, let me know.

What's the fuss? Did they think they were all getting the same salary? As the John Travola character said in Broken Arrow, "Ain't it Cool." You just have to laugh. You know how this works. Mr. Entitlement goes down to the Dean's office and explains how he really has to have more or he might have to leave while giving all his colleagues the "we're in this together" smile. Now the folks who did not cut as good a deal for themselves are all bent out of shape.

I feel sympathy for the ones who were duped into thinking there were rules and standards that were evenly applied. My own cynicism can be traced to having been part of that group.

On the other hand, if they are upset because when they slithered down to the Dean's office the plum they got does match up with Little Mr. Entitlement's, I say tough. They are ultimately the ones who love the system when they can work; they need to suck it up when it does not turn out their way. Sure they can get the dean fired but, ultimately, it is most likely the case they simply want a system that works for them, not one that is predictable, transparent and fair.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More on the Enronification of higher education

A few days ago on my series of posts on the corruption of largely unaccountable universities, I noted the complicity of University Counsel. This NYTs article gives a look at how it works:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unpacking Votes

One theme in this blog is that for people of privileged everything is a means to an end that the end is whatever they want. One of the strategies is to unpack votes. Here is what I mean:

Suppose there are 2 candidates up for a position. The faculty votes and they each get a positive but borderline vote of 30-18. Most deans would not know what to do. Don't misunderstand, it's not about the candidate but an assessment of which group is safest to piss off. Now you may be thinking. "But it's 30-18, Isn't it easy." Wrong because in that 18 maybe the pals of the dean or at least those likely to make him or her most miserable if an offer is made.

So, unpacking starts. If you are in the 30 and are worried about an offer not being made, the argument is to identify the likely no votes and say why they voted no. For example, there were 18 no votes but some of those were based on racism or homophobia or disagreement about the 1st amendment. All of this may be true; then again it may not be. Deans in particular unpack votes to get the outcome to please those most likely to be troublesome if they are not unpacked. They do not unpack them, even of the numbers are the same, unless pushed.

There is another form of unpacking that is post vote knit-picking. For example, a candidate comes in and gets a decent positive vote that ordinarily would lead to an offer. The problem is that those in the minority do not want this candidate. So, the picking begins. Remember this is after the vote and the arguments are made to the dean. "I looked at Mark's footnotes and I can't believe he did not cite Jack Bauer." Deans do not go to the 35 who voted yes and ask if they were concerned about leaving out Bauer. To those 35, after all, the game is over. So the 18 or 10 no votes become heavily weighted because they begin unpack their own votes to suggest they are better informed than the others.

I've seen some unpacking lately and I am not sure what actually should happen. Some people do vote one way or another for irrelevant or even wrong reasons. The problem is that all the votes are tossed out when the unpacking begins, even those of people who had the right reasons.

One solution is for each person to state his or her vote and why. If you think law professors would ever do something so transparent, I've got some Florida swamp land we need to discuss.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More on Fungibility

Here is an interesting article on the fungibility of not just law profs but everyone else. I am wondering if most of the ills of law schools and universities can be traced to the belief that people are not replaceable.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Rot and Enronification of Universities: Part 5: Self Dealing

Self dealing is the last of the characteristics associated with the Eronification of Universities. One has to be careful in using this term. I do not know of any University administrators who have actually fattened up their own bank accounts by stealing directly from their institution. And, I have to be extra careful because many readers assume my complaints are always about Florida, more specifically the Law School. That would be wrong. Sometimes I do not care for my Dean's decisions and decision making approach but he is as hardworking as anyone I have known the the idea of self-dealing just does not fit. What I mean by self-dealing is spending the institution's funds on yourself in the sense of making your life more comfortable regardless of the benefits to stakeholders.

Here is an example of what mean. John Lombardi, the topic of the article, is now President of Louisiana or something like that. His activity at Uf sounds like making people comfortable who made him comfortable. I believe at the time he was in the process of being tossed out, I read that he was making sure the University department to which he was headed was especially well-funded. Ironically, one of last significant acts was to appoint an acting dean at UF Law who, again this is hearsay, while in that post, transferred funding from faculty slots to the unit to which he would return. If true, this is the administrative version of apples not falling far from the tree. The interesting thing to me is that this is all evidently viewed as part of the business. Lombardi, as I noted, ended up being sought after for other administrative posts and his acting Dean pal is revered in some circles.

So the self dealing stops short of writing yourself a check. On the other hand, it is putting your comfort and the security of your post ahead of the overall interests of the institution. Or it might mean, as I think it does a UF, supporting a program in which one has a deep personal interest. It is a form or shirking. That is, unless there is a consistent coincidence that what is good for administrators is good for the institution.

Is it unfair to compare this characteristic of Universities to Enron? Of course it is -- to Enron that is. At least in the case of Enron, there is some chance of discovery, auditing and shareholder action. In a public university these activities, with the help of University counsel, the "not technically a lie" culture, an aversion to transparency and rules that are created on the spot can persist indefinitely.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Rot and Enronification of Universities: Part 4: The "New" Rule

In the first of this series of posts I noted 5 characteristics of institutions for higher education and have discussed two of the -- the captive legal staff and the obsession with fighting transparency. I also tossed in an old post I wrote about why faculty are too self interested and cowardly to speak up.

Somewhere in all of this goes the "new rule" strategy. That is, an administrator is caught at best just being incompetent or at worst playing favorites. When asked about it, the administration announces the new rule that applies in that situation that no actually knows about.

The worse instance of this came several years ago and involved the worst dean. After a year or two, people began to notice that without any explanations the teaching loads varied. Repeated requests for information went unanswered until the dean said the leaves were research leaves. We already had a sabbatical program so it was puzzling. When pressed about how one applied. . . well, there was no actual procedure. Asked about how the program had operated, there were no answers. Evidently we had a research leave program known only to the Dean and his buds.

My school has a policy that full teaching load is 12 hours but you can request 9 hours if you more or less promise to do research. Most people ask for and get the 9 hour load. Very recently, though, some even lower loads popped up. So, again, a request goes down to the office for an explanation of how one teaches less that a nine hour load. After an extended delay the answer comes that the 8 hour load is a result of the policy that if you teach a 10 hour load you get a 8 hour load the next semester or will teach 10 hours in the future. The problem is that none of the people with the light loads taught 10 hours and many people who have taught 10 hour loads have never heard of their entitlement to the lower load the next semester.

Here is the part that takes the cake. The administrator who announced the rule could not say whether it had ever been applied in the past. Huh?? I think I know why -- there was no rule until one had to be created to explain what made no sense.

Was Enron any less arrogant?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Knowing What to Do, Not Doing It

The Penn State cover up and this recent comment on my facebook page:"Coverups abound. Just imagine this. Most of us in a university environment live under rules whereby professors are forbidden to have a romance with students in their units. Still, how many professors or students would tell their dean or another higher up of such an event if they knew of it. This is not to equate sex with minors with such relationships between students and professors. It merely illustrates the reluctance to speak up. The same thing goes on in the business world where sex between supervisors and staff is forbidden. Still few staff who know of it will say a peep. And some of this sex is coercive and where it is not it often results in the promotion of the complicit staff member over a more qualified staffer. Still most remain silent knowing that if they turned in the two love bunnies they would have no future in the firm. The rot surrounds us and sometimes we are part of it." led to the decision to repost this blog which I wrote over on Moneylaw a few years ago:

I appreciate the opportunity to write about capture and the self-dealing in legal education. There is one part of the system that I have not addressed directly. Every law school, or so I believe, has faculty members who know better and who are productive enough to have the legitimacy to influence their colleagues to put self interest aside and behave more ethically. By ethical I mean, as Dale Whitman has defined it, “[doing] the right thing even when it is contrary to our perceived self-interest.”

