Thursday, September 27, 2007

Advice to Erwin Chemerinsky over on Tax Prof site

Once again, the Tax Prof Blog is doing something that's fun to read AND important even to non-tax types: advice to Erwin Chemerinsky about what he should do during his deanship at UC-Irvine's law school. (My post will be up soon, so I'm a tad biased.) These short (250-word limit) posts are intriguing, and they should provide good fodder for honest discussion about the direction of legal education in the U.S. I particularly liked the posts from David Bernstein (make law an undergraduate major--I've been saying that for years), Jeff Lipshaw (be relevant to the profession), and Ben Barton (use the case method that B-schools use), and many of my other perennial favorite folks have good posts, too. Of course, Paul & Bill's posts (which start the series--scroll to the bottom) are wonderful.

This reminds me: I'm working on a book of VERY SHORT essays, tentatively entitled Lemmings: How Legal Education Fails Law Students. I've solicited some essays already, and if you'd like me to consider yours, please send it (or a proposal for one) to me. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Top ten reasons that faculty hiring is just like dating

  1. The AALS book of candidates feels a bit like like eHarmony or
  2. Timing is everything: a bad fit at a particular time could be a wonderful fit at another time.
  3. Showing too much interest is counterproductive. So is showing too little interest.
  4. Looking for the perfect match is a fool's errand.
  5. The unavailability-attractiveness relationship is just as true for schools and candidates as it is for people: the less available you are, the more intriguing you seem.
  6. Sometimes, the “sleepers” are the true “finds.”
  7. Sometimes, the ones who look the best on paper are also fixer-uppers.
  8. If you leave a message and there’s no callback, the reason is that the candidate or the school is just not that into you.
  9. Politeness counts, and a sense of humor is crucial.
  10. There’s more than one fish in the sea.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Another blog poses a possible new rankings system

Over at the Voir Dire blog, this proposal: have schools go mano-a-mano in a variety of moot court competitions, and rank the schools according to the student teams' success.

Here's what the post had to say (in part):

From my own days in law school I recall witnessing a lot of “David and Goliath” type scenarios - i.e. obscure, lower tier schools performing very well in these situations. Is there a source for this information (moot court competition rankings)? Would anyone find such information useful if it was available? It seems that this has “moneyball” written all over it....

Gil Grantmore--you rock!!!!!

Gil Grantmore embedded the Fall Out Boy video for me, despite being a disembodied entity. Thanks, Gil!!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A shout-out to Jim Chen

Thanks go to Jim Chen, who, when he isn't deaning, is walking a Luddite like me through the basics of blogging. I've now gone back to an unmoderated setting on this blog. Jim taught me how to delete junk posting. I won't delete the comments that are relevant, even if I disagree with them--just the ones that are truly the equivalent of junk mail. That will in turn, though, cut the number of comments that I get at all by a significant amount.

Bravo to Fall Out Boy for this important video

I've mentioned before what a fan I am of the band Fall Out Boy. Recently, the band recorded a video that I found incredibly powerful. See for yourself, here.

And if Gil Grantmore could please help me embed the video itself, that would be awesome. Thanks, Gil!

I still don't understand--why is there a rush to judgment against Anthony Ciolli?

In reading other postings about Amir Efrati's story today in the WSJ, I came across Brian Leiter's postings about Anthony Ciolli, here and here. And here's a compendium of other posts, over at Above the Law, along with the NPR news story about the lawsuit. I really enjoyed the post at The Volokh Conspiracy analyzing the claims (here).

Here's what I don't get: unless AutoAdmit was a moderated forum, why is Anthony being punished for what some very, very scary people posted on his website? I agree that the people who posted the awful comments demonstrated a dreadful lack of character, but that lack of character shouldn't be imputed to Anthony. Are the plaintiffs (and Brian Leiter, and many others) saying that the very existence of the forum means that the creators of the forum are responsible for what others say on it? Does that theory mean that the WSJ or the NYT will now be responsible to me for letters to the editors that they publish if those published letters anger me?

