Friday, May 25, 2007

Reflections on the first week of bar review

One more day, and Jeff & I will be finished with the first week of bar review. Observations so far:

1. I liked Professor Whitebread's lecture in 1987, and I liked it in 2007, too. Can 20 years really have passed so quickly between the two periods of bar prep.
2. I love taking notes on my laptop, although I seem to be the only person in the class who's doing that so far.
3. So far, the prep consists of stenography, in large part, and a bit of application. I know that those proportions will shift midway through.
4. I secretly (well, not so secretly, since I'm blogging) enjoy re-learning most of this stuff.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Apparently, I get cranky in the midst of moving....

Am in the process of changing from Houston to Las Vegas (which is why I haven't had a chance to post much recently), but a couple of things I've read have caused me to need to post. (Who knew that blogging would be such an addiction?)

Here's my reaction to some very interesting MoneyLaw posts about tenure, including one by my buddy Jeff Harrison. See my Of tenure, post-tenure review, and the "don't trust anyone over 30" phenomenon post.

I've also been musing about what makes deans popular with their constituencies: is it really necessary for a dean to give in to all requests in order to stay popular? Is such a willingness even sustainable? What happens when the desires of one constituency conflict with those of another? Provosts have the ability to terminate deans (no other constituency does, although some of the others can make life miserable for the dean), so does that mean that deans must placate provosts first above all other constituencies? What about founders or major donors? Regents? Faculties? Students?

One of the things I loved about being a dean was that it reminded me a lot of being a chapter 11 bankruptcy lawyer: lots of competing needs and constituencies and not enough "stuff" to go around meant that the dean had to think very hard about her choices and their likely outcomes. (By the way, I still don't ever plan to be a dean again. I liked being a Camp Fire Girl, too, but I'm not going to repeat that experience, either.)

These issues are extremely topical at U of H and UNLV right now, with the one facing the issue of doing a dean search during a presidential search and the other facing the ramifications of a recent dean-firing. Life continues to be very interesting at both universities.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What do the NYT article on the MBA cheating scandal and the WSJ article on accounting rules vs. standards have in common?

If you combine today's New York Times story on a cheating scandal at Duke (34 Duke Business Students Face Discipline for Cheating) with yesterday's Wall Street Journal story on the difference between using rules or standards in accounting regulation (What's Better in Accounting: Rules or 'Feel'?), you get a sinking feeling that using anything (rules OR standards) to regulate business will still lead to parsing beyond the regulation's intent. That's always been true, and it will always be true. Humans have quite a way of justifying their behavior to fit their desires. Take this excerpt from the NYT article today:

National surveys have suggested that cheating is widespread among graduate students. In a survey released last September by a Rutgers University professor, 56 percent of business graduate students admitted having cheated, compared with 54 percent in engineering, 48 percent in education and 45 percent in law school. More than 5,300 students at 54 universities were surveyed from 2002 to 2004.

“This is self-reported evidence of cheating, so it’s probably underestimated,” said Donald McCabe, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers who oversaw the survey.

“I would say at many business schools it is a part of the culture,” Dr. McCabe said. "You want to talk rationalizations? I could give you thousands of them: everybody else does it, it’s the teachers’ fault, you have to do it to get ahead.”

Do the students know that they're cheating? Of course they do. But cognitive dissonance is such a powerful drive in humans that--as Dr. McCabe says--they rationalize their cheating.

What should we do about the problem of cognitive dissonance? Bad news: there's nothing that we can do about it. It's part of our being human. The best we can do is to create an increased social pressure to educate people about the norms of behavior. We can't just say "don't cheat." We have to demonstrate that there is a social consequence for cheating, and that our community will not tolerate it. Pretending that rules (or standards) will change behavior all on their own is just whistling in the dark.