If there are excellent and potentially influential people at every school who know better, how does capture persist? I have already noted that lack of objective standards, weak deans, and appeals to “civility” play a role. Still, why don’t productive scholars and teachers overcome the inertia at their schools? I think a combination of two factors contribute to what is ultimately an institutional shirking problem.

First, being excellent as a scholar and teacher is not the same as having a backbone or any sense of obligation to anyone other than oneself. I believe this is called the independent contractor mentality. Law schools are full of them. You know them and you may be one of them. They go to a class visitation and privately concede that the person they observed was terrible but when their report appears the candidate was “a terrific teacher.” Or, they privately reveal that they read a tenure piece and it was not very good. Then at the tenure and promotion meeting they are silent. Or, they are appointed to a committee to assess the value of various pet programs. Privately they express concern that a great law school is not built by creating multiple tangential programs that have little value and reduce scholarship. But when it is time to actually have an impact, they are most likely to be found hiding under a desk.The world is full of brilliant and gutless people, but it is just possible that legal education attracts them in disproportionate numbers.

Second, speaking out at a school that has not already internalized a common commitment to excellence is met with sanctions. So even if the productive and potentially influential person has some sense of obligation other than to him or herself, there may be a price to pay. (Of course, isn’t the baseline measure of ethical conduct the willingness to pay that price?) One is the threat that the faculty member will be described as “not a good colleague” when higher-ranked schools express interest. This has always been the black ball for decanal candidates, but it seems to be the black ball for faculty hires as well. The result is very “careful” people. In fact, good advice for an ambitious scholar is to avoid controversy – even if on the side of righting an injustice – at any cost. The second sanction is internal social exclusion.

The productive but weak must respond to these sanctions or forget about moving up or being invited to the latest faculty cocktail party. Many professors I have observed who could have influence just cannot do it when anything is on the line that may get in the way of personal, professional and social ambitions.

There is an ironic twist to this. If a higher-ranked school actually is thinking about hiring a promising scholar or a dean, what are they getting if the candidate has pleased or even attempted to please everyone at his or her captured, mediocre, self-dealing, and underachieving school?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Rot and Enronification of Universities: Part 3

Part three is about the captive legal staff of Universities. First, though, there was a facebook post by someone that rang true. Maybe I am really describing all organizations. That led to thinking about the inherent arrogance in all of us. People who have no power at all may be made a team captain or a low level administrator and, pow!, they become arrogant. I remember one true asshole dean telling me, while he wore a cowboy hat, "I don't get ulcers, I cause them." That is an extreme example to be sure, but what is it about a little bit of power that fuels the worst in human behavior.

Now to the legal staffs. If you are hired by a corporation the corporation is your client. Ideally, like any client, you advice them about what is legal, illegal, risky, etc. And then if they get in trouble you advocate, within the bounds of ethical standards, the position that benefits the corporation meaning the shareholders. The key is that it is not about the individuals. When someone in the organization is in trouble there should be a decision about how can the staff best serve the client and not the individual. The problem is that it is the individuals who can hire and fire the legal staff. It may be fine for an individual client to shop around for an attorney but a corporation has to depend on others to do that.

Universities have the same untenable arrangement. The client is the institution, not the President, the Provost or the Dean. My sense is that the arrangement holds up pretty well before decisions are made. For example, a President may ask about a proposed program and the legal consequences.

Where is falls apart is when there is trouble. Instinctively the staff decides it must serve those who are in trouble without first asking, "What is best for the client." One of best indications of this, possibly unethical, tendency is how quickly a Dean will call the University's legal staff when he or she has screwed up. The idea that the staff should weight its obligations to its client, the University, when discussing an individuals dean's screw up is out the window. There appears to be no stepping back and saying "if we successfully defend what you have done will the client actually be better off." Again, the university counsel who declines to respond to the individual because it is not in the interest of the institution is also failing to respond to the person who can hire or fire them.

Yes, they are caught between a rock and a hard place and I have yet to know of one who has put the interests of the institution ahead of an individual administrator's cry for help. For the basic practitioner, adhering to ethical standards may mean losing a client. For University counsel it may mean losing a job which is part of a different career path thus also meaning the career path is blocked.

This all portrays University counsel as victim and that would be unfair. They can also aid in the desire to avoid transparency and the "not technically a lie" culture. Two quick examples:

1. A year or so ago at my schools a faculty member assaulted a student by shoving him. The punishment was one week suspension with pay during a holiday. Aside from looking for 14 students I could shove in order to get a semester off with pay, I was curious about University policy on physical altercations involving faculty. Repeated requests to University counsel finally resulted in the "why don't we meet and talk about it." Obviously no policy was to be written down and no one actually claimed to know anything about a policy.

2. Sometime ago the University issued a warning about using one's University affiliation to promote an idea. The idea, as I understood it, is avoid the implication that the University has a position. I wondered, how can this be the rule when law professors write briefs using University funding and identifying themselves as part of the university and invariable those briefs represent their personal views. So, I asked. "Difficult question," was the answer. "We'll look into it."

The point is that the University legal staff is in a tough position but they are part and parcel of the cover ups. Anyone who thinks the ill fated moves or lack of them at Penn State all took place without University Counsels' involvement at some level is more than likely in for a surprise. They are important cogs in the Enronification.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rot and Enronification of Universities: Part 2

In the immediately preceding post, I noted that the events at Penn State inspired me to think and write about the Enronification of Universities. I listed 5 characteristics and discussed one -- the struggle against transparency. It occurs to me that this struggle cannot be separated for the culture of "not technically a lie." It's the strategy of misleading people or knowingly not disclosing a straight answer when you know what is being asking. I don't think this needs an explanation beyond three examples.

1. Statement in Email to faculty: "Professor X will be unable to participate in our foreign program in Spain." Actually story, the person writing the memo (Professor Y) did not want to go to the summer program he was scheduled to participate it. It is more desirable that Professor X's assignment. So, Professor Y asked Professor X not to go to his initial assignment but to take his place.

The straight answer: At my request Professor X is now going to take over the summer teaching I had assigned to myself.

2. As I understand it an email exchange with Kyle Cavanaugh who is at Duke now. Here he was generally explaining how the grievance process works to a potential grievence filer. Just to set this up, one of the procedures we have at UF requires you to grieve to the Provost -- not the real provost but Dr. No. That decision can be appealed to the provost and if you do not like it you can pay for an arbitratio, The President can then decide whether to accept the impartial arbitrator's decision or not. I know what you are thinking but it is true -- after arbitration the President can decide. Kyle explains all this the interaction continues:

Q: After the President decides can you then appeal to the courts?

Kyle: At that point the is process over
Q; Yes I see that there is nothing else to do at the university level but can it be appealed to a court.

Kyle: At that point procedure is over.

Now think about this one. Why do this? The answer is yes or no and if Kyle does not know he can say do. It's just being an ass. In this case the questioner found out in about a minute and quickly emailed Kyle back that "yes," one can then appeal to the District Court. This way Kyle could be sure to "help" others who ask.

I concede I may have some of the exact wording wrong and Kyle did not lie just displayed the arrogance and hunker down mentality of a company man when it did not help the company.

The straight answer. "I do not know." or "I will not tell you."