What the posters said on AutoAdmit sickened me, and I feel very sorry for the plaintiffs who had to read such awful statements. I wouldn't want to hire anyone who believed that those AutoAdmit posts were a good idea. But I still don't get the connection. How do those posts, written by people who are NOT Anthony, make Anthony himself into a misogynist? That transitivity theory is very much like the old transitivity theory that we Rice students used to prove that, almost every year, Rice won the Southwest Conference title: Rice beat School A (ok, that part of the transitivity sometimes failed); School A beat School B, etc. ... and School X beat School Y to win the title. Ergo, Rice really won the title by beating School A in the first place. It's clear that the AutoAdmit posters were exhibiting misogynistic and almost sociopathic behavior; but I haven't read any justification to impute that behavior to Anthony himself.

So here's what I see: on the one hand, some people who CLEARLY were victimized by what I'd call truly vicious attacks, apparently for sport, and who deserve to be heard in court against those reprehensible people who posted such things; on the other hand, the owner(s) of the forum, who either have to be willing to moderate the forum at all times or who have to decide not to moderate anything, until something's been proven to be libel. I'm no internet expert, but I'm going to assume that there are no real winners here.

The tick, tick, tick of tuition on legal education

Today's WSJ Law Blog post by Amir Efrati, The Dark Side of the Legal Job Market, has already generated some national notice, even though it's but a few hours old. (Take a gander at Sam Kamin's post, here. Brian Leiter also mentions the post, here.)

The important part of Amir's post, besides focusing attention on a serious mismatch between (nondischargeable) student debt and salaries of recent graduates, is that it gives credence to Andy Morriss's idea about making this information more specific and thus more useful:
Some law-school academics are calling for the distribution of more-accurate employment information. “Prospective students need solid comparative data on employment outcomes, [but] very few law schools provide such data,” says Andrew Morriss, an Illinois Law professor who has studied the market for new lawyers.

In response, the ABA (and even USNWR) could ask law schools to post information along the following lines: median graduate starting salaries, standard deviation of starting salaries, or (for folks who prefer their info in graphics) a pie chart showing how many of the most-recent class of graduates earn $0-30,000/year, $31,000-60,000/year, $61,000-90,000/year, and $91,000+/year. A really useful comparison might include another pie chart showing how many students graduate with law school debt in the $0-30,000 range, the $31,000-60,000 range, the $61,000-90,000 range, the $91,000-120,000 range, and the $121,000+ range. An even more useful pie chart could show the relationship of law school GPA to starting salary. That last chart would sober everyone up.

Of course, such information is likely to hurt private schools disproportionately, as their tuition tends to be higher than the tuition of state schools, and there should be some way for schools to be able to demonstrate that the students taking low-paying (e.g., public service) jobs can make their debt service, with such help from schools as scholarships and loan forgiveness programs.

What is even more likely is that law school applicants will start doing some arithmetic. That in turn will lead to applications decreasing at schools at which an applicant's chance of graduating in the top of the class (thereby having access to more job options) is small and the hiring patterns below, say, the top 20% of the class predict small or solo practice for the other 80%. Decreasing applications will lead to decreasing median undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores, which will cause those schools' USNWR rankings to drop. The vicious circle will continue and, at some point, some law schools may fail to survive.

I have no easy solutions, and in fact, I don't believe that the U.S. actually needs as many law schools--at least as currently envisioned--as it now has. If law schools actually differed dramatically from each other, then having 200+ ABA-accredited law schools makes sense. But the ABA standards tend to force schools into a fairly tightly bunched pattern, which USNWR then attempts to spread out in some ordinal way. Right now, the schools that USNWR ranks are (except for the truly exceptional schools at the very top) more alike than they are different.

Where does that leave graduates who can't pay their rent and service their educational loans? Scrambling for income and cursing the misleading information that they read when they were deciding among law schools.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thanks, Mike, for the shout-out

For the post (here) and the comment. I'm blushing, but it's lovely to read the compliments. You and "the wife" on your blog are two of my fave folks, and it's great to catch up w/you....

Another great post by Bill Henderson (and thanks to Paul Caron) for calling my attention to it

Bill's post about the opportunities that Erwin Chemerinsky has at UC-Irvine is here, and Paul Caron's link to it at MoneyLaw is here.

