Friday, March 09, 2007

Collegiality and Externalities

Perhaps this topic belongs on classbias where I write what I really think. On the other hand, a school where real as opposed to nominal collegiality existed would be a pleasant place to work and much more effective at addressing the interests of stakeholders. Thus, it also has Moneylaw implications.

I've written about collegiality before from a different slant. As I suggested there, when a law professor complains about the collegiality of someone else, at least half the time it is about the substance of what has happened and not the manner of handling it. And, if appeals to collegiality are bogus 50% of the time, it's hard to take any of them seriously.

But there is another way to look at collegiality. It is like this: A lack of collegiality is present when one member of the community causes an externality (imposes costs on others) with impunity. By "with impunity" I mean without regard for those affected.

For example, a few days ago I mentioned the lack collegiality at my school when it comes to summer school. The appeal by the administration is something along the lines of (I am paraphrasing) “We have very generous summer research grants and we also try to operate a robust summer program. If you have not taught on campus in the summer recently, please consider teaching this summer." The number of takers of 60? When you subtract people on retirement plans that calculate payments based on most recent years’ income, the number of takers is 5. In effect, those choosing not to teach leave it to others to maintain the program.

Or how about the constant push to teach as few hours as possible and to cap class size. (Interesting, isn't it, everyone of these people professed to love teaching when interviewing.) At Florida, for example, we’ve got 1100 student who need 88 credit hours to graduate. If you happened to get your own teaching load down to nearly nothing and then cap your classes at 20 or 25, who do you suppose is doing the teaching? This is another externality. Yet I know of no professor who has said. “I see Phil is teaching first year contracts and Evidence and a total of 200 students. Why not divide up that contracts sections and I will teach half of it?” Or when is the last time you have heard a dean say, "Joan, I just do not feel allowing you to teach 40 students a year is fair to your colleagues."

Some other routine practices are cancelling class one or two days before holidays. You feel great! What a good guy you are! So understanding! Who feels the pressure from the students when that happens – your so-called “colleagues.” Externality.

Can’t be on campus more that day or two a week? Guess who has to teach the other days to accommodate your schedule? Or who has to arrange his or her schedule to have committee meetings on your days? Your colleagues! Externality.

Can't possibly teach other than from 10-2 Mon. - Wed or Mon. - Thurs. Fine, It's yours if you whine enough, but someone will have another and less desirable time. Externality.

Giving a 3.5 GPA to students who are no better than those taught by your colleagues? Guess who the students are saying the poor teachers are? Externality.

Are you an administrator who prefers to close your eyes to this? Pleeeeze! Don't be surprised if the collegiality level is low on your faculty. You are an externality facilitator!

I'll take appeals to collegiality seriously when they focus not on the delicate people who are offended when they hear anything less than fully affirming and more on the indifference colleagues have toward their coworkers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are you really surprised that there are no comments to your post?

You begin with the assumption that all faculty members seek to maximize the value delivered to stakeholders, but then are surprised by the non-collegial reality. You need to conduct a reality check in the worst way. The modern legal academy is populated by risk-averse people who crave stroking, and the Deans who wield power stroke based on perceptions of the ruling academic class rather than benefit to stakeholders.

Any faculty member in his or her right mind would ignore summer teaching and get down to writing an article that will generate SSRN hits (who cares about what interests you!) and potentially lead to a lateral offer that can be used to ratchet up one's current contract.

Everything you describe can be traced to the Dean's office, unless you are willing to indict those who respond to economic and social incentives. And nothing will change until there is a change in the corporatist mentality of the law dean's office.

So, sit back and enjoy the spectacle of bloated law school budgets translated to obnoxiously high tuition (or taxpayer subsidy) and give up the hope that there is something akin to the World Series that would validate MoneyLaw principles.

I write anonymously because I would lose my summer stipend for being associated with such views (and because it is fun for me to think about everyone imagining who among their colleagues has written this post).

3/14/2007 12:12 AM  
Blogger Marie T. Reilly said...

I tried to explain the negative externalities associated with grade inflation at a faculty meeting once and was met with the collegial equivalent of rotted fruit. I made the same speech to the editorial board of the law review, and they got it right away.

3/16/2007 2:30 PM  

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