3. Letter to Law School administrator: I noticed that you dropped course X from the spring schedule. Most of the 50 students who would have signed up for that class will now sign up for my course even though they would prefer the one originally schedule and we have someone who wants to teach it.

Answer: None

Finally an answer: Let's make and appointment and talk about it.

Response of questioner: Would it just be possible to explain in an email the rationale for dropping the course?"

Answer: None

The straight answer: "the truth is I . . . .

So, it may be deliberately misleading as in example one, sleazy as in example two, or just the paranoia of people who are afraid to just write it down.

I am willing to bet that all of this happens at Penn State and Enron. It represents the mentality that helps explain why institutions go off the rails.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Rot and Enronification of Universities: Part 1

This is not about class. Instead it is inspired by the events at Penn State. The whole matter has an Enron feel to it. The catch is there there is no reason to believe similar events could not happen at other universities. What has occurred is that universities do not act like they exist at the pleasure of taxpayers and are means to an end. They make rules rather than follow them and when they are caught they hunker down. There are some key elements that allow and encourage this behavior. They are:

1. The struggle against transparency.
2. Self Dealing.
3. A captive legal staff.
4. The "not technically a lie" culture.
5. No real rules.

I will discuss one in each entry. The struggle against transparency is part of the believe that information is power. Universities fight to avoid disclosures. One of my own experiences with this was a request to an administrator at my school, per University instructions, for the documents I wanted. I was told that I had to make the request to a different University official. I did. After weeks of waiting I contacted the official who told me the request was actually forwarded o the administrator I had asked in the first place. Eventually, weeks after asking, I received a partial request. That is minor matter but at the other end of the struggle against transparency is lying to a grand jury. Take a look at the two Penn State officials who are accused of doing that. Are their backgrounds and educations any different than those holding similar posts at your school. Are you sure. But for the randomness of life they could have been Enron officials. You may say they were involved in a cover up while avoiding a documents request is not a cover up. Well, the best cover up is to make sure the information never gets out in the first place. Many university officials just can't stand the fact that what they do is your business, not theirs. When they keep the information to themselves they are stealing what belongs to you.

There are other version of the transparency issue including the refusal to write things down --"come down and we can talk about it"-- and not technically a lie. More on those later.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cheaters Without Cameras

The stair machine must be the most boring exercise ever. The TVs installed in them do not help much unless sports is on. Typically I flip through the channels looking for the least inane programming. Today one of those channels that did not exist when I was growing had a show on about how casinos deter and detect cheating among gamblers and casino workers. The security people are up in the ceiling watching monitors. Those security people come and go by separate entrances and do not socialize with the other casino workers. Makes sense. If you do not know the people you are more likely to be objective. Temptation to cut someone some slack when they steal from the casino is greatly reduced. (I must admit the idea of casinos being cheated by others is a little hard to swallow.)

So what about law school cheating. There are many ways it occurs:
1. Favoring or disfavoring students.
2. Not honestly evaluating scholarship for tenure and promotion purposes.
3. Not honestly reviewing the teaching of tenure candidates.
4. Being influenced in hiring because there are friends or spouses involved or the candidates attended a specific set of schools.

My law school has done all that can be done with respect to number 1. Grading is anonymous and professors are not permitted to teach relatives or the equivalent. The last part of this was not always true and for many years the School dealt with the discomfort of parents teaching their children.

My school and I suspect most others have done miserably with respect to cheating in forms 2-4. The problem is that there is no "security staff" that observes without being influenced by personal connections. This is not to say the personality is irrelevant but scholarship, teaching, and hiring should be independent of personal connections. This would be the law school version of the cameras.

Could law schools get a little closer to the ideal. Suppose all articles from a group of schools were submitted to a panel of scholars. Each piece would be anonymous and the evaluators would assess several pieces and each piece would be reviewed by several scholars. A ranking would be provided to the schools involved as well as an absolute score. Teaching is a bit harder partly because the occasional pre-announced class visitation is so full of holes as a valid form of evaluation. It is close to silly because virtually anyone can do a decent job for a few days and faculty visitors would rather do the stair machine than actually put in writing anything that is negative.

One big step in hiring is not to hire into a specific department anyone who is closely related to a current faculty member. That would reduce some of the temptation. When the hiring of the trailing spouse is in a different department, it should occur only after an national search and an audit of the search procedure.

Law schools are not casinos but are affected by cheaters. They are way behind casinos in efforts to curb cheating. Maybe they just do not want to.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

More on Fungibility

It rattled a few readers when I said that most law professors at any law school from the 20th on down are fungible. What I meant that any could leave and their absence would hardly be noted. It is actually pretty extreme. At my school one very productive and self-promoting type left as did another far less productive but equally self- promoting. In the case of one there was hand-wringing including some of my own. In the case of another there was more than a modicum of relief. Years have now passed and I could count on one finger the number of times their absence has been noted by fellow faculty. I could count on no fingers the number of times a student or alum has expressed regret at the loss.

This just raises the question of why deans will sometimes fight so hard to keep people by giving into their demands. For example, "give my spouse a job or I will leave" or "I must teach X or I will leave." Even assuming these are not idle threats I can think of only two reason to cave in -- the person teaches a course for which it is hard to find teachers (this makes them a bit less fungible) or the transaction costs of finding the replacement exceeds the cost of granting whatever is demanded. Let's face it, someone with an actual better offer is going to leave anyway. Those who make demands based on the threat of leaving have, at best, a marginally better offer.

Coming to grips with one's ease of replacement is not easy. On the other hand, it does make you take yourself a little less seriously. For a law prof that is not a small improvement.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Next Big Law School Scandal

Just a guess but I think it will be externship programs or at least some of them. These programs vary I am sure, but it appears they all have in common the payment to a school by students for credit. That's fine, but when students pay schools it's not clear what they are getting other than credit. Some may have enriching externships that prepare them for the practice of law and some may be fetching coffee. Part of the problem is that the ABA or AALS version of a site visit to check on what is going on seems to be satisfied by having someone (a pal perhaps) at another school check or (am I getting this right?) just calling the site.

On top of that, what are the standards for what the student does? I've seen some that say "meaningful legal experience." That really does not narrow it down much. I got a speeding ticket once and that was a meaningful legal experience. There is precious little meat on the bones of what is actualy required.

There is another factor that maybe bothers only me. The students pay essentially to work for others. This subsidization is not so worrisome when those others are public entities but when they are private, it is free labor for the purpose of generating a profit for others. This all becomes a bit fishy. Shouldn't the students in these cases be paid?

Now toss in the fact that in some places faculty are paid on the basis of how many externships they generate. Sounds like giving the faculty member a finder's fee or a cut of the school's take for selling credit to students.

I am not informed enough about the politics of the relations between the ABA, the AALS and law schools but, from this informed perspective it appears like a huge case of the AALS looking the other way because no one has the courage to really ask "What is going on." Or, perhaps they know exactly what is going on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More on the New Cronyism

I was pretty happy to see that over on PrawfsBlawg, Howard Wasserman­­­­ wrote a comment on my New Cronyism post (scroll two down) and it was followed by several – too many to read – comments. One thing is certain; there is no class warfare in law teaching. The privileged won long ago and many rushed to defend the stacked deck in the form of a practice that means privileged people help other privileged people cut in line when it comes to jobs. Make no mistake. This is not like a pal letting you cut in line for a theater ticket that will not be sold out anyway. No, these pals let significant others cut in line and there are not enough tickets. Every job claimed under the cronyism system is unavailable to someone else.