UC-Irvine's new law school has several advantages: a very impressive (and very nice) new dean, and (as Bill points out) its location and the UC brand will all help. The difficulties will include fitting the new law school into the UC pay scale (I've visited w/folks at some of the other campuses, and I've heard how difficult it is to crack the UC pay scale to pay top dollar for law professors), as well as recovering from last week's brouhaha about Erwin's hiring, firing, and re-hiring.

If anyone can build a MoneyBall/MoneyLaw school, it's Erwin. And I know that it'll be fun to watch it happen. The best part of being at a new or new-ish school is that one has the opportunity to make traditions and not just react to them.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Shout-outs to Erin O'Connor and Jim Chen

Brava to Erin O'Connor for her post on the oversensitivity of certain UC faculty members to the spectre of a dinner talk by Larry Summers, and thanks to Jim Chen for pointing out the post to me.

UC-Irvine removes head from posterior, rehires Chemerinsky

According to today's news, UC-Irvine has recanted and rehired Erwin Chemerinsky. That's good news, at least for now. The real trick is whether UC-Irvine will honor the agreement that it made over the weekend:
Drake and Chemerinsky said in their statement, "Our new law school will be founded on the bedrock principle of academic freedom. The chancellor reiterated his lifelong, unqualified commitment to academic freedom, which extends to every faculty member, including deans and other senior administrators."

If UC-Irvine really means this, then the whole brouhaha was a "learning opportunity," as folks like to say. We'll all be watching.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Thanks to the comment on the last post, I'm now enabling "moderate comments"

Junk bloggers (junk commenters?) annoy the heck out of me, so unless someone can show me how to delete junk comments, such as the one that just arrived on my Larry Summers-UC disinvite post, I'm going to have to moderate comments. Junk postings/emails/texts just ruin the fun for everyone.

University of California System Meltdown

As if UC-Irvine's firing of Erwin Chemerinsky weren't bad enough, now the UC Regents have disinvited Larry Summers from a dinner speech.

Here's what the Chronicle of Higher Education said about the invitation and its subsequent revocation:

The move followed a petition drive by female faculty members on the university’s nearby Davis campus, where the board is meeting.

The faculty members said it was inappropriate for the regents to have Mr. Summers as their guest at a time when the university is struggling to diversi[f]y its faculty ranks. Mr. Summers resigned as Harvard’s president in 2006, after an epic battle with the faculty over a range of issues that came to a head when he suggested that women’s innate differences from men might explain why relatively few women reach the top in mathematics and science. He also criticized the work of Cornel West, leading that prominent scholar of religion and African-American studies to leave Harvard.

The petition, which drew 150 signatures, said, “Inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the university community and to the people of California.” Replacing Mr. Summers as the dinnertime speaker will be Susan Kennedy, chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I find this whole episode shameful. Shame on those faculty members who protested having a different viewpoint (from a distinguished speaker) at a dinner.

Frankly, I doubt that many of the professors signing the petition against Larry Summers have read his remarks that caused so much controversy. Those remarks are easy to find (see here). I've read those remarks, and I can't find anything offensive in them. Read his remarks yourself, or take a look at this excerpt I've done:

[One] prefatory comment that I would make is that I am going to ... offer some hypotheses as to why we observe what we observe without seeing this through the kind of judgmental tendency that inevitably is connected with all our common goals of equality....

[T]he most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties near total commitments to their work. They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect—and this is harder to measure—but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place. And it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women. That's not a judgment about how it should be, not a judgment about what they should expect. But it seems to me that it is very hard to look at the data and escape the conclusion that that expectation is meeting with the choices that people make and is contributing substantially to the outcomes that we observe.... Now that begs entirely the normative questions—which I'll get to a little later—of, is our society right to expect that level of effort from people who hold the most prominent jobs? Is our society right to have familial arrangements in which women are asked to make that choice and asked more to make that choice than men? Is our society right to ask of anybody to have a prominent job at this level of intensity, and I think those are all questions that I want to come back to. But it seems to me that it is impossible to look at this pattern and look at its pervasiveness and not conclude that something of the sort that I am describing has to be of significant importance.... So I think in terms of positive understanding, the first very important reality is just what I would call the, who wants to do high-powered intense work?

