Archive | Academia

Can You Hand Out the Constitution on Constitution Day?

Ken White at Popehat reports on the bureaucratic blindness of officials at Modesto Junior College, where a student was told he needed to fill out a form in order to obtain permission to handout copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus in honor of Constitution Day, and that he could only hand out the materials in “that little cement area” in front of the student center,  aka MJC’s designated “free speech zone,” and only on a day when the area was not being used by other students.  You can’t make this stuff up.  Fortunately, the folks at FIRE are on the case. [...]

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Coase and UVA

The Charlottesville Hook has an article suggesting Ronald Coase and James Buchanan were both pushed out of the University of Virginia due to ideological objections to their work.  (HT: Michelle Meyer)  If true, UVA got its just deserts, as both were awarded Nobel Prizes in Economics after their  respective departures.  More here. [...]

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SCIL Loses First Amendment Challenge to Bar Passage Disclosure Requirement

As I noted here, the Southern California Institute of Law sought to challenge a requirement that it disclose the bar passage rate of its graduates.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the judge was not too impressed with this argument. SCIL’s attorney says the school may appeal.  More from the WSJ Law Blog and ABA Journal. [...]

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The “New Normal” in the Legal Profession

UNC’s Bernard Burk has an interesting new paper on changes to the legal profession and legal job market, “What’s New About the New Normal: The Evolving Market for New Lawyers in the 21st Century.” Here’s the abstract:

Everyone agrees that job prospects for many new law graduates have been poor for the last several years; there is rather less consensus on whether, when, how or why that may change. This article analyzes historical and current trends in the job market for new lawyers in an effort to predict how that market may evolve.

The article derives quantitative measurements of the proportion of law graduates over the last thirty years who have obtained initial employment for which law school serves as rational substantive preparation (“Law Jobs”). In comparing entry-level hiring patterns since 2008 with those in earlier periods, a significant development emerges: While other sectors of the market for new lawyers have changed only modestly during the Great Recession, one sector — the larger private law firms colloquially known as “BigLaw” — has contracted six times as much as all the others. Though BigLaw hiring has historically accounted for only 10%-20% of each graduating class, it is responsible for over half the entry-level Law Jobs lost since 2008.

While some observers predict a return to business as usual as the economy recovers, this article is skeptical of that account. The article identifies significant structural changes in the way that the services traditionally provided by BigLaw are being produced, staffed and priced that diminish BigLaw’s need for junior lawyers both immediately and in the longer term. These observations suggest that entry-level BigLaw hiring, and thus the market for new lawyers overall, will remain depressed below pre-recession levels well after demand for the services BigLaw has traditionally provided recovers. At the same time,

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California Law School Claims First Amendment Right Not to Report Bar Passage Rates

The WSJ Law Blog reports that the Southern California Institute of Law claims that it cannot be required to disclose the bar passage rate of its graduates as a condition of accreditation. Such a requirement, SCIL claims, runs afoul of the First Amendment.

Southern California Institute of Law is suing bar association officials for requiring that it include information on its website advising students where they can view exam passage rates online.

The school argues — in a federal lawsuit filed February — that the rule infringes on its speech rights. It claims that it forces them to endorse the notion that a school’s exam passage rate reflects the quality of its legal education. SCIL thinks one has nothing to do with the other.

“[D]efendants have no right to foist their ideology onto SCIL and compel it to refer or disclose bar passage rates of its graduates,” the school stated in a legal brief last week. . . .

None of the 43 SCIL graduates who took the 2012 California Bar Examination passed, according to state data. Over the course of a dozen test cycles between 2007 and 2012, SCIL graduates failed 93% of the time, the defendants claim.

“There are good years, and there are bad years when it comes to bar passage,” said SCIL’s attorney, George Shohet. “It’s not something that the school can control.” He said going to law school and passing the bar require “different skill sets.”

Note that SCIL is not objecting to a particularly detailed dislcosure. Rather, according to the above report, it objects to having to post the following statement on its accreditation page:

For information relating to bar pass rates, on this school and other CBE-accredited law schools you may consult

Hat tip: Paul Caron . [...]