Among the comments was a fair amount of defensiveness by those for whom cronyism worked. That is to be expected. Some of the logic of the arguments, thought, left me worried about what goes on in teaching students how to think. And, of course, there is the infinite capacity to rationalize which I suppose we all put to good or ill use from time to time.

For example, the fact that partner hiring does not always work to mean more privilege for the privileged does not mean my general point is wrong. Second, the fact that someone got a job for a partner and it worked out fine or the University is pretty darn happy is silly. Surely every law professor knows and understands the notion of opportunity costs. With this type of thinking if you buy a car without shopping around you would also conclude – for no reason in particular – that you bought the best car.

Some folks seem rattled by my notion that law professors were pretty much fungible and, thus, any school that caves into the leverage of “if you want to hire me you must find a job for my partner” is taking the bait. Perhaps fungible is the wrong word to use here but it never ceases to amaze me at how quickly a school gets over the departure of someone and how little lasting effect there is of not hiring someone in the first place. I know it is hard to come to grips with the fact that you are not as big a shot as you thought but let's be real about the number of people who could do our jobs. I’ll stick to my position on this. Nevertheless, even if profs were not replaceable, fungible, whatever, you would have to balance that against the downside of not even looking at people who may be better than the trailer.

And, then there was something like “We we did not consider these people we would be limiting our choices.” WTF. I am not talking about not hiring married people. No it’s a matter of not hiring based on to whom they are married. If you put a thumb on the scale because a candidate is a partner of someone you want, you are already limiting your choices

Somewhere in all of the comments there was a sense of entitlement -- but we can't both get jobs if a school will not hire a couple. I hardly know what to say. You are both adults with more educations than 90% of the out of work people in the USA. Get a real job.

The most baffling thing is the lack of discussion of what is actually going on. Suppose a candidate comes along whom people thing is hot stuff and she has a spouse that would not have been looked at. Then suppose the “hire my partner” chip is played. If the partner is hired it is simply a higher salary for the wanted spouse. Antitrust experts will recognize this as just a form of tying and really all the benefits in the form of a job for the not-really-wanted partner can be attributed to the wanted spouse.

Is there really any difference between the "hire my partner" demand and a demand for a higher salary? Please don’t say it is because the spouse is doing something. As long as he or she would not have been hired in a completely anonymous process, the subsidy exists. For example, a hot candidate could say “I’ll come for 20K more” or “I'll come at the offered salary but my partner, who does not work, would like 20K for spending money” or "I'll come if my partner gets to cutin line for a job in legal writing or in the Spanish department." In contracts, I think that is consideration, there is nothing illusory about it, and it is a result of what the hot shot offers, not her partner. Next we may have the (single) hot property saying. "I’ll come for the lower salary but your next hire must be a single person about my age of whom I approve for a possible dating relationship." Ultimately, if they both would not have been hired on their individual merits, there is a subsidy. If I were a hot shot I would say I needed both a good salary and a really cool dog.

My point that seemed to be lost on many is that the system is rigged. It’s a cousin of legacy admissions to elite schools. The rigging is pervasive in America and the class version of it has long escaped the attention of law school (and you know why).

I conceded in my original post that I prefer not to have partnership faculty. I’ve seen it work OK and I have seen it be very divisive. If you have a couple and they both bubble up in an anonymous process and you also have 2 candidates who are their equal but not partners, I prefer the latter. If one or both are untenured, I feel even stronger. Why would the greater probability of greater diversity be less favored? This, though, is a different matter than a system of hiring that is rigged in so many ways it could pass for a the Santa Maria (and it is even older.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Law Suits Against Law Schools

I have only skimmed the complaint in the suit against Cooley but I assume the remaining cases must be based on the same theme -- Schools lied, students relied. For many reasons I'd be surprised if a class were certified and, if one is not, many attorneys and plaintiffs will lose interest. Still I applaud the effort and hope what legal education was not willing to clean up somehow becomes cleaner.

The whole matter is an indictment of people in my profession. We have known about this and participated at least by our silence for years. On the other hand, I have yet to hear of a faculty member badgering the dean to hire more of our own grads or admit more transfer students or offer more bar oriented courses. Unless I am missing something, most faculty would like the School to be ranked higher but are not losing sleep about it. After all, a higher ranking does not mean we are doing a better job and a lower one does not mean are students are less prepared.

Yes, most of us have stood by but my impression is that the vocal supporters of doing what ever is necessary are alums. I have heard that at my School, if we drop in the rankings, the alums have fits. I am not sure whether it is because we compete with FSU and they are terrified we could drop behind them in the US News and World Report "rankings" or because they somehow think that the education they had here is of lower quality if we drop. I am also not sure why we don't ignore them. Perhaps because we want their money. On the other hand, if they are serious about action and not whining, they could hire a few more or our graduates at better salaries.

Ultimately, though, when a public school begins hawking its products or programs like pajama jeans (Just saw them in an infomercial last night) an misrepresenting its outcomes, it's not much different than the government paying $16 for a muffin or $200 for a toilet seat. It stinks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The New Cronyism

Cronyism is an interesting word. It sounds bad. No one says, "my heart is filled with cronyism" or "that was the cronyiest moment of my life." Yet crony just means friend. Somehow by adding ism it become a serious accusation: The hiring or granting of a right based on something other than merit. Recently I noted two new examples of changes in hiring practices: one is close to cronyism; the other dead center. But in the elite PC world of people who used to rail about ol' boy systems and favoritism, these practices seem to be OK.

1. OK, I am not sure this first one really is cronyism but it is close and I have been meaning to write about it. I was talking to a friend of mine at a different school who is on his hiring committee. I asked him if anything was different in the way it works as compared to, say, ten years ago. Without hesitation and with some level of frustration he said "yes." "I get a constant stream of letters from from well known law profs at highly ranked schools pushing their students. It's almost always the elite schools." My friend observed that ten years ago these efforts were not as aggressive. Of course these letters generally go to graduates of the same elite group of schools who desperately want to please and be remembered by their old profs. After all, a visiting position could be in the works. I understand the letter writers are not necessarily friends but they purport to be close to the candidates they are plugging and they want them to cut in line based on their connection.

2. The dead center one involves couples. Evidently, hiring a spouse or partner these days automatically means taking on the responsibility for finding employment for the other partner either in town, in another part of the university or in your own department. This is discrimination not on the bases of marital status but on the basis of to whom you are married -- cronyism.

As noted there are three forms: A person is hired who has a spouse who wants to be employed in a non academic setting. Deans call in favors to find him or her a job. Or, the person wants a job in a different department. This is actually one of the most undermining. For example, sometime ago my school sought to hire a lateral at a high but not "star attracting" salary. We found our person only to hear that the school had to fund another department to the tune of thousands of dollars to hire the spouse. WTF, I thought. If we knew we had that much to spend we would have been in the "star" market.

The final case involves the couple who teach in the same department. For me that is law. The trailer is usually someone the school would not and did not consider. The desired candidate is hired and the challenge is what to do with the "other." Others can be found stashed all over Universities -- assistant lecturer, research fellow. (Why don't we just call it what it is "Spouse of Tenure Track Professor," "Crony Professor," or "Special Position Filled on the Basis of to Whom you are Married") They go to the head of the line for any position that would fit, they make friends in a context in which social connections are almost everything, and all of sudden the are elevated to "incredibly well qualified" for the same job as the spouse holds. Of course, this is because they have cronies. I see no principled distinction between this cronyism and the 1970's version that usually involved white males and their pals. What I have learned (no surprise here) is that people who criticized cronyism in the past never did so on the basis of principle but simply because the wrong people were being hired. In both cases, though, friendship means thousands of equally or better qualified candidates are ignored.

