Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leiter's Deans to Watch

Brian Leiter has his list of transformative deans and deans to watch. I think each dean he's served under warrants inclusion, although he appropriately does not consider them alongside others.

If it were me, I would include Janet Levit at the University of Tulsa Law School. I could also see a case for including Rod Smolla on the transformative deans list, although he was only at W&L for a short time, it seemed like his changes were pretty significant.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Law School & Pedigree Consciousness: More Thoughts

Brian Tamanaha (Washington University) comes to similar conclusions.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Disciplinary Diversity & Pedigree Consciousness: A Few Thoughts

Disclaimer: I’m not an academic and this analysis is based on my own impressions, which are certainly open to revision. Comments, corrections and clarifications are quite welcome. Thanks to Prof. Brian Leiter for linking to this post. Thanks also to Prof. Caron, Law Librarian blog and everyone else for doing the same.

Count me among those who think there is a significant pipeline problem in the legal academia.

In 2005, the Yale Daily News reported that 57% of the Yale Law faculty had attended Yale College or Yale Law School (which has a relatively small student body). The numbers suggest that the law school hiring committees are even more pedigree-sensitive than they were 20-30 years ago, so that percentage may have increased as senior faculty have retired. In any case, I would be surprised if more than 25% of this year’s permanent, tenure-track faculty attended law school somewhere besides New Haven or Cambridge. And of that remaining quarter, I bet you could count (or almost count) the number of law school alma maters on one hand.
At other top schools, the pedigree diversity seems to be a bit better, but most new faculty still come from a relatively small number of schools.

Now, I don’t doubt the abilities of those candidates, but I think the assumption that the brightest minds go to four or so law schools is retrograde, ineffective, bad for the discipline, and demonstrably unjust on several counts.

Demonstrably unjust, you might ask? Among its many problems, this status quo in hiring is biased against those who came to law school from regions, cultures and/or classes where academic pedigree carries less significance. Take bankruptcy whiz Elizabeth Warren for instance. This daughter of an Oklahoma janitor had much less incentive (economic and social) to take on more debt for a more prestigious degree, than say, an upper-middle class Ivy League graduate who would prefer to practice (if only for a few years) in a large East Coast city. Professional interests matter also. If a well-credentialed student entered law school with the idea of becoming a public defender or entering family practice, I imagine there would be little incentive to pass up a scholarship at a local or regional school.

Moreover, as Professors William Henderson and Paul Caron have shown with their "Moneyball" analysis of entry-level legal hiring (see here), pedigree is far from the best predictor of future scholarly success. I’m not saying it’s meaningless, but it’s almost certainly not what hiring committees seem to act like it is.

To see this point, consider the difference in legal teaching outcomes between Yale and Chicago, two schools with similar class sizes. The difference in their mean LSAT scores amounts to maybe 1-3 questions on a long test (so, in other words, probably not a highly reliable differentiation). GPA -wise, it’s a rounding error. In fact, the difference between mean credentials at the top 20 or so schools is remarkably small when you really break them down.

However, in academic placement outcomes, there are pretty substantive differences. Now, with Yale and Chicago, there’s probably some selection effects  in play, but since 1995, Yale has sent 130 grads to tenure-track positions at 43 leading law school faculties while Chicago has sent 35 grads that way. Columbia, which is twice as large and certainly no slouch, has sent 19 graduates to those schools.  At the top 18 schools, the difference is even more pronounced. Do Yale graduates really, on average, have that much more scholarly potential or academic inclination than their peers at Chicago and Columbia?

Or, is there another explanation for the extreme pedigree consciousness?

Comparative Perspective
One way to look at this issue is to compares pedigree diversity in law to other topically and methodologically diverse fields in the humanities and social sciences. Of these fields, economics and law stand out as particularly pedigree-conscious. In the case of economics, this makes more sense: there has been a general neoclassical, quantitative consensus among the mainstream organs of the profession for some time. By and large, heterodoxy is somewhat stigmatized, and so there is less incentive for a strong student to pick a lower-ranked department. The pedigree preoccupation still seems regrettable in my view, but at least the logic is more evident.