[Summers then discusses the hypothesis that there might be differences in abilities between men and women in math and science.] Because if my reading of the data is right—it's something people can argue about—that there are some systematic differences in variability in different populations, then whatever the set of attributes are that are precisely defined to correlate with being an aeronautical engineer at MIT or being a chemist at Berkeley, those are probably different in their standard deviations as well. So my sense is that the unfortunate truth—I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true—is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem [the disproportionate underrepresentation of women in math and science departments at universities].

.... The most controversial in a way, question, and the most difficult question to judge, is what is the role of discrimination? To what extent is there overt discrimination? Surely there is some. Much more tellingly, to what extent are there pervasive patterns of passive discrimination and stereotyping in which people like to choose people like themselves, and the people in the previous group are disproportionately white male, and so they choose people who are like themselves, who are disproportionately white male. No one who's been in a university department or who has been involved in personnel processes can deny that this kind of taste does go on, and it is something that happens, and it is something that absolutely, vigorously needs to be combated. On the other hand, I think before regarding it as pervasive, and as the dominant explanation of the patterns we observe, there are two points that should make one hesitate. The first is the fallacy of composition. No doubt it is true that if any one institution makes a major effort to focus on reducing stereotyping, on achieving diversity, on hiring more people, no doubt it can succeed in hiring more. But each person it hires will come from a different institution, and so everyone observes that when an institution works very hard at this, to some extent they are able to produce better results.... And there's a real question as to how plausible it is to believe that there is anything like half as many people who are qualified to be scientists at top ten schools and who are now not at top ten schools, and that's the argument that one has to make in thinking about this as a national problem rather than an individual institutional problem. [Second, i]f it was really the case that everybody was discriminating, there would be very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating, because of what it would mean for the pool that was available. And there are certainly examples of institutions that have focused on increasing their diversity to their substantial benefit, but if there was really a pervasive pattern of discrimination that was leaving an extraordinary number of high-quality potential candidates behind, one suspects that in the highly competitive academic marketplace, there would be more examples of institutions that succeeded substantially by working to fill the gap. And I think one sees relatively little evidence of that. So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.

(Emphasis added.) Larry Summers made it clear that he was discussing hypotheses, not facts, and that he intended to provoke discussion as a consequence of his remarks. At worst, perhaps he forgot that the President of Harvard is never "off duty" or out of his role as president. But he never said that women didn't belong in math or science departments. What he did offer as hypotheses included some very harsh truths: that being in a top position required near-fanatical devotion to one's job, that the people at the very top were several standard deviations above the norm, and that--even though it was likely that some passive discrimination was going on in hiring and retention--it was unlikely that discrimination was the only explanation.

For these statements, 150 faculty members protested his appearance at a dinner?

I remember when a handful of University of Houston Law Center students protested my decision to have Sarah Weddington speak at commencement. They politicized my decision immediately, without waiting for me to digest their one good argument (that I should invite her to speak at something that didn't require mandatory attendance), and I refused to disinvite her. Her remarks at commencement that year were delightful: all about how clients needed their lawyers to be their champions, much as her oncologists were her champions during her recovery from breast cancer. The protesting students wore insignia denoting their protest, but they didn't disrupt her speech. In fact, those students were more dignified in their protest than were the UC faculty members who are protesting Summers's presence at a dinner.

First Chemerinsky; now Summers. Who's left to speak at the UC System: game show hosts?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Five reasons I miss being a dean, and ten reasons I don't

I was listening to one of my colleagues, Tuan Samahon, present a draft of his latest paper today, and I realized how much I enjoyed the whole experience: hearing someone present something intriguing, listening to other colleagues' questions about the topic, etc. That realization, in turn, led me to come up with a list of five reasons I miss being a dean, which are outweighed by at least ten reasons that I don't miss it.

Five reasons I miss being a dean:
  1. The schedule was fast-paced and interesting.
  2. I believe that I had a (good) effect on the schools' trajectories--that I made a (positive) difference. Sometimes now I wonder if I'm making a difference. I never wondered that as a dean.
  3. I was able to use some of my lawyering skills while still staying an academic.
  4. I enjoyed talking and thinking about legal education (I still do!), and I enjoyed spending time with policymakers for legal education.
  5. I really had a great time with most of my fellow administrators and staffers.