I will concede to having some biases: First, in my experience, far more often than not, having spouses teaching in the same department has been worse than having two unrelated people holding the same positions. Second, I am so tired of hearing "We need to find a place Angelo. or we might lose Phil." Get real, from about the 20th ranked law school on down we are all basically fungible. No faculty member leaving any of those schools will create a hardship or a change in quality. The next entering class will not know Phil even existed.

I suppose someone disagreeing with me would say they learned so much about the other that he now feels the other is great. Lame, so lame -- you never compared him or her to the others.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Justice O'Connor's Gardener

I did not attend the period celebration of Sandra that we have here but here is an excerpt from the Gainesville Sun. The reporter usually gets it right.

"About half of U.S. states no longer require civics classes, she said. She contrasted that fact with the requirement that new citizens pass a written exam about government.

"Our high school graduates cannot pass that test," she said. "I mean, it's appalling we make some stranger pass it but we don't require it of our own children.""

So here is the deal. If you are a naturalized citizen, you are a stranger -- not one of "our children." That is, if you were born here and had no choice but to be an American, you are one of us. If you chose to come here, did a crap job for years, learned some English, and passed an exam you are a stranger.

Sandra's (people delight in being in the realm of those permitted to say Sandra.) classism and entitlement tendencies are showing. There are those of us born to be on the inside and then there are strangers -- the little people who work in her yard, no doubt

Sunday, September 11, 2011

O'Connor Again? UF Grovels

Sandra Day O'Connor is, again, visiting the UF. I think she must be on the lecture circuit more than any former member of the Supreme Court. Does she wait by the phone for our call?

It's ironic that UF rolls out the red carpet for her. Her shock at the possibility that Gore would win Florida in 2000 election is well documented. Bush v. Gore was easily one of the Modern Court's most unprincipled decision and she telegraphed her vote before she heard the arguments. It was a vote that essentially said we are terrified of knowing how Florida actually voted.

Then we had the the Bush wars, the war on the environment, Supreme Court appointments that turn back the clock, and the economic melt down that seems never to stop. The whole thing illustrates how we grovel around high placed people even when they tell us their ideology trumps our fundamental rights. People always complain that law schools are populated by liberals. They are right but, as the O'Connor visits illustrate, they are elitist liberals without an ounce of conviction.

The 2000 election also makes me think of the Florida Nadar voters whose little snit made it close enough that any of this mattered.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Conferences and Opportunity Costs

One of my facebook friends, Babara Burke, wrote the following dead solid perfect post:
The NYLJ reports that Suffolk City has depleted its 18-B attorney funds. Adequate representation to the indigent, welfare for lawyers, call it what you will but it provides a needed service in the county. Perhaps, my alma mater the only law school in Suffolk will see this as the impetus to awake from its complacency, and channel its own funds into creating a post-graduate grant program for those wanting to assist the poor. I'm thinking one Prof's trip to Brisbane can pay a year's salary.
This makes me thing of all the upside down priorities in which law schools are involved. Conferences and foreign travel are good examples. I can read much faster than I can listen. And, people can read what I write (if they care to) much faster than I can say it. Mostly at conferences you see people preaching to the choir, showing off, goofing off, or hanging with pals. A huge portion are trolling around looking to relocate. I'd make an exception for the recruiting conference which does seem like a good way to see many candidates. On the other hand, why send more than 3 or 4 people?

I'll pass on some of the ways my own school has chosen to spend money but there are some doozies. So many seem to exist because no one has the balls to actually say "Why are we doing this." They don't ask this because we know the answer: We do it because someone on the faculty wants to and will have a tantrum if anyone questions the program. As far as I know, like most schools, no program has ever been discontinued. Is it really possible that we got it right every time? I am not sure I have met a law professor who fully understands and has the courage to act on the notion of opportunity costs.

We used to have ridiculously expensive retreats. We'd go to the beach at the School's expense, eat, drink and talk about nothing. I once asked to have the cost of my attendance contributed the county we are in because it could not afford school books. I was looked at like I truly had lost my mind. Turning down a free trip to the beach? Thank goodness we now have a dean who has retreats at school with sandwiches for lunch.

To bad every law school can not start over -- add courses when absolutely necessary, reevaluate all tenured faculty, and only add programs when disinterested people say so.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Prissification of Law Profs: Leiter, the Scam-man, and Commentators

I am feeling ashamed of being a law professor right now. First you have the author of the law scam blog who was too prissy to identify himself. Go figure, you're a fucking law professor. What is another law professor going to do to you? Snub you at one of those meetings at which everyone one is looking over everyone elses' shoulders in case there is someone else in the room whose ass it would be better to kiss.

And there was the prissiness of the discussion about what should be made of his effort to be anonymous and other matters already discussed a zillion times. Just replay tape 54. Really is this high school? And then it is followed by even more.

But Brian Leiter takes the cake in this prissing contest. Evidently he is deeply offended and, thus, has launched an extended ad hominen attack on poor timid Mr. Scam-man. Oh, my goodness! For example, according to Mr. Leiter, Mr Scam-man is "notorious in the legal academy." Ouch, now that is big. It's about as important in the scheme of things as being notorious in a Denny's kitchen. And he notes of Mr. Scam-man's accusations, which admittedly are exaggerated, " "None of this warrants the absurdly offensive description of American legal education as a "'scam.'" When was Mr. Leiter appointed the protector of the virtue of American Legal Education. Where was he when Hester needed him? And then, we find that Mr. Scam-man is a "failed academic." I have never actually followed the logic that a "failed academic," even if that is true, cannot observe and report on what he sees. But, if Mr. Scam-man is a failed academic and his record is the standard, he joins 95% of the other law professors who
few people know and even fewer people give a rat's ass about what they write or say.

And now a personal note. I really want a comment on this post. And this comment must say this: "Jeff, you've been duped. This was all Performance Art." I really want to believe this because if it is not true, Mr. Scam-man has only scratched the surface and everyone in on this kerfuffle, including me, needs to be spanked just enough to get the priss out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Should Law School Grads Teach Law?

In theory they should. After all, they studied it for 3 years and hopefully beyond. So, they have the right information but do they deliver it in a way that can be called teaching? This question occurred to me when I heard that someone had told a beginning professor that "law school scholarship including empirical work is the means to the end of advancing your point of view or opinion."

The problem here is pretty obvious. Law students are schooled on the importance of representing a client as completely as ethically possible. In fact, they are professionals at this. It is, after all, an adversarial system. Can they drop the adversarial/representational mindset when they become scholars and teachers? Many cannot.

When one adopts his or her own point of view or opinion as a client, then the idea of being a teacher hits a wall. The same is true when you are inclined only to hire or tenure people who agree with you. You are not teaching; the exception being if you fess up and say, "my personal politics are too far to the left/right/liberal to personally feel comfortable with that argument." I doubt this happens much because many law profs do not want to engage on meaningful issues. True engagement means the other person may have something to say that is relevant and that cannot be true when you know you are right, no matter what.

So, law grads have the information. That is the good news.

Some more good news. They may have practiced law and may know how.

The bad news is that, although they have a boatload of war stories and talk as though it was yesterday, most have either not practiced at all or only so long ago that there was no internet.

