Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not Even Cake

A few days ago yet another Harvard underachiever scoffed at a colleague who suggested interviewing promising candidates from The University of Minnesota Law School and the University of Texas Law School. Those who went to public schools did not have their feelings hurt but considered the source.

That incident made me think about the flip side of Moneylaw. Much has been written about the positives of a Moneylaw approach but little attention has been paid to the damage done by what I regard as the opposite approach – Faculty Capture. (I am aware that Moneylaw groups could and maybe have captured some law schools but my definition of Faculty Capture means operating a law school largely to benefit incumbent faculty.)

Yet on a day-by-day basis the cruelties that occur when a law school is captured by those for whom Moneylaw is frightening are astounding. Here are some examples:

1. A student from a foreign country for whom English is not even a second or fifth language approaches the teacher for help understanding some complex material. The stress the student is feeling is obvious. His enrollment was not an inexpensive thing -- for him at least. You might ask what he is doing here. Well, a small group of faculty members decided to start a program for foreign students to come and study American law. What did this mean for the quality of the school or the fortunes of those enrolling? No one knows and after several years, no one has checked. What did it mean for those who created the program? Travel at the school’s expense spreading the news of the Program, a better office, a secretary. And, most importantly, lowered expectations as far as teaching and scholarship.

(Think of it this way. Tony LaRussa has tenure as coach of the Cards. No one can fire him, no matter what. He is not that interested in winning games but has grown fond of Indian cuisine. The team will not let him hire a chef so he puts the Indian chef at third base with promises that this will open up many opportunities. So the chef catches a few line drives in the throat. That’s okay; Tony is getting the food he likes.)

2. A number of students get to the middle of their third year with average grades (B+ or so) and they have no job offers. The School starts a new program – a specialization that takes an extra semester. Students sign up thinking this will mean a better chance of finding jobs. They are wrong and the School knows it. The cost to them is high. What is in it for the capturers? An office, the title of “Director,” lowered expectations as far as teaching and research, and travel opportunities to conferences devoted to the specialization.

(So maybe this is not a line drive to the throat. Maybe it is more like selling diet plans to Mick Jagger or Nicole Richie.)

3. Everyone reading this has experienced this one. A student comes up after class – probably near the end of the term – and asks THE question. Sadly, the question is the one that communicates to you that the student has no clue and that he or she is not going to get one between now and the exam, if ever. Further conversation reveals that the student had a pretty good job before law school. Then loans were taken out, his or her spouse is working, and the kids are in daycare in order to realize the law school dream. You wonder, first: is there anything I can do soften the crash? Then you wonder why the student was admitted. Was it because you admit 300 students every year no matter what? Or, was this particular student important – even if only as a token – to the law school?

(Line drive to the throat? Can there be a slow line drive to the throat that results in pain that lasts for years?)

4. A faculty member meets a warm and friendly lawyer from Prague and falls in love. Obviously, this means a great deal of travel and expense unless, unless. . . . Yes, by golly, the Law School, which is in a small American town in a state with no connection whatsoever to Prague or the Czech Republic, for the benefit of mankind, could set up a Program in Prague. And who would be the perfect director? – no need for a search in this case. The Czech students pay their tuition to listen to lectures in English that most do not understand and at the end they get a certificate that, well, is suitable for framing. And the capturers get many trips to Prague with stops in between and, most importantly, a sense of being oh-so cosmopolitan.

(Line drive to the throat? Hardly. A paper cut? Who cares when you are helping the world?)

Moneylaw can cause disappointment. But the victims of a captured law school seem more vulnerable and the cuts to them go deeper.


Blogger Unknown said...

Jeff, I loved your post! Too often, we create/maintain programs that are not that much different from "vanity press" publications: done by us, for us, w/o asking if they benefit the students....

Now, the hard question: how do we tell the difference between schools that are experimenting (something we want) and schools that are, um, engaged mostly in self-indulgence?

10/31/2006 9:35 PM  

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