Ten reasons I'm glad I'm not a dean:

  1. I get to decide how I allocate my work time, and for the most part, my work is "all about me"--my research interests, my teaching interests, and my service interests.
  2. I no longer know what goes into the "sausage" of certain policy decisions--and I don't know that much about my colleagues' quirks.
  3. I can stay in touch with those alumni and others with whom I enjoyed a real friendship, but only with those folks.
  4. Any and all problems with, inter alia, parking, budget, facilities, natural disasters, travel, and health scares may eventually affect me, but they aren't part of my daily worries any more.
  5. I can get to know more students, and in more capacities, than I used to.
  6. My schedule is, essentially, my own, and my deadlines involve my own scholarship and not university matters.
  7. I get to wear jeans again. A lot.
  8. I can go on TV and radio and say what I really think without also worrying if I'll have to answer directly to a provost, president, or donor. Cf. Erwin Chemerinsky's near-disaster with UC-Irvine. Thank goodness he's well out of that situation.
  9. Working on a couple of committees, even the time-consuming ones, beats all heck out of being invited to meetings just because someone wanted the dean to be there.
  10. I can now take the time to go to my colleagues' presentations and actually listen to them instead of having to juggle a calendar that's truly impossible to survive.

Let's just say that I'm as happy as I can remember being as an adult. Bravo to those people who are deans, associate deans (what a thankless job!!!), and assistant deans--they deserve kudos for their many sacrifices (as do their friends and families).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Guess who's on this year's appointments committee at Boyd?

And I wanted to let everyone take a gander at our ad. Please consider applying. I really am enjoying my life here at Boyd, and Las Vegas is a very livable city (if you can ignore the oppressive summer heat--I hear, BTW, that the city is paradise as soon as summer's over).

Our ad:

UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, LAS VEGAS—WILLIAM S. BOYD SCHOOL OF LAW invites applications for at least one tenure-track Associate Professor or tenured Full Professor of Law position, with appointment to begin with the 2008-2009 academic year. We have substantial flexibility in subject matter interests, with special interest in clinical teaching. We seek candidates with excellent academic records and experience and who have a strong commitment to scholarship and teaching. Candidates must have earned a JD from an ABA-accredited law school or an equivalent degree. Applicants for Full Professor must have records of substantial accomplishment and qualifications sufficient to be awarded tenure. Salary will be commensurate with the labor market. This position, like all faculty positions, is contingent on funding. Application review will begin immediately.

The Boyd School of Law is a fully-accredited public law school in state-of-the-art facilities at the center of the UNLV campus. We have a diverse faculty of new and experienced legal educators drawn from top institutions. The Boyd School of Law has 473 students enrolled (346 full-time, 127 part-time) and 41 full-time faculty. For more information on the Boyd School of Law, see our website at UNLV is a premier metropolitan research university located in the nation’s fastest growing city. It is the state’s largest comprehensive doctoral degree granting institution, with 27,000 students and more than 850 full-time faculty. UNLV provides traditional and professional academic programs for a diverse student body and encourages innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching, learning, and scholarship. For more information on the University, see the UNLV website at Applicants should submit a letter of interest, along with a detailed resume, three professional references, and off-prints of your published works.

Contact: Professor Christopher L. Blakesley, Chair, Appointments Committee, UNLV—Boyd School of Law, 4505 Maryland Parkway – Box 451003, Las Vegas, NV 89154-1003.

UNLV is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity educator and employer committed to excellence through diversity.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

A functional law faculty actually can spell out its workload policy!