Legal scholarship, on the other hand, seems much more varied, at least in terms of topics and methods enthusiastically embraced by the mainstream of the profession. Accordingly, I would it expect it to be more similar to a discipline like political science, where some departments place well in a particularly sub-field (Johns Hopkins places particularly well in IR, Rochester and Wash.U. in Methods and Rat. Choice stuff, Syracuse in Public Policy, etc.) and a few are pretty strong across the board (Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, etc.). This is obviously not the case.  To get an idea of the contrast I’m talking about, consider the doctoral/terminal degree programs represented on Yale’s political science faculty (which totals about 55, excluding courtesy appointments):

Yale : 9 (includes 2 Yale Law)
Harvard: 6
Berkeley: 5
Stanford: 5
MIT: 4
U. Chicago: 4
Cornell: 3
Ohio State: 2
Michigan: 2
Rochester: 2
UC-San Diego: 2
Princeton: 2
Humboldt U.: 1
Oxford: 1
Wisconsin: 1
Johns Hopkins: 1
Northwestern: 1
Columbia: 1
NYU: 1
U. of Washington: 1
Duke: 1

Granted this is not a perfect comparison for a number of reasons. Still, it’s enough to make me wonder, what is motivating the pedigree consciousness of legal hiring committees?

Naivete? Perhaps self-interest comes into play (on a subconscious level): after all, if you have invested a ton in an exclusive legal education, you have a considerable incentive to justify and maintain the value of that investment. Or maybe this pedigree preoccupation is a vestige of the desire to treat the law as an objective discipline like physics. Who knows?

Updated 7/11/11

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"The Next Big Thing" or "The Next Lamar Alexander?"

What to make of Jon Huntsman's candidacy?

I'm intrigued. Politically, I actually think his service in China will be more of an asset than a liability. He could frame it the way Petraeus might have described his service under President Obama. Even his civil unions stance isn't the liability it would have been in 2008 (my sense is that most in the party realize the country has turned a corner in that regard). Compared to Romney, he is less plugged in to the Church of LDS (those who know Mormons say Huntsman is like the University of Utah and Romney is BYU) and perceived as more down to earth. Like Romney, he's palatable to Republicans who are embarrassed by (but occasionally sympathetic to) the Tea Party crowd. Style-wise, I could see him getting along with the rust-belt Saul Anuzis set more easily than Mitt Romney has and  I can imagine him doing much better in NH than T-Paw.

He doesn't have a specific affiliation with any of the major primary constituencies, but this issue could be mitigated if he deploys his wealth to shore up influential supporters, to build a large ground operation and "reassure" the chattering class of his viability.

Also consider who he's up against. I still consider Mitt the frontrunner, but he does have some major liabilities. As a candidate, Pawlenty looks okay on paper but there is the "yawn factor." If he was going to be the belle of the ball, I think more establishment figures would have signed on with him by now (Dole, McCain and Bush all attracted big name campaign talent early on).

Of course, there's a lot to be seen. Huntsman certainly hasn't gotten the scrutiny that others have. You know--not that it's relevant--but I'd be interested to hear how just far his youthful rebellion went: was it like rebellious for Salt Lake City or rebellious for, say, anywhere else?

If you don't think Huntsman has a natural constituency, consider George Pataki, who (shockingly) might throw his hat in the ring!

How long will it be before we get a fawning Huntsman profile from David Brooks? A week? A month?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Does the Third Way Lead Straight to the Bank?

Stories like this make it more difficult for pragmatic progressives to defend against charges that they aren't just "corporate Democrats."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hey GOP, Why No Love for the Donald?

I'm a little confused why the GOP establishment is acting like Donald Trump is not a serious Republican candidate.

Is it because he proposes fiscally untenable tax policies?

Is it because he occasionally panders to birther paranoia?

Is it because he's unapologetic about his messy personal life?

