Friday, April 27, 2007

Workers Unite!!

Several years ago a colleague and friend (and now a dean) referred to faculty as workers (or maybe it was labor) and the administration as management. I objected on the basis that the word “worker” suggests something most law professors are not and have never been.

Now I realize that most faculty like to slide between the two roles. Sometimes they are management and the Dean is the “agent of the faculty.” Faculty governance and all that. Managers typically take responsibility for the overall operation and success of an organization are accountable ultimately to shareholders. So they stay a little later than absolutely necessary, fill in even though it is not exactly in the job description, and, more importantly, in one way or another the welfare of stakeholders seems to be linked to their own welfare.

When being a manager requires faculty to rise to the level of recognizing their overall obligations most quickly revert to the worker role. Thus, “I cannot teach that section of torts, I have to do my research.” or, “The Dean should have hired a visitor to teach that course. I’d not doing it.” or, “I know 50 students want to take the course but, if I have more than 20, I cannot get to my research.” Or, “I can only teach in Tuesday and Wednesday.” You get the drift. Workers work, get a check and go home.

Can an organization have the same people acting as managers and workers? Think about it. You are the manager at The Gap. (I know this requires more responsibility than I have seen most law professors muster up but lets stay with the example.) So you worry about having enough cashiers at peak times, spotting shop-lifters, keeping the selves stocked and all those things that make shoppers happy and, thus, shareholders happy.

But, one of the people working for you as a cashier is, well, you. (Again, since most law professors could not cut it as a Gap cashier, the analogy is not so great.) When your break comes you shut down your line even if 5 people are waiting. Stay a little longer to clean up. No way! Help out a new cashier who is having a problem on the neighboring line? Give me a break. You do not get paid for that. It’s management’s problem.

The clash is obvious but far more crippling in the context of legal education. Not only are faculty both managers and workers – supervising themselves and moving back and forth from management to labor as it suits them – but, as managers they are insulated from the shareholders. Can you think of a more powerful formula for disaster?

(In response to Nancy's post immediately below, I know the most valuable law professor and will reveal the information after I grade a few more papers and feel entitled to a period of procrastination.)

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