A/k/a "Why I'm having so much fun here at the Boyd School of Law, part n." I'm catching up on some emails circulated by our deans here at Boyd, and I've just skimmed the faculty workload policy. What I like about ours is that it doesn't hesitate to put its expectations up front. Here's just a sampling (from the policy for tenured faculty):

1. The following five general principles should guide the Deans in determining the workload of tenured faculty:

A. Tenured faculty should be at least as productive in teaching and scholarship as untenured, tenure-track faculty;

B. Credit for teaching must recognize all of the types of teaching, including in-class teaching, and out-of-class teaching, clinical teaching, directed research, etc.;

C. Teaching assignments should never be so onerous as to make it difficult or impossible for a tenured faculty member to do scholarly research during the school year;

D. Committee and other administrative assignments should never be so onerous as to make it difficult or impossible for tenured faculty members to do scholarly research during the school year;

E. The Deans should have flexibility to allocate different responsibilities to different faculty members at different times depending on the various types of contributions to be made.

And here's another excerpt:

In keeping with these general principles, the average tenured faculty member should . . . [p]ublish at least one significant law review article or its equivalent per year; and [s]erve every other year as chair of a major committee or its equivalent in the law school, the University, System, or the legal academy; or perform significant service every year to the law school or the legal community on a local, state, national, or international level.

Goodness! I can't tell you how many times some faculties at some other law schools (not just some of the ones with which I've been affiliated, but others as well) have said that it's "impossible" to spell out a fair workload policy. Ours has clear value judgments embedded in it:
  • Scholarship isn't something just for the summer.
  • Scholarship is part of our jobs, the same way that teaching is part of our jobs.
  • Just because we're tenured doesn't mean we're supposed to slack off. In fact, we're supposed to set good examples.

This community understanding of our workload is one of many reasons I love it here--even with the heat.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Why Harvard won't really have a core curriculum

Peter Berkowitz's op-ed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Our Compassless Colleges, describes Harvard's new core curriculum as "add[ing] up to little more than an attractively packaged evasion of the university's responsibility to provide a coherent core for undergraduate education." In particular, he notes that

Harvard's general education reform will allow students to graduate without ever having read the same book or studied the same material. Students may take away much of interest, but it is the little in common they learn that will be of lasting significance. For they will absorb the implicit teaching of the new college curriculum -- same as the old one -- that there is nothing in particular that an educated person need know. . . .

The reason to worry is that university education can cause lasting harm. The mental habits that students form and the ideas they absorb in college consolidate the framework through which as adults they interpret experience, and judge matters to be true or false, fair or inequitable, honorable or dishonorable. A university that fails to teach students sound mental habits and to acquaint them with enduring ideas handicaps its graduates for public and private life.

Moreover, properly conceived, a liberal education provides invaluable benefits for students and the nation. For most students, it offers the last chance, perhaps until retirement, to read widely and deeply, to acquire knowledge of the opinions and events that formed them and the nation in which they live, and to study other peoples and cultures. A proper liberal education liberalizes in the old-fashioned and still most relevant sense: It forms individuals fit for freedom.
I haven't yet read Harvard's final report on its core curriculum, but I plan to do so. You can read it here. But I agree with Berkowitz that an educated society should have a certain baseline knowledge--some common shared background that can inform decisions that members of that society will make.

Probably most of us agree with my little innocuous statement above ("we should have some knowledge in common"). The rub is that we won't agree on what that knowledge should be. We don't all read the classics, or even agree what the "classics" are. Most of us (including me? especially me?) don't speak more than one language, which puts us at a disadvantage when we compare ourselves to many other countries. We don't force students who don't "like" math or science to have a baseline proficiency in those fields, and we only use lip service to make the math- and science-lovers have a baseline proficiency in the humanities and social sciences.

Why don't we agree, in universities, on a true shared experience of a core curriculum? Because the current form of shared governance guarantees that we won't. Shared governance means, in practice at least, that people from one group have an opportunity to veto ideas from another group, even if those doing the veto haven't studied the proposition that they're vetoing. (Take a look at this op-ed. I seem to be in a Wall Street Journal-quoting mood....) In a (more?) benign view of shared governance, people from one department don't want to tell another department what to do. With all of the vetoing and deferring, the actual choice of what should go into a core curriculum is deferred indefinitely.

Who suffers? Not the ones doing the governing. Our lives don't change in the least, because we haven't had to make any hard choices. But the students do suffer. Without some shared knowledge, and without some sense of what knowledge is (useful? important?) to have, we run the risk of creating a real-life Idiocracy.