Is it because he's flip-flopped on major issues like abortion and gay rights?

Is it because he makes funny but off-color jokes?

Is it because he enthusiastically embraces corporate interests?

Beats me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

So apparently Gandhi was a racist, egomaniacal weirdo

A new biography portrays Gandi as, to quote a WSJ review, "a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent, a fanatical faddist, implacably racist, and a ceaseless self-promoter, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals."

Click the link, the details are crazy.

I guess no one gets a free pass forever. This kind of reminds me of Hitch's impeccably-titled Mother Theresa polemic, The Missionary Position (which, truth be told, wasn't as damning as I expected). The Gandhi bio was titled Great Soul, so maybe it's not so unflattering on the whole.

Like everyone else, I wonder if there's any net benefit from humanizing our heroes(there's obviously some benefit). It's gonna take place regardless, so it's kind of a moot point.  Still, it's an interesting question: does Gotham need a Harvey Dent figure?

A recent news item reminded me there's some value in having a human stand-in for our moral aspirations. Popular preacher Rob Bell recently published a book that's stirring some controversy among the Evangelical community. He uses the question "Would God really send Gandhi to hell?" to highlight his issues with conventional Evangelical afterlife theology. Would that question be an effective focusing device if "a hypothetical, virtuous non-Christian" was used? What about "arrogant but remarkably bold human rights crusader?" I kind of doubt it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Black History Month: Shades of Gray

As Black History Month comes to a close, I thought I'd try to call attention to Daniel Sharfstein's recent Slate article about a black hero, O.S.B. Wall, whose descendants would later identify as white. Unlike other black figures who's descendants identified as white (like Anatole Bayard), Wall never made an effort to pass for white. Not only is the article an interesting read, it's a welcome reminder that, one-drop rule notwithstanding, our nation's racial history is anything but black and white. (Come on, you saw that platitude coming from a mile away).

It's generally accepted that many African Americans have some white ancestry; in fact, anthropologist Mark Shriver found that most have at least 12.5% European ancestry (a great-grandparent). However, less attention is paid to the black ancestry of "white" Americans.  This is understandable of course, the percentage of whites with black ancestry is presumably much lower than the percentage of blacks with white ancestry, for obvious reasons. Still, as Sharfstein's article demonstrates, there are many interesting stories to be told and and questions to be asked.

Some of these questions can be found in my own family tree. A few years ago, I was browsing some online genealogy websites and I came across a direct ancestor of mine, Elizabeth Cullom, whose son William Watters (my fifth-great uncle or something) had been convicted of fornication. Apparently, a court in Ashe County, North Carolina determined his marriage invalid on account of his non-white ancestry. He challenged this ruling before the North Carolina Supreme Court.  In that case (State v. William P. Watters, 1843), a witness for the state, Isaac Tinsley testified that he knew Watter's grandparents (my ancestors) and that they were, in his words "coal black negroes."  Defense witnesses claimed that Elizabeth Cullom's mother, Mary Wooten, was not as black as some negroes and had thin lips." A defense witness described Cullom as a "mulatto." Ultimately, the ruling was upheld, with the court declaring that even if "the grand-father [sic] was white and the grand-mother only half African-of which there is no evidence, still the defendant would have been within the degree prohibited from contracting marriage with a white woman."

Also interestingly, the same site references a failed petition for membership in the Cherokee nation that listed Cullom as having Native American ancestry.

I haven't checked the primary source documents cited by this website and I don't seem to be the most likely candidate for non-white ancestors. My appearance could aptly be termed a "Whiter Shade of Pale." Also, most of my family tree has already been mapped and so far, all branches eventually lead to Western Europe, although they weave throughout the lower Midwest, the South and the Northeast. Still, there seems a some possibility that I have a tiny bit of non-white ancestry and this mere possibility, to me, speaks to the fascinating dynamism of America's racial history.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Around the Web

