Thursday, January 28, 2010

Power and Entitlement

Nearly 5 years ago I wrote an article, "Law Faculty Ethics: Shirking, Capture and “The Matrix,”" 82 DETROIT MERCY LAW REVIEW 397 (2005), in which I identified the many ways I felt law professors were shirkers. I analogized it to regulatory capture in the sense that faculty who were supposed to govern law schools for the benefit of shareholders -- students, taxpayers, donors -- actually governed to benefit themselves. The range of questionable activities ran from teaching specialized low enrollment courses because the topic was of interest to the teacher (but not to very many students) to foreign boondoggles, pushing ideology in the classroom, and hiring and tenure decisions based on social and political considerations rather than the merits of the candidates. Over on Classbias, where I do most of my complaining about law professor behavior, I attribute much of this to a sense of entitlement.

I realize that many disagree but if you think I am a little bit right, a recent article in the Economist (January 23, 2010) is quite interesting. Psychologists were able to induce in subjects a sense of power or powerlessness. They then asked questions about the rightness or morality of various corrupt acts. Consistently the subjects with power viewed the same sleazy acts as less immoral when they did them than when those with less power did them. In short, power does corrupt.

The kicker in this was a further step. The experiments were repeated by adding the factor of a sense of entitlement. That is, some people were led to believe they deserved their positions of power while others were led to believe the opposite. Here, as you might expect, those with a sense of entitlement were more likely to abuse their power and not understand why there was a problem. After all, they are special.

This may help explain some faculty behavior. After all, law faculties are largely populated by children of privilege. (I wonder what the record is for the most expensive education. I think we have it.) Many times their sense of entitlement is over the top. They deserve, therefore, to teach what they want to teach at the time they want to teach it, they deserve that new furniture or to vote yes on tenure for a pal because they have been told, since birth, that they are special. Some have a virtually infinite capacity to explain why they are deserving and why they are on the moral high road whether or not they are. I am convinced that the most dangerous ones are those who have no sense at all of how their power and sense of entitlement affect their behavior. I'd say in hiring, a law school would do well to hire those without a sense of entitlement although I am not sure how one tests that other than taking a closer look at the socioeconomic background.

Having said all this, it is clear that it does not quite all fit together so simply. Looking at my own faculty which is as heavily populated by children of privilege as any other, I am not sure the corruption level is all that high. In fact "corruption" is not really on point. Self referential decision making and obliviousness to the welfare of the stakeholders is more accurate. It appears mainly in hiring or tenure decisions when people allow social and political factors to influence their votes or even the veracity of their reports on a candidate's reviews. I am not an administrator so I have no way of knowing how demanding people are with respect to exactly the right schedule or for extra travel money or research support. Maybe the most "corrupt" thing going on is looking the other way when someone else is engaged in an activity that cannot be linked to the welfare of the stakeholders. I attribute this to indifference and log rolling but it is shirking nonetheless.

More importantly, not all those with an elite education seem to feel entitled. Far from it. Plus, some of those who do not have an elite education seem to feel an extreme sense of entitlement. Maybe all that can be said is those with the elite educations are more likely to have a sense of entitlement and more likely to justify their anti stakeholder activities than those without the same background.

I'd still like to avoid hiring the privileged for reasons of diversity and because there is no known correlation between how highly ranked a school is and how productive its graduates will be as law professors. But when it comes to the corrupting potential of a sense of entitlement, it would nice to assess it directly by administering to each candidate an "entitlement test."


Anonymous free credit repair said...

Agreed =) hope to read more post from you. Thanks

2/01/2010 2:27 AM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

I always agree with free credit report, but . . . I'd wager that if you were testing this, some equally strong correlates with power and entitlement in the faculty setting would be (1) seniority (more particularly, length of service at the institution), and (2) tenure. If we're looking at this anecdotally, it is my sense that some of the most "entitled" in your negative sense are those who pulled themselves up out of modest circumstances and managed to succeed at elite credentialing. And so far as personnel matters go, the strongest correlation is that people seek others like themselves -- whether that is a two-Ivy education, a freshwater PhD, whatever -- with a minority viewing those like themselves as rivals.

Separately, you need to jump-start your co-bloggers.

2/02/2010 9:51 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Ani: I am not sure what to do about the co bloggers. I think the blog bubble has burst and maybe we've gotten it all off our chests.

On the substance, I agree. First, of course with the importance of paying close attention to free credit report. More importantly, I agree with your assessment of who seems to possess the greatest sense of entitlement. I would add a qualifying factor. On my faculty the most entitled seem to also have a strong political agenda. That agenda is nearly always self-referential.

On the other hand, the privileged have theie own version of this. I remember one year we hired two people -- one upper class, one working class. When told what the moving expense allowance would be, the upper class response was "I cannot possibly move for that amount." The working class was "Wow and I also get moving expenses."

And, then there are those who think having high end credentials off sets years of low productivity.

2/02/2010 12:02 PM  
Anonymous CD Rates said...

i like the concept of an entitlement test!

2/25/2010 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Lizz said...

"Consistently the subjects with power viewed the same sleazy acts as less immoral when they did them than when those with less power did them. In short, power does corrupt."
That sounds scary, but also hard to prove, where did this research take place exactly? I'm intrigued!

3/03/2010 11:10 AM  
Blogger Reconstructing said...

It's interesting what a radical idea a non-entitle law professor is.

6/16/2010 10:39 PM  

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