The other bad news is the really bad news. They are also taught to not to be open minded, tolerant, or humble when it comes to what they believe and many, not all, cannot stop representing their personal beliefs. This also means they cannot teach.

Law School Scam and Prissiness

I am sure most readers have seen the law school scam blog or read references to it. I agree with much of Mr. Mystery's observations (yes this is way too hush-hush not to be anonymous) except I don't believe law profs are as work averse as he or she suggests. Don't get me wrong; it is a world of little accountability but some do have a conscience.

One of my friends predicts this will become the new bandwagon for law professors resulting in much hand wringing about "what we have done to the students." Maybe my friend is right but, if so, it goes down as just another well ....bandwagon. By that I mean no one was on board on the basis of principle but only became interested when they were sure the wind was blowing the right way. What can I say? Just another example of individual gutlessness.

There are lots of others. I could count on one hand the number of law professors who have raised the issue of exploitation and its racial bias when it comes to college athletes. I guess that bandwagon is stalled.

Another one is the deep concern about diversity. Yes, faculty will argue and spends gallons of stomach acid on how much diversity counts and who to hire for a full time tenure track position. On the other hand, literally thousands of adjuncts, lecturers, and other teachers are hired without even a nod to publicizing the position in order to attract diverse candidates. That bandwagon is also stuck in a rut. The same goes for the salaries of staff people.

As I have written many times before, the best argument against tenure for law professors is that they waste it. Of all the groups I have observed, law profs, men and women, must have the highest level of average prissiness per person.(APPP).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Priming the Law Review Pump.

Over on PrawfsBlawg there is an interesting essay by Jeff Lipshaw about law review placement in the summer. I think he has it right. It's risky because you may have a hard time bargaining up. Plus, from my own experience the information on Expresso about which law reviews are open for business is terribly inaccurate. But if you are satisficer, you may get just what you need.

But his story he has this: "Two weeks after the submission, I received a publication offer from a top 60 law review. This was a law review as to which I did not try to prime the pump - meaning that, in a couple cases, when I saw the receipt notice on ExpressO, I dropped a note to a friend on that faculty asking him or her to put in a plug for me."

As you can imagine, a fair amount of discussion follows. Let's face it, there are many things worrisome about priming the pump -- the old boy system, appeals to authority -- all of which come down to whether the review by law review editors is actually based on the merits of the piece. Guess which law professors are most likely to have friends at other law schools who can help them out. It's those who graduated from the handful of schools that supply the vast majority of law professors. It's strikes me as rigging no more or less than law schools and USN&WR. I do not mean to pick on Jeff. In fact, based on his thoughtful writings, I have great respect for him. He just happened to put in black and white what I assume is commonplace.

Jeff's response to some of the criticism along the lines found here is: "Can I defend the practice? No more than I can defend all the other proxies that student editors use to select articles. A professor says to the editor, "I know so and so, and she is well respected and this seems to be a pretty good piece." Is that any worse than looking at the author's CV as a proxy for the quality of the piece?" This is the part that does surprise me. What does it mean? I think what it means is that law profs do this because they assume everyone else is doing it and, to stay competitive they do it as well. Sounds like the same arguments law schools make when the try to rig the ratings game -- we don't want to do this but we have to. It's a version of the prisoner's dilemma. If everyone would stop -- schools and professors -- the system would be better off. But neither the schools or the professors can take the risk of deviating from a narrow self-interest perspective unless, in the case of professors, they must because they are not part of the elite fraternity.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

There You Go Again: NYTimes Letter

What follows in quotations is part of a letter to the NYTimes from Rick Matasar. The bracketed parts are my own comments. You may recall that Rick was more or less the target of an article in the Times last week. I am not picking on Rick because any dean I have known could have written this. And, for the record, after weeks of pounding on law schools it's clear that someone at the Times has a son or daughter who cannot get a job or into law school. Still the inability of Law Schools and their representatives to stop selling their stories continues.

" In my 11 years at New York Law School, which was highlighted in the article, the first-time bar exam passage rate improved to as high as 93 percent." [As high as 93 percent? What does this mean? Most likely that one time it reached 93%. As soon as I see "as high as" I know I am reading something that is biased or intended to make me believe something other than what is most relevant. For example "as high as 30 miles a gallon" or "as high as 50% off"]

"We have built an acclaimed student-centered facility and have instituted a practice-based curriculum, specialized research centers and an intensive first-year skills program." [I am sure that most other deans would claim to be in the process of doing the same. So does that mean the employment rate is higher?]

"Of 10 private metro New York City law schools, our tuition is lower than all but four." We have a flat-rate tuition and guarantee that the price won’t go up while a student is enrolled. [O.K. If my math is right, if there are ten and 4 four are less expensive, this puts you pretty much in the middle. Why say "all but" 4?

"In its rankings of law schools, U.S. News and World Report publishes median salaries for graduates, but those figures are nearly two years old. We give our students current, detailed job and salary information." [This one puzzles me. Students apply in the fall or early spring of the year they are admitted. Are they provided the data from the class that graduated 5 months earlier? Maybe, but why not say that. By the time the applicants begin school, the only statistics the schools themselves could have are a year old. But here he says the USNews numbers are "nearly two years old." What is nearly? I think that means less than 2 years old. How different can that be from the USNews data?

Some weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about the "not technically a lie" culture that exists at law schools. The idea is to tell the truth technically but to lead the reader to believe something that is not quite right. Rick's comments are so mild that I am not sure they fit into the "not technically a lie" examples I discussed in that post but they are representative of a culture and, to some extent, a profession, that has earned the distrust of most people.

Again, as I said before, I think Rick was a pretty good dean. (Since I wrote that some of my colleagues have let me know they disagree.) These comments are, in fact, just standard fare. On the other hand, wouldn't you love to take the deposition of one of these people? Makes me want to shove someone.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Economics negative 101

Over on facebook, I ran across this comment on a post about the economics of legal education:

"Legal education in the U.S. could be tweaked, sure. But the biggest problems I see are the absurd increases in number of law schools, class size, and tuition."

The writer is not a "friend" and I do not otherwise know him. I am not picking on him but I think his thoughts may be similar to that of others. That worries me because it seems so off course.

As I understand it the current pressing issue is that law school grads cannot find jobs. So, they invest thousands and end up with a great deal of debt and little or no return on that investment.

The question is whether the problem is more law schools, larger classes, and higher tuition. Unless the law schools are actively misleading investors, what is the connection between any of these and really bad decision making? In my town, there must be 50 people who have invested in selling pizza. If one of them folds, will the reason be that pizza making equipment was too expensive, or readily available? Makes no sense.

I cannot help but wonder if the recent "blaming" trend is the result of finally graduating an age group composed in large part of people who were always over affirmed, could never make mistakes and, thus, cannot handle the criticism the market is offering about their decision making.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Not Buying What You are Selling: Law School Economics

By now anyone reading this has probably read the piece in the Times on law school economics and featuring former UF law dean Rick Matasar. I though Rick was a good dean although deaning does seem to be a process that leads to a redefinition of what it means to be fair, honest, and ethical. I have not walked in those shoes and would like to think, but cannot know, if I too would "adjust." Probably I would as I have yet to discover any convincing evidence that I am sturdier morality-wise than the deans I have seen come and go.

I do not understand the expose-like nature of these articles when it comes to private schools. At this point anyone who does not know that law school does not mean a high paying job must be living in a bubble. And, at the tuition levels private schools often charge, I am sincerely puzzled. The same people would not pay $100,000 for a motor scooter; why do they become unstuck from reality when it comes to buying a legal education.