  • “We are only 50 percent of the way to knowing what trees really do for us,” says botanist Lester Rowntree in Jill Jonnes' article about the role of trees in the life of the city
  • "I've never had colleagues in the sense that I do here," says Jonathan Lethem who's headed for liberal arts college bliss at Pomona (I wondered if he planned write a book that doesn't take place in New York but, alas, this article says his next book is set in Queens)
  • I've made my picks for Slate's Oscar Pool game
  • "By the time I got around to Vampire’s Kiss and then Bad Lieutenant and now this movie, Drive Angry and then also Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, I had realized that I’d developed my own style and process and school of acting which is called Nouveau Shamanic. That’s the new style of acting and at some point I’ll have to write a book.” -Nicholas Cage (!), quoted by Movieline

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Born Back Ceaselessly Into the Past

Specifically about 1990...check out this awesome online version of "The Great Gatsby" game for the original Nintendo.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why (Self-Identified) Conservatives Are Rare in Academe

At a recent social psychology conference, UVA Professor John Haidt made a familiar point about ideological diversity by asking conservatives and moderates in attendance to raise their hand. This exercise touches on an interesting, perennial question: why are so there so few conservatives in the academy?
Among “movement conservatives,” it is practically an article of faith that liberal bias discourages right-leaning students from pursuing careers in academia, particularly careers in the social sciences and humanities. But is this just right-wing paranoia, or worse, a politically-convenient way for conservatives to diminish the standing of potential ideological foes?

A working paper by sociologists Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse suggests that the widespread liberalism is largely the result of self-selection. The authors identify several characteristics that predispose one towards liberalism and find that they are disproportionately present amongst academics. Specifically, when compared with other Americans, professors:
- tend to have higher income and education levels
- are less likely to be theologically-conservative Protestants
- are more likely to be Jewish or non-religious
- are more tolerant of controversial ideas
- have a greater disparity between their income and educational levels

Gross and Fosse argue that the ubiquity of these liberal-friendly characteristics in the professorate has gradually resulted in academia being “typed” as a liberal profession, in much the same way nursing has been typed a “feminine” profession. They cite research by Amy Binder and others showing that conservative students (of all ability levels) are less likely to feel ideological kinship with their professors and thus are less likely to aspire to join academia.

To me, their argument sounds reasonable: if a top student thinks the private sector promotes innovation and raises living standards, he's probably more likely to accept its generally more lucrative and flexible offerings than one who frowns upon “big business." This probably holds true for undergrads and grad students alike. And the private sector isn't the only other option for cerebral conservatives.

For secular folks, the academe is one of relatively few fields where an individual can devote his or her professional energies to contemplating and propagating his or her conception of the “Truth.” Religious conservatives can also consider the clergy (there are roughly 500,000 members of the Protestant clergy in the US and about 25,000 philosophy professors, per the AP and the BLS, respectively) or any number of faith-based organizations. Conservative think tanks probably took an ideological bite out of academia early on, but by now I suspect their impact is canceled out by left-leaning think tanks. The Defense sector probably absorbs more conservative thinkers in the aggregate.

These factors seem to go a long way towards explaining the relative rarity of conservative academics, but political bias still plays a role in some cases. In some disciplines, influence will be harder to come by for those who don't take certain political views for granted. Likewise, at some institutions, conservatism is stigmatized and so challenging sensitive liberal shibboleths might open you up for professional or even personal criticism (I have Pat Moynihan in mind on this issue).

Of course, it's also worth remembering that "liberal" and "conservative" can be unstable terms in academia. Greg Mankiw, Andrew Bacevich, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Francis Fukuyama could all be called conservatives and yet could all have different views on any given issue. Foreign policy and economic conservatives probably meet the least resistance in most disciplines. Likewise, the term liberal is similarly pretty expansive; it's just as likely to be used for a free trade-backing Clinton fan as it is for an avowed Marxist. Given their backgrounds, I'd wager most academics who identify as liberal in the US aren't that in favor of challenging the status quo.
Here's the working paper. Here's a NY Times article that does an okay job discussing it.
Some of this was adopted from a previously deleted blog post.