Although Idiocracy is not on my top-25-movies-of-all-time list, it does have a scene that I like:

Pvt. Joe Bowers: Why me? Every time Metsler says, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way," I get out of the way.
Sgt. Keller: Yeah, when he says that, you're not supposed to choose "get out of the way." It's supposed to embarrass you into leading - or at least following.
Pvt. Joe Bowers: That doesn't embarrass me.

I'd love to hear of a university with the type of shared governance that leads, or at least follows, rather than getting in its own way.

"Rebel" advice to law students interviewing via OCI

I just spoke with one of our 2Ls here at the Boyd School of Law at UNLV (hence the "Rebel" tag, although I'm not speaking for the University, for Boyd, for anyone in the administration or faculty, etc., etc.). But I do want to speak to students using OCI.

OCI is a great way to organize interviews with employers who have made the decision to come on campus for interviews. I'm grateful that the employers in OCI have made the sacrifice of time that participation in OCI requires, and I hope that students will use OCI appropriately: to determine, in a low-cost way, whether there's a fit between what they want and what the employers want.

But every year, at every law school, there are people who go through OCI because they believe that they've failed at law school if they don't secure a job with a large law firm. Somehow, between matriculation and fall OCI in year 2, they get the idea (from us?) that large firms are the brass ring of legal employment and that they should fit into this model, even if their natural inclinations take them more toward small firms, or medium-sized firms, or government work, or . . . .

As Susan Powter used to say, "Stop the insanity!" Large law firms are great places for some people, not great places for others, and it does no one any good--not the law students, not the firms--to have someone there who doesn't really want to be there but thinks that he "should" be at a big firm.

How do you tell what's right for you? The blunt answer is that you can't, not until you've been someplace for a while. Your interests and priorities are going to change over time. That's just part of learning the profession. You'll learn what you like and what you don't--about a practice area, about a part of the country, about your own talents. Success isn't getting a job at the "right" place. Success is getting a job where, 90% of the time, you wish you could pay your employer for all of the fun that you're having. When going to work is a pleasure and not a chore, you're successful. Period.

Don't worry about the AmLaw 100, or about what your peers will think. Experiment by looking at a wide variety of potential employers. Worry about paying your (non-dischargeable) student loans, but other than that, be open to different types of employers and different parts of the world.

There is no one "brass ring" for everyone. Find your own.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Problems in higher education governance, part n

I hope that you've been following the governance brouhaha at Dartmouth (see, e.g., here and here). Apparently, there's a tug-of-war between the trustees who got their jobs the "old-fashioned" way (election from a slate of names prepared by a committee) vs. the ones who were elected via a ballot initiative. As Joseph Rago said, in his article, Mr. Rodgers Goes to Dartmouth,

Until recently, though, Dartmouth's elections have been indifferent affairs, with the alumni choosing from a largely homogeneous slate handpicked by a committee closely aligned with the administration. In 2004, things got -- interesting. Mr. Rodgers bypassed the official nomination channels and was named to the ballot by collecting alumni signatures; he needed 500 and ended up acquiring more than 15 times that. He was dissatisfied with the college's direction and resolved to either "do something or stop griping about it." He was elected by 54% of the voters.

Rago's article triggered two reactions for me: the first is that, like many public boards, election of a slate of hand-picked nominees is almost a guarantee of a homogeneous board, which is the last thing that a healthy organization should want. Healthy organizations need people with different views and different experiences, and they need people who will question the status quo. Take a look at this passage, from the same article:

One of the main criticisms leveled at the petition trustee process is that it is polarizing, divisive and somehow detrimental to the college. Mr. Rodgers replies, "If 'divisive' means there are issues and we debate the issues and move forward according to a consensus, then divisive equals democracy, and democracy is good. The alternative, which I fear is what the administration and [Board of Trustees Chairman] Ed Haldeman are after right now, is a politburo -- one-party rule."

And so, after losing four consecutive democratic contests, the Dartmouth administration has evidently decided to do away with democracy altogether. "Now I'm working on the existence question," Mr. Rodgers notes mordantly.

