Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hire no one

I am very flattered that Paul Horwitz thinks that I would have written Microcosmographia Academica if only I "traveled back in time and space to England in 1908." Thanks to Paul, the entire legal academy now knows that it can now read F.M. Cornford's satire, free of charge, at sites in Kent and in Kentucky. Already other commentators are making use of the Microcosmographia. So will I.

Consider what Cornford called The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent:
The Shunning
Tony Dickson, The Shunning (n.d.). Oil on canvas, 840mm x 710mm
[Y]ou should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.
Standing guardFor law faculties that seek, above all else, to protect the sanctity of the rules and norms by which their current members secured admission, so long ago, to the sacred and secret brotherhood, The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent has an important corollary: The Rule Against Hiring. This rule has two variations, both of which lead to the same conclusion — Hire No One:
  1. Hire no one who makes any of us look bad: You should never hire an admittedly worthy colleague for fear that she or he might might outperform you, or your equally mediocre colleagues. Every new colleague has the potential to disgrace the old guard. The only eventual course of actions are these: either to deny tenure and thereby to invite negative gossip, or else to allow the upstart to embarrass us incumbents. It follows that this faculty should never hire anyone.

  2. Why belong to a club that would have you as a member? To avoid hiring an admittedly worthy colleague, you need only ask whether other schools have extended her or him an offer. If other schools have, and they are deemed superior to your own, you may now persuade your colleagues that the extension of an offer effectively invites scorn, for surely the candidate will prefer to go elsewhere. If existing offers come from putatively inferior schools, that is a sign of the candidate's unworthiness, and you are now free to vote "no." And by no means be the first school to extend an offer of employment. If no else offers a job, you'll look desperate or stupid or both. To avoid any of these awful fates, this faculty should never extend an offer of tenured or tenure-track employment.
As you ponder Microcosmographia Academica and all blog posts making use of this century-old satire, remember: Microcosmographia Academica isn't real, and neither are rules based on a projection of academia as Cornford saw it in 1908 onto academia as we experience today. Surely no one, no one in legal academia would vote on appointments-related matters according to either of the variations on that simple theme, Hire no one.


Anonymous shg said...

Finally, a rationale for hiring a mutt like me.

2/20/2008 10:49 AM  
Blogger Mr. B. said...

My research advisor at Minnesota (Doyle Britton) made a present of this book to me when I embarked on an academic career.

Together with The Prince, a perfect tongue-in-cheek introduction to academia.

I especially like the part about "squaring" but it is too cold to do that in Minnesota right now.



2/20/2008 11:04 AM  
Blogger L.B. said...

This post hits it right on the money, Jim. So much so that it is painful.

3/01/2008 1:03 AM  

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