Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sports analogies, part n, and the process of faculty hiring

I remember, back in my law school days, how few sports analogies I really understood. Back then, I vowed that I'd find other analogies to use when I taught--and, for a while, I used shopping analogies, clothing analogies, etc., to make my points in class. For a while, I worried that sports analogies were themselves somehow sexist; but then I found myself with lots of other women friends who follow sports seriously. Moreover, I found myself learning some sports--and feeling pretty darn awkward as a beginner. That experience gave me some perspective in teaching entry-level courses (contracts, basic bankruptcy) to law students. I became more patient. I gave them more opportunities to practice what I was teaching. So I still don't really "get" most sports analogies, but I've started to like them more....

That being said, I believe that the baseball analogies that we use here at MoneyLaw really are the most apt at describing what hiring committees should be doing. The whole smash of metaphors--contests, performance, arenas, playing under pressure, position players, etc.--resonates for me. Friends of mine who are on the market this year talk about the endurance aspects of the whole thing. Faculty hiring, perhaps, is its own sport.

I'm not enough of a mainstream athlete to put all of this into a pure sports analogy, and everything that I know about baseball I can put into a two-word sentence ("Seems cool."), but here's my distillation of the MoneyLaw principles when it comes to faculty hiring:
  • Pedigree doesn't matter. Performance does.
  • "Potential" for performance isn't nearly as good as is proven performance.
  • What looks good on paper can look very different in real life.


Blogger sam kamin said...

Nancy --

I think the only metaphor that works better for the hiring season than sports is dating and really that can just be WAY to revealing to blog about.

11/07/2007 5:12 PM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

I think you all have a deeper commitment to sports analogies than this suggests -- it's right there at the top -- and one I'm not sure is successful. We can debate whether there are individual or group-oriented metrics for law school that permit what Moneyball preaches. (I think there aren't, but I'm sure people thought that for baseball too.) Moneyball, though, supposedly cured a problem on which you don't focus, and pursued a normative objective of a different kind. What was "unfair" was that some teams had much higher payrolls, and the A's and other smaller clubs were forced to compete against them. Moneyball techniques allowed them to do so (in the short term, one imagines). Beane did not actually care about this unfairness, nor do you (or we'd be hearing more about endowments); instead you care about fairness to mis-evaluated faculty members and, more important, to under-served students. That's as it should be, but qualifies the ability to extract lessons from Moneyball. I don't think Beane cared about total or average fan experiences, and can't see how his method would have succeeded on that score, save incidentally.

Putting the problem differently . . . Moneyball's normative objective was winning by compiling, well, wins (falling a little short on the World Series, but exceeding expectations, anyway). I'm not so sure about what your shared objective is, or if there is one, but I would guess that it's better serving students. This poses two comparative problems. First, your objective is not so zero-sum as Beane's, which is the good part (though it is zero-sum to a degree). The bad part is that you are trying to establish the normative objective at the same time you're seeking to maximize it. What would Moneyball be like if Beane were to say, for example, "I want to create a team that brings real value for the fans, as I understand it?" Would he create the Cubs or the Yankees? Would he even stay in the majors? My point (if I have one) is that you need to identify clearly your objective here; once you do so, my guess is that it'll become plainer (assuming you secure agreement on it) that the analogy is misplaced. But I could be dead wrong!

11/07/2007 6:03 PM  

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