On the issue of public schools I feel differently. Supposedly public schools exist to provide something that would not be produced at sufficient levels in a market economy. They do this by forcing people other than the students to pay. There are two possibilities here:

1. More lawyers supposedly with the goal of forcing the cost of legal services down. If this is true, then the current rush to teach more skills makes sense. The problem with this goal, however, is that the market seems to be screaming "enough."

2. It could be that the "product" a more educated and analytic population. If this is the case, it seems like the skills courses, except for writing, should be deemphasized and law school should be more like graduate school with the whole operation greatly downsized. The problem here is that not too many people have the luxury of spending three years in school just to be more well rounded.

So, what is the current goal of public law schools? That actually is pretty easy. It is not about students or taxpayers. Right now it appears to be to preserve the institution, the jobs it provides for faculty, and the process of selling lottery tickets to students. If you think about it, many people still rode horses when they became obsolete. Many people refused to get a microwave oven. Unless public law schools figure out something to do, they may too be put out to pasture.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tenure: The Club

Recently Stanley Fish had a interesting op ed piece in the NYTimes. It was about tenure because he was commenting on a book that was questioning the need for tenure. His view, as I understood, was that tenure would make more sense if professors actually did what they once did -- open-minded research that may or may not reveal some inconvenient information.

I have a different take on tenure. It's just a club. How so? In law schools faculty have about 5 years to prove they are tenure worthy. A decision is made in the sixth year and if they are told no they have a year to fine another job. Law schools hire people and, I am estimating, grant tenure to about 90% of the people they hire. What that means is that the initial hiring committee turns out to be right about 90% of the time. Evidently, though, they are right 90% of the time only for their own schools.

What do I mean by that? In my 30 plus years of law teaching I have see a small handful of tenure turndowns, early departures, etc. In that same time I have seen a grand total of 5 faculty take jobs at higher ranked schools. One was Liz Warren now at Harvard. One is at Virginia and another at Vanderbilt. I am saying 5 because I probably missed a couple. One way to interpret this is that most law schools hire people who are just good enough for the school hiring them -- no better (otherwise more would leave for better schools) and no worse (otherwise they would not be granted tenure).

Is it really possible that on the bases of a resume and an interview that this near perfect matching occurs? I doubt it and you should too. What happens too often is that the incumbent faculty member makes friends, knows better than to rock the boat, and, if he or she generates a fan club, the rest of the faculty agree on tenure in hopes of reciprocation when one of their favs comes along. It's not hard to get a fan club because in all likelihood the new hire was hired because he or she was already part of the elite school, class, or family connection club that the faculty hiring him or were already in. When you think if it, not getting tenure is only a little more difficult that having it taken away which is actually close to impossible.

So, the debate about whether tenure is necessary strikes me as mostly theoretical. We do not need to worry about that until someone actually begins to grant tenure or not based on what is best for the school as opposed to the faculty. Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who Pays for Nancy Grace

Went to my gym last night and got on the boring stair machine. It has a TV so I turned it on hoping for a distraction. The person before me was evidently watching Nancy Grace. I did not stay long on that channel but noticed that there is a clock on the screen counting down until the so-called Tot Mom is released. (It seems like that is supposed to be pegorative but I do not get it.)

I had a number of thoughts. Nancy Grace continues to wave a red flag in front of people already upset about the Casey Anthony verdict and she is making a bundle for herself and the network doing it. She may just push it hard enough that she gets someone killed. I am certain that she has already pushed it enough that there will be funds spent to keeping Casey safe. In short, Nancy is exploiting listeners for her own gain and you and I will pay the bill for the consequences. If you think about it, Nancy is asking me and you to subsidize her money-making efforts.

Why isn't Nancy like a polluting factory that is required to clean up or pay for the area it has polluted. I am all for Nancy speaking her mind and as long as she makes money doing it I am sure her shameless sponsors will be for it too. I'd just like Nancy to be around to clean up the mess when the dust settles.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chancey, Michelle, and Sarah

Remember Chancey from the movie "Being There." Actually that was not his name. He got it when he introduced himself as Chance, . . . the gardener. He is not very smart and does not read or write. Through a series of mishaps he becomes media celeb and Presidential advisor. Here is the dialogue from a scene with the President:

"Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?[Long pause]
the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
"Bobby": In the garden.
the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
"Bobby": Spring and summer.
the Gardener: Yes.
"Bobby: Then fall and winter
the Gardener: Yes.
Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Rand: Hmm!
the Gardener: Hmm!
"Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
Benjamin Rand applauds.
"Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.

People assumed he was special. A terrific little book -- The Drunkard's Walk (math talk for randomness) -- discusses the way that through luck people who are no more talented thousands of others become stars. And once they have that luck the assumption of expertise follows.
So, since somehow he has achieved a reputation as a genius, everything he says is interpreted to reinforce those expections.

That was alll supposed to be absurd but now with a few of today's politicians, the absurd has become the new normal.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Trial

I did not keep up with the trial like many others. I caught a bit of the closing arguments and about 20 minutes of testimony. Most of my reasons are based on hearsay and news reports.

1.In my short exposure, the lawyer I would most like to fire would be the smirking prosecutor. He was entrusted with millions of taxpayers' dollars and, if it had been close, his wise ass behavior could have lost it.

2. There should have been a directed verdict at the end of the prosecution's case. I say that because when they ended there was reasonable doubt and the fantasy world painted by the defense did not damages the prosecution's case -- it was weak from the outset.

3. I fear that the defense attorney will be viewed now as having done a great job. In fact, I think he gets a C at best. Or, put differently, the defendant won despite the defense her attorney put on.

4. I believe there was reasonable doubt here and the jurors overcame personal feelings to get to the result. In the OJ case there may have been reasonable doubt but I do not think the jurors would have overcome their personal feelings to get a conviction if there had not been.

5. It was painful watch the State's Attorney on TV try to cover his butt after spending so much on so little.

6. Public reaction further convinces me that if it were not for the Bill of Rights we would live in a police state.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Elite Education

This article by William Deresiewicz is so thorough and consistent with my own experience that to quote a couple of high points does not do it justice. Nevertheless, here are some blurbs:

"Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous."

"I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all."

"I began comparing my experience, and even more, my students’ experience, with the experience of a friend of mine who went to Cleveland State. There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously."

And now the most perceptive. I've often wondered if I am the only one who noticed this.

"Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it’s almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it’s even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A’s in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time. "

This passage reminds of the opportunistic Tiger Mom (what ever happened to her?), the self-professed non thinker. I also reminds me of not all but so many people I see entering law teaching. Many are poorly educated in any sense that allows them to think or talk about ideas.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Desensitivity Training for Travelers to France

I am a sensitive guy and do my best not to stand out too much in other countries. To this end I am preparing a new training course for all us sensitive people. Like most American men I've been taught that, when it comes to women, "no" means no. In fact even yes can mean no. Never say anything like "Your legs look peachy in that dress." And flirting in the work place is completely off limits. This is a very easy one for me to observe since I am not sure what flirting means exactly.

But for sensitive academics traveling in France this is all wrong and so some desensitivity training is in order. Evidently, in France, it is perfectly acceptable to assume that no means yes. And, if you do not comment on those dreamy, peachy legs, you may be insulting your host and hostess. (I feel certain that in France the use of the ess is acceptable, if not required.) I am not sure I can get all of this down without some lectures by real French people who have lived with the American respect for women. I really need to feel their pain, understand just how they feel and, specifically, I need to know about the every day unconscious things I do that are hurtful to them.

