Sunday, November 04, 2007

Harvard First

I thought I would not return to this topic but the idea that I would automatically vote against a candidate who lists Harvard first on his or her resume has annoyed more than a few people. One thoughtful commentator writes:

"Frankly, I think your policy is just a thinly veiled means to automatically disqualify people who attended elite schools."

I did not mean to thinly veil anything. I do not want to hire those people. I do not think they are better scholars or teachers and legal education is so awash with professors with elite (but not necessarily complete) educations we could put a moratorium on hiring them for years and still not markedly change the face of law teaching.

In addition, the annoyance seems odd to me. Candidates have been eliminated on the basis of the school attended for as long as I and perhaps anyone can remember. My School's recent practice is not exceptional by a long shot. This discrimination has been so consistent that people with "inferior" degrees are routinely advised not to submit an AALS form and, when they do, they often have few if any interviews. And, now when one professor says he may turn the tables, there are people crying "foul" allegedly on the basis of the process I have advocated which happens to be the same process that has always been used, only with a different outcome. Frankly, I think the complaining is a thinly veiled effort to protect the privileged.

Another complaint is that listing the school first is just convention and that it is silly for me to respond to it. Generally, conventions last because they work and listing the school first helps hiring committees separate members of he club from candidates who are not members of the club. If a resume is about supplying relevant information then candidates should start with publications, move to job and life experiences, and then to class rank and other indicators of law school success.

The name of the law school is only relevant for diversity purposes. With apologies to those who incurred great debt and overcame barriers to get into elite schools, a rough rule of thumb is that a graduate from one of those schools is unlikely to bring class and life experience diversity to a law faculty. Think this is absurd, harsh, unreasonable, unproven, veiled, etc.? If so, what do you make of the policy of admitting very few of the graduates of any law school beyond the top 10 on the theory that they are not smart enough, intellectually curious enough, industrious enough, or sufficiently knowledgeable to be a law professor?


Anonymous shg said...

Wow. I can't think of anything better to say. If there was ever any doubt as to your stance, it is now gone.

11/04/2007 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people cannot "handle the truth." Keep the pressure on. I am one in the top 5, law review, etc. and no calls and I had to stomach 3 years of elitist blowhards who were often unprepared, aloof and made sure everyone knew about their "credentials."

11/04/2007 9:34 PM  
Blogger Uzo Ometu said...

I definitely agree with most of what you say. However, I do disagree with the fact the notion that people who attend elite law schools are unlikely to bring class and life experience diversity to a law faculty. Obviously, I understand that candidates from elite schools may generally fall into one socioeconomic group or above, by eliminating elite graduates for that, you are eliminating one of the more promising group of potential law professors, which are those who do come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have done everything in their power to get the best education and life experience they could.

11/05/2007 11:04 AM  
Blogger Uzo Ometu said...

I agree with your every thought on this matter, except for one thing. I think that having the notion that people from elite law schools don't have diversified life experience hurts your hiring process. While I understand that the majority of such people do come from the upper class, there many who come from either disadvantage backgrounds or unique communities, and they have scratched and clawed their way to get the best education they could get at the highest levels perceived by society. You are undoubtedly doing yourself, and your students, a disservice by eliminating elite law school graduates of this background.

11/05/2007 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could be somewhat clearer about your stance and its rationale.

1. You say: "I would automatically vote against a candidate who lists Harvard first on his or her resume." I think it's fair to ask whether there's a meaningful difference between such a candidate and some other elite school candidate, particularly since candidates could be driven to that norm by advisers, by the general tastes of other schools, etc. I suspect what you mean is that you would vote automatically against someone who lists the degree first because she HAS to -- it is really her strongest credential. If not, you are probably undermining a so-called "MoneyLaw" approach by relying on signals driven by social convention (as reflected in your own CV).

2. You could be saying, "No, really, I meant what I said, but not because a degree-firster is necessarily worse than a degree-noted-belower, but . . ." The continuation makes a difference. The "MoneyLaw" answer might be that degree-firster are likely to be too highly valued by the rest of the academy, and so aren't worth the price -- but I think almost exactly the same thing is true of degree-noted-belower. It's not like elitism stops at first line.

3. A larger part of your argument seems to depend on the proposition that non-elites do as well or better than elites. My own sense is slightly, but meaningfully, different: I think many non-hired non-elites would do better than many hired elites. The problem for either of us is that the data is skewed: to be a hired non-elite, you really had to have been exceptional in some regard, so the class of non-elites who are performing in the academy today are quite possibly entirely unrepresentative. I'd think a "MoneyLaw" approach would address this question.

4. On the whole, I can see how a "MoneyLaw" approach warrants a member of a hiring committee adopting a strong bias toward non-elites. Query whether the stronger rule you propose is driven by something else (e.g., redressing social injustices in hiring), and whether it's the best means of encouraging a "MoneyLaw" shift in the hiring decisions of the school as a whole, or simply marginalizes your own voice. I say this as someone sympathetic to much of your argument.

11/05/2007 11:42 AM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Thanks for the comments, anon. I am not sure why the best commentators want to remain anonymous. Unless, of course, they are sympathetic to my view and in the job market.

1.& 2. You are right. I am using Harvard as an example of what I would vote against. You could toss in 6 or 8 other schools. Although imperfect, someone who lists the school first may also look to the school first when recruiting others. I'd like to avoid that.

The elite degree later may mean that is less likely but, as you suggest, it may not matter.

By the way, just between us, my extreme position is designed to generate some controversy. I can see hiring a Harvard grad under the right circumstances. This, by the way, is unlike the position adopted by the elites. There are no circumstances under which the would hire a non elite grad.

3. Yes, I see your point. I also have my own theory about the quality fo elites that end up at lower tiered schools. I would be happy to put it all to an empirical test.

4.This is such a good comment. It probably marginalizes my view but what I have discovered is that on this matter there is almost no appeal to reason. Thus, at least you can have some fun.

The idea of working inside the committee or the law school is a dead end because, as a friend once said to me, "you can talk about race and you can talk about gender but when you talk about class it is way too serious."

At my own school, for a couple of years we opted for high ranking people at non elite schools. Those people have been excellent performers. But the policy changed as different people controlled the process and we went back to the usual.

It is just not in the cards to have a reasoned discussion about this so it is hard to further marginalized an idea that is already unacceptable.

11/05/2007 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I also have my own theory about the quality fo elites that end up at lower tiered schools. I would be happy to put it all to an empirical test."

I would like to hear it.

11/06/2007 10:58 AM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Sorry, it's not a fancy theory and I've actually discussed in previous blogs. It's simply this. If I concede for the sale of arguments that elites make better law profs, does that apply to all of them or just to the ones in the top 10% of the class. As you go down the class ranking, the best non elites must be as good or better than the bottom of the top third of elites. Generally, the top elites go to top schools. By the time you get to the 40th ranked school and lower, the elites are not all that impressive. Thus what you got starting somewhere near the second half of the top tier is mediocre elites. There are many exceptions, to be sure but elite-only hiring is an utter disaster for any school beyond the top 35 or so.

11/06/2007 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prof Harrison, surely you do not argue that Yale/Harvard candidates are necessarily worse than other schools, it is just that you believe they are no better.

If so, isn't your act of affirmative discrimination--Tier 4 candidate, good; Harvard candidate, bad--completely antithetical to the moneyball thesis? The thesis, as I understand it, is to "consider relevant factors and ingore irrelevant factors". Not "consider relevant factors and then make your actual decision based on irrelevant factors, only in a way contrary to the conventional wisdom".

11/07/2007 6:24 AM  

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