I misspoke when I asserted recently that MoneyLaw strongly prefers baseball and football to hockey. It turns out that hockey maintains a statistic that may hold the key to an ongoing exchange between this forum and Concurring Opinions over the impact of tenure on the intellectual and social behavior of professors.
After Dave Hoffman's initial post asserting the absence of a "deadwood" effect, my response and Dave's rejoinder appear to have swung the focus (at least for now) from the impact of tenure on productivity to the problem of patrolling against Arschlochkeit. In commentary on my post, Ani Onomous rightly observes that personnel decisions based on perceived Arschlochkeit have the potential to negate MoneyLaw principles. It therefore behooves this project — or "movement," as Dave so generously calls us — to find some sort of empirical way of measuring Arschlochkeit.
As it happens, organized hockey has been recording a statistic called the plus/minus. Plus/minus is quite simple: it measures the team goal differential when a specific player is on the ice. According to LCS Hockey's thoughtful analysis of plus/minus, this metric awards "a plus . . . to all skaters on the ice when their team scores at even-strength or short-handed" and assesses "[a] minus . . . to all skaters on the ice when their team yields an even-strength or short-handed goal." (Those familiar with hockey will notice that power-play goals in favor of the team with superior manpower do not advance plus/minus.) The upshot is that if your team scores while you are skating, you gain plus/minus points. If the other team scores on you, your plus/minus regresses.
The problem is that plus/minus is a team-dependent statistic and requires further analysis before it sheds light on individual talent (or its absence). As LCS Hockey observes: "One player can only do so much. He could be the best defensive player in the history of the game, but if he's out there with four stiffs and a sieve, chances are he's going to finish on the minus side of the ledger." Hockey's challenge reminds me of the problem that Paul Edelman and I faced over the course of our Most Dangerous Justice series of articles (parts 1, 2, 3), which attempted to discern voting power on the Supreme Court on the basis of each Justice's participation in winning coalitions.
Again, from LCS Hockey:
Lousy teams are going to have lousy plus-minus ratings. The expansion 1974-75 Washington Capitals, perhaps the worst team in NHL history, owned nine of the 13 worst plus-minuses that season, including Bill Mikkelson's -82, which still stands as the record for futility. In fact, not one Capital player that season finished as a plus, a natural result of being outscored 446 to 181.But filtering plus/minus figures by overall team performance does shed light on individual players' value. For example, a player who is +15 on a powerful offensive team may well be less valuable than a player who posts a valiant +10 on a poor defensive team. A player who posts a negative plus/minus figure for a Stanley Cup-winning squad is an affirmative liability.
Plus/minus is robust enough to capture value from different positions in hockey. Both Bobby Orr (lifetime +597, pictured above in one of his most triumphant moments) and Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky (+518) are among professional hockey's all-time plus/minus greats, even though they played different positions in radically different styles. The statistic recognizes lifelong consistency: Ray Bourque (+528) holds the third-highest plus/minus in NHL history without ever winning a single-season plus/minus title.
All that remains is to find an academic equivalent of team goals, for and against, that would power an analogue of plus/minus in our profession. Alas, like obscenity, Arschlochkeit defies definition, let alone quantification, even though we know it when we see it. People who threaten junior colleagues with negative tenure votes on nonacademic grounds are Arschlöcher. So are those who invite other colleagues to think of the school's top administrators according to invidious racial stereotypes (going so far as to describe one administrator as "lazy and shiftless" and another as "crafty and inscrutable"). [Yes, Mr. Worst-Professor-in-America, I'm talking about you.] But these are hardly things that get tracked on Westlaw and SSRN.
Perhaps it's time to revisit a post I wrote long ago, suggesting things faculty governance might learn from Wikipedia. Wikipedia's list of policies identifies a wide range of antisocial behaviors that can scarcely be tolerated in that collaborative environment. These range from the obvious — personal attacks, legal threats, general incivility — to forms of conduct that are as colorful as they are crass — sock puppetry, edit warring. Courtesy of plus/minus, hockey teaches us to count team-wide outcomes and to notice who's skating when good and bad things happen. And courtesy of Wikipedia, we may yet learn what things to count, in an enterprise where goals elude definition, let alone trigger celebratory lights and sirens. The grand problem of knowing what to do with this information remains. In the meanwhile, though, we'd do well simply to take some preliminary steps: deciding what the quantifiable constituents of Arschlochkeit are and undertaking to measure them.