When I am finished with that I will work on advancing the criminal law with the adoption of the affirmative defense to sex crimes -- But I am French.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Yorker Book Review

A short excerpt from a recent New Yorker book review:

Few people are fully reliable reporters of time use. But if students are studying less it may be because the demands on them are fewer. Half the students in the study said that they had not taken a single course in the previous semester requiring more than twenty pages of writing. A third said that they had not taken a course requiring more than forty pages of reading a week. Arum and Roksa point out that professors have little incentive to make their courses more rigorous. Professors say that the only aspect of their teaching that matters professionally is student course evaluations, since these can figure in tenure and promotion decisions. It’s in professors’ interest, therefore, for their classes to be entertaining and their assignments not too onerous. They are not deluded: a study carried out back in the nineteen-nineties (by Alexander Astin, as it happens) found that faculty commitment to teaching is negatively correlated with compensation.

Still, Arum and Roksa believe that some things do make a difference. First of all, students who are better prepared academically for college not only do better when they get to college; they improve more markedly while they’re there. And students who take courses requiring them to write more than twenty pages a semester and to read more than forty pages a week show greater improvement.

Read more

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Matrix Revisited

I think everyone has seen the movie The Matrix.If you have not, it portrays the battle between being "real" and feeling good. In effect, machines have taken over the world and cultivate humans as an energy source. They--the humans--actually grow in really yummy looking little pods. They are content because whatever consciousness they have is simply the result of a computerized reality.

Some bothersome Moneylaw-type humans are actually fighting for real reality even though it means some unhappiness. In the movie, the evil forces are those who want to perpetuate the sense of well-being. Thus, the movie assumes, counter to what the current demand for mood-altering drugs indicates, that we are instinctively on the side of those who fight for the real reality. The movie skips over a question that philosophers have addressed one way or another for centuries. Are we actually on the side of the real? Descartes saw the issue as whether our consciousness is imposed by some outside force or the result of our free will. The idea is reflected in Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia when he asks whether we would willingly enter an experience machine. In the machine everything is dandy, and you do not recall that you opted into the machine. Nozick makes the case that there are reasons for not entering the machine.

Most law professors seem to crave the painlessness of the Matrix. In terms of the experience machine, it amounts to a preference for sensing that one is part of a productive endeavor over actually being part of a productive endeavor.Having gone through the contortions necessary to change perceptions of themselves, their schools and programs, they then begin to take satisfaction from those appearances as though they were real. In terms of the film, it is comparable to constructing the Matrix or Nozick's experience machine and then happily jumping in. The pull is irresistible to many. Indeed, the unhappiest people I have known in the academic world are those who are unable to suspend their disbelief sufficiently to enjoy the illusion.

Some features of the Matrix are:

1. A new professor is asked to write an article for a symposium by a senior colleague. The article is called "peer-reviewed” because no law review students were involved. The article comes out and the senior colleague publicly congratulates the new professor and reviews the article for tenure purposes.

2. A faculty member goes all out to be appealing to the students. Assignments are modest, demands in class low and there is plenty of outside of class mingling. The professor's teaching evaluations are very high and he concludes that he is an "effective teacher."

3. A new course is proposed and the faculty considers whether it is a 3 or 4 credit course. One argument in favor of labeling it a 4 credit course is that it could then be regarded as a full assignment for the faculty member teaching it.

4. A popular faculty member is proposed for tenure. His teaching evaluations are good to average. His volume of scholarship is high. In the file is a negative letter from a national expert asserting, correctly, that 30% of the candidate's work is recycled from earlier work. After twenty minutes of laudatory commentary at the tenure review meeting, nothing is said about the negative letter and its claim.

5. Another popular candidate is proposed for tenure. She, her husband, and their children are regulars at faculty social events. Dinner at her house is always fun. Her teaching evaluations are average and class visits reveal that she is, at best, an average teacher. In addition, even though she has met the numerical requirements for number of articles to be granted tenure, most of her writing came in the last year. Both of her last two articles--one of which was a fifteen-page symposium piece she submitted at the request of a friend--were in manuscript form when evaluated. The tenure vote is positive.

6. A faculty member travels to Italy where he has family members. He proposes starting a summer program in Italy. None of the students at your school speak Italian, your state has little trade with Italy, and United States law would be taught at the summer school. At least two other faculty would travel to Italy, at the school's expense, in order to do the teaching. The program is approved by the faculty.

7. Your faculty teaches twelve credit hours per academic year. This translates into six sixty-minute teaching hours per week. A faculty committee proposes reducing the teaching load to nine credit hours per academic year and reducing the class period to fifty minutes. An acceptable basis for reducing the class period is "We would still comply with accreditation requirements. "

8.In the course of arguing for a candidate a faculty member who knows the candidate expresses pleasant surprise that the candidate has been considered by the appointments committee. "What a wonderful coincidence." In the file that has been distributed there is a long letter from the candidate to that faculty member discussing the faculty member’s extended efforts to convince the appointments committee to recruit the candidate.

8. You have read this list and decide none of this has happened at your school.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Power Breakfast: Rerun

Here you go. To get you started in the morning.
Take one or two slices of bread. I personally like one thick slice.
Toast it or not, it's up to you.

Spread it with butter, margarine or one of the low cholesterol spreads.

Now sprinkle all over it dry roasted sunflower seed kernels. Lots of them! They stick nicely to the spread. I getting hungry just thinking about this.

Finally, jam, jelly, honey or what ever you like on top. If can skip the underlying spread and the jam and just use Nutella and put the sunflower seed kernels on top. Probably you should work your way up to this.

A wonderful breakfast that will supercharge you for the day.

Nutty and sweet -- just like my favorite people.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fast Five

Can a film be cause for celebration? Most, including me, would say no. If so, I challenge them to rethink their position after seeing Fast Five. It aims exclusively at the sophisiticated viewer and dares him or her to think about what a medium that has lost its way can be. The film is moving, inspiring, and likely to cause some to drive really fast when leaving the theatre. Directed by Justin Lin of "Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift" and written by veteran Chris Morgan, their effort is not simply award worthy, it is a life altering experience. Set in the dreary favelas of Rio de Janiero, the pulse of the film is provided by Sir Vin Diesel, fresh off his extened run as Macbeth the Old Vic; Mr. Dwayne Johnson, most recently of Westlemania 27; and Mr. Johnson's spectacularly aggressive biceps. It is good and evil with the prize the unborn niece or nephew of Dom, Sir Vin's character. The homage to Rosemary's Babe is touching and sincere. The chemistry between Sir Vin and Mr. Johnson might best be decribed as a testosterone bath culminating in the film's finest scene when Sir Vin has an opportunity to drive a monkey wrench into the skull of Mr. Johnson. This scene will immediately take viewers back to Citizen Kane or at least their film studies classes in which every instructor taught them if they did not worship Citizen Kane they better fake it or risk getting an F on the final exam.

A superb supporting cast includes Ludacris in the role of Ludacris and Joaquim de Almeida, reprizing the role he so-often played in "Miami Vice" opposite Crockett and Tubs. Sung Kang, however, steals the show with his understated performance as Han. Kang is the newest Belmondo and his performance is Belmondo at his best -- think Breathless, unless you have been under a rock.

Most of the audience will simply laugh, groan, moan, cry, eat milk duds and text message. The film is lost on them. They will not recognize the magic and the celebration of art in Fast Five. For the sophisticated viewer it is cavier and champagne.