Though he cannot say for sure -- "I'll be kept in the dark until a couple of days before the meeting on what they're planning on doing" -- a five-member subcommittee, which conducts its business in secret and includes the chair and the president, has embarked on a "governance review" that will consolidate power. "It looks like they're just going to abandon, or make ineffectual, the ability of alumni to elect half the trustees at Dartmouth," Mr. Rodgers says.

He believes that the model is the Harvard Corporation, where a small group "makes all the decisions. They elect themselves in secret. They elect themselves in secret for a life term. How's that for democracy?"

The rest of the Dartmouth trustees, Mr. Rodgers says, "will go to the board meetings to have a couple of banquets and meet a few students and feel good about ourselves and brag to our compatriots that we're indeed on the board of trustees of Dartmouth College."

This drastic action, he says, is unnecessary. "These are small problems that are fixable," Mr. Rodgers argues. "Instead of making them major political wars, we simply ought to go solve the problems and get on with it." The alternative remedy, he continues, is poor corporate governance, for one. "This is committees working in secret, which is a very bad way to run any organization." Besides transparency, it may also present conflicts of interest, in which the college president would dominate those who ultimately evaluate his performance.

Apparently, we've learned very little, post-Enron, about group decisionmaking. And we've managed to keep some people with useful skills off boards, because they don't fit the traditional paradigm of directors.

My second reaction to Rago's article relates to governance in higher education, and how difficult it is to change anything, given the balance of powers at most universities. But more on this later....

Has Embarq done this with others as well?

We came to Las Vegas in May, and Embarq assured us that we could get high-speed internet in our neighborhood. We signed on, and the speed started slowing down to nearly dial-up lethargy. Because I couldn't get on Jeff's Embarq line wirelessly, I got a second line, and that one was not quite as glacial in terms of speed, but it wasn't fast. What both lines were was expensive. We needed to call out several technicians over three months, and each one told us that the reason that Embarq was slow is that our neighborhood was too far away to get the fast service. Each time an Embarq serviceperson said that, we contacted Embarq's customer service center, which denied that we were too far away. After spending over $700 on Embarq repair calls, we gave up and switched to Cox for our internet service. I'm wondering if there are others who have had the same problems with Embarq. If you have, please let me know. Thanks.

For goodness sakes, give Anthony Ciolli a break--and a job!

I know that some folks have decided that Anthony is some sort of evil person, thanks to what happened at AutoAdmit when he was still associated with it, but I just don't get it: he was on the board, not the person (people?) who posted the nasty comments. The theory behind the latest attack on Anthony is, I guess, that he should've removed the comments as soon as he was notified that the plaintiffs found them offensive. According to the WSJ blog,

“It’s bringing the right to protect yourself against offensive words and images into the 21st century,” said David N. Rosen, a New Haven, Conn.-based attorney for the students and a senior research scholar in law at Yale Law to the Law Blog in an interview.

What the ... ??? WHAT "right to protect yourself against offensive words"? If the plaintiffs mean that Anthony himself libeled them, then I suppose they might have a claim, although I've managed to suppress libel law from my brain, pending the results of the Nevada Bar. But he didn't do that. He operated a website that allowed people to post stupid things. I don't think that AutoAdmit was a moderated forum, so why should Anthony bear the responsibility for someone else's offensive comments? Moreover, suppose that he had removed the postings right away: would the people who posted the comments have claimed that they were offended that someone had taken offense?

I wish that folks would think before they post, but they don't. The proper remedy for nastygrams posted on the web isn't a lawsuit against the website adminstrators. The proper remedy might not even be a lawsuit against the people who posted the nastygrams in the first place. The proper remedy is for other posters to post in return, in an attempt to provide the "over-the-line" posters with a sense of what is appropriate in a community and what isn't.

I've had the unpleasant experience of reading all sorts of lies and attacks about me, too. (See, for example, here and here.) Sure, it hurt my feelings. But I thought then, and I think now, that the comments said more about the people posting them than they did about me. And I wouldn't have dreamed about contacting either website to demand that the postings themselves be removed.

Personally, I've found Anthony to be bright, self-effacing, and honest. If you agree, and you happen to be in a position to consider him for a job, then please contact him. He's been punished far too much. I'll vouch for him. Just give him a break.