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Benno Schmidt on Academic Freedom

Prompted by the outcry over criticism of pop-left historian Howard Zinn by then-governor Mitch Daniels, Benno Schmidt (the President of Yale University when I was an undergraduate), wrote a good op-ed on the issue of academic freedom.  Here’s a taste:

Academic freedom is faculty’s freedom to teach. But, more important, it is also students’ freedom to learn. It is, as University of Wisconsin Prof. Donald Downs writes in the American Council of Trustees and Alumni guidebook, “Free to Teach, Free to Learn”: “the right to pursue the truth in scholarship and teaching, and to enjoy authority regarding such academic matters as the nature of the curriculum, [and] faculty governance.” At the same time, it is “maintaining respect for the truth (which means avoiding bias in its various forms), exercising professional and fair judgment, and maintaining professional competence.”

In other words: Academic freedom is a right and a responsibility. In recent times, the academy has too often been focused on rights and privileges rather than responsibility and accountability. . . .

Politicians can’t dictate course syllabi or reading lists in higher education. But nor should faculty be allowed to engage in indoctrination and professional irresponsibility without being held to account. And yet, over the past 50 years, that is essentially what has happened. The greatest threat to academic freedom today is not from outside the academy, but from within. Political correctness and “speech codes” that stifle debate are common on America’s campuses. The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind.

If academics want to continue to enjoy the great privilege of academic freedom, they cannot forget the obligations that underline the grant of that privilege. The American Association of University Professors itself

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On the Value of a Law Degree

In the NYT‘s Dealbook column, Ohio State’s Steven Davidoff discusses a new study, “The Economic Value of a Law Degree,” by Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre. This study purports to show that a law degree remains a good investment for many people. Here is the study’s abstract:

Legal academics and journalists have marshaled statistics purporting to show that enrolling in law school is irrational. We investigate the economic value of a law degree and find the opposite: given current tuition levels, the median and even 25th percentile annual earnings premiums justify enrollment. For most law school graduates, the net present value of a law degree typically exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We improve upon previous studies by tracking lifetime earnings of a large sample of law degree holders. Previous studies focused on starting salaries, generic professional degree holders, or the subset of law degree holders who practice law. We also include unemployment and disability risk rather than assume continuous full time employment.

After controlling for observable ability sorting, we find that a law degree is associated with a 60 percent median increase in monthly earnings and 50 percent increase in median hourly wages. The mean annual earnings premium of a law degree is approximately $53,300 in 2012 dollars. The law degree earnings premium is cyclical and recent years are within historic norms.

We estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.

A PowerPoint file highlighting the study’s findings is available here, and co-author Michael Simkovic is blogging about the study and the debate it has triggered at Concurring Opinions. Davidoff’s column also discusses what the study does and does not show.

A one might expect, this study has provoked quite a bit of response. ATL’s Elie Mystal calls it [...]

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Getting the Details of Online Courses Right Is Likely to Be More Difficult Than Anticipated

I’m afraid I’ve been absent from blogging for quite a while, but am eager to pick it up again on a more regular basis … and one reason I’ve been away from blogging is some work on online higher ed.  There’s a lot of discussion about MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – and while I don’t doubt that these will play an important role in the future of higher ed, at the moment I’m more preoccupied with the basics of how live classroom courses in universities today integrate online work into them.  To cut to the chase, it’s a lot harder than it looks, and it happens badly – not just badly, but in ways that make learning more difficult if not impossible – a lot more often than I would have guessed, just based on some informal work I’ve been doing in the area (i.e., as a teacher and faculty looking to make better use of these options and practical recommendations on how to do it, not as a researcher studying it systematically).

For example, consider a basic undergraduate accounting course that I’ve been following (not at my university, btw).  The professor is an experienced teacher who teaches well, explains things well, and is well-regarded by the students.  But the department has opted for an accounting textbook that, like so many do these days, comes with a website for doing homework and assessment online.  Okay, there are some sites that do this well – and others that don’t – and a bunch that, to judge by student and faculty complaints, do not really keep the website up to date.  So, in this case, the professor taught using a slightly different way of presenting the basic