Monday, April 30, 2007

Law Professor "Rights?"

In some posts here and over on classbias I have attempted to describe a view of collegiality that stresses substance over form. In connection with that I have described practices that are and are not consistent with actual collegiality.

A response I got which follows in bold type led me to think this may have more to do with Moneylaw than I initially thought. Inherent in the commentator's reasoning is a view that law professors are entitled to certain "rights." It avoids the more critical question of whether these rights were legitimately established. To me, one of the first tasks of a Moneylaw is to reexamine the allocation of "rights" that law professors have assigned to themselves.

"I only can think of one professor who voluntarily teaches extra credit hours, although I know plenty who open up their wait lists voluntarily and teach more students.They wouldn't justify it on grounds that they need to make up for their lack of writing, of course, but they get satisfaction about receiving recognition in an area in which they do excel. I also know lots of professors who don't apply for sabbaticals (even though they could probably trump up a scholarly project to meet the requirement) and therefore effectively voluntarily teach more classes than scholars. Moreover, there are dozens of examples of non-scholars voluntarily assuming larger administrative loads, in part because they recognize their lack of recognition for scholarship and get more satisfaction in the administrative side. None of this is rare at all.Of course, this isn't to say there aren't bad citizens. It's just that there are some face-saving ways in which people internalize the cost of their failure to produce elsewhere."

Reasonable on its face to be sure but underneath is a deep conservatism that stops Moneylaw, or anything else, in its tracks. Let's take it step by step.

1. "I only can think of one professor who voluntarily teaches extra credit hours, although I know plenty who open up their wait lists voluntarily and teach more students."

First, so what? What is an extra credit hour? "Extra" needs a reference. That reference is to already very small teaching loads. And, how were those teaching loads determined. Was it a legitimate process in which the interests of all affected were considered. A serious conversation about Moneylaw issues starts with questioning how the right was established or earned. Those who enjoy current allocations are understandably reluctance to examine them closely.

But there is more. Notice the idea that it is a sacrifice to open up a wait list. The implication is that there is a "right" not to open it. Where did that right come from? The fact that the list can be opened suggests it was not for pedagogical purposes. The commentators "good deeds" consistently flow from an assumption that the status quo is just. In fact, the status quo is consistently the product of the entitled being generous to themselves.

2. I also know lots of professors who don't apply for sabbaticals (even though they could probably trump up a scholarly project to meet the requirement) and therefore effectively voluntarily teach more classes than scholars.

Same idea. Teaching becomes an act of charity when compared with not teaching -- an initial allocation of questionable legitimacy. At my school, at least, we have sabbaticals because voted to give them to ourselves. For all practical purposes, there is no expectation of research. Now it has become a "right" that one is heroic to give up. In addition, "trumping up" tells me all I know about the expected level of accountability.

3. There are dozens of examples of non-scholars voluntarily assuming larger administrative loads, in part because they recognize their lack of recognition for scholarship and get more satisfaction in the administrative side.

Really!From this statement the sense of entitlement extends to a decision to not to all phases of the job even though that was part of the bargain when hired and when tenured. (I know of no one receiving tenure on the basis of administrative potential.) Where along the line did job switching become legitimized as a "right." But lets face it, the new administrators often head up manufactured centers or programs that do little. More importantly, usually the administration role means less teaching. Remember, this is the commentator's example of selflessness.

It would be disingenuous to claim I do not understand this. Those with a sense of entitlement are masters of rationalization and faux legitimization. They claim ownership of legal education and make sure to pass it to their heirs.

3 Comments:

Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Right you are, Jeff--and I wasn't very popular in my last post as dean for expecting people to do the following, just to earn their salaries:: teach a full load--and teach it well; conduct research and publish the results; perform a fair share of service obligations. To me, raises beyond the average cost of living adjustment are for things above and beyond performing these duties. Of course, I'm not the dean there any more.

5/01/2007 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, if the comment was changed to explain how (1) Deans push professors to teach more credits than others if they aren't pulling their weight on committees/scholarship, (2) dissuade professors from applying for sabbaticals when they don't have strong scholarly need, and (3) appoint professors to big committees or request that they take on formal administrative positions as associate deans etc (not just heads of centers), would that change your view? If the goal is to ensure maximum productvity and efficiency for the law school (rather than to ensure that each professor contributes equally in all three areas - an odd and irrelevant sort of formal equality from the perspective of stakeholders), then the issue boils down to one of management style. If Nancy ruffled feathers the way she forced people to do things (and I have no reason to believe that this was the case), then she can't be absolved from blame as a manager if things fall apart. If, however, Nancy created an environment or culture where professors felt they were voluntarily stepping up and that both made them feel good and made them perform even better at the tasks, then her management style was effective (I'm sure this is closer to the truth for Nancy with respect to most faculty). Of course, in the absence of the latter culture, a Dean might initially need to institute some top down requirements. Nevertheless, it seems from a Money Law perspective that the one size fits all approach to law professor duties (everyone performs the same on teaching, service, and scholarship) is just as inherently flawed as the one size fits all approach to law professor rights.

5/02/2007 12:07 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

That's a pretty big "if" and may depend on the individual. Remember, everyone hired to teach law has said in one form or another: "I just love to teach" and "Practive made me realize how much I want to do research."

So what changes after tenure? It may be that they simply want to do what is easier and could continue to comply with the job description. I think this is the more likely case. It's a job and you often do things that are not your first choice. On the other hand, for very senior faculty who may never have done research or for people who find they are truely more useful to the School doing one thing than another the notion of comparative advantage comes into play and I agree that different assignments make sense.

My experience is that faculty tell deans what they are willing to do and deans do nothing.

5/02/2007 5:52 PM  

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