Monday, February 7, 2011

File Under: Reasons for Revolution

Apparently, in 2008, Goldman Sachs found a neat little trick for keeping those balance sheets tidy: just get rid of December altogether. Even more impressive, they managed to do so without giving up their holidays!

News to me.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Chicago School" of 80's Cinema

In any genre, it's hard to make a movie that will age well, but it's particularly difficult to make a mainstream comedy that lasts. Some jokes lose relevance and Hollywood is by no means averse to recycling successful gags, characters, set-ups and plot devices. A few great movies can survive this borrowing (e.g. "This Is Spinal Tap"), while some good ones lose a bit of their luster (I think I would have enjoyed "Risky Business" more if I hadn't seen its premise copied and updated by "The Girl Next Door").

Now, I've heard the criticisms about 80s pop culture, but, in my view, the decade produced a remarkable number of mainstream comedies that stand the test of time. Flicks that come to mind include "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "Farris Bueller's Day Off," "Trading Places," "The Blues Brothers" and of course, "Groundhog Day." One of the reasons I think these movies last is that they tend to couple sarcasm with an essentially optimistic view of the human spirit.

These movies were not generally heavy on political content, it would be a mistake to consider them to be totally sympatico with the "Morning in America" thing going on. The dean in "Animal House" (okay, technically 1979) is basically a Nixon figure. The protagonists in these movies are often savvy, worldly types given to making sarcastic jokes. You could maybe argue that these movies dealt with big issues superficially, but I have yet to see a PSA that hits me like the end of "Planes, Trains..." They aren't perfect or even that elegant, but I think these movies tend to hit on something resonant.

"Groundhog Day," in my view, is one of the best of this genre. Here's an interesting article that talks about how adherents of various religious traditions (Eastern and Western)  find echoes of their philosophies in the film.

Then again, maybe, as a Reagan baby, I'm just being sentimental...

* I used the term "Chicago School" because many of the people involved have Chicago ties (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, the brothers Belushi, John Landis, John Hughes).  Even some of the relevant Canadians (John Candy, Dan Ackroyd) have ties to the Toronto satellite of Chicago's "Second City" troupe. This also has a useful connotation: the Midwestern and Canadian cultures are stereotyped as earnest. And for those keeping track, they also have strongly Progressive elements.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A pretty good year for Hollywood...

To my thinking, 2010 was a pretty good year for the movies.  We could be in for a pretty good Academy Awards, too, since some of this year's noteworthy flicks (True Grit, The Black Swan, The Social Network, The Kids Are Alright, Inception etc.) did pretty well at the box office.

Metacritic aggregated a bunch of critic's top ten lists and came up with this:
1 The Social Network 

2 Winter’s Bone 

3 Black Swan 

4(tie) Inception 

Toy Story 3 

6 The Ghost Writer 

7 The Kids Are All Right 

8 The King’s Speech 

9 Carlos (released on TV first, thus ineligible for statues)

10 127 Hours 

I'll put out my own list after a few more visits to the megaplex, but  a few thoughts for now:
  • It's remarkable how many good movies didn't make this list: True Grit, Howl, The Green Zone, Greenberg, Get Low and plenty more.  I'm not saying all of these were better than those listed, but there were plenty of opportunities to catch a flick and not leave disappointed.
  • This was also a good year for popcorn flicks: the A-Team remake was a blast, as were The Expendables and Iron Man 2.  I've heard great things about The Town and Red from several people.  Get Him to the Greek was pretty funny.  Consensus seems to be that the Wall Street sequel was better than expected. Unstoppable wasn't earth-shattering but it was better than it had to be.  I look forward to seeing The American.
  •  Two documentaries were widely-released and well-regarded: Client #9 and Inside Job.  Haven't seen either yet, but trailers for both look interesting.
 *Footnote:  I'm mostly talking about commercial cinema, but I want to recommend Sweetgrass, which is the best documentary I've seen in a long time (but be forewarned: it requires a bit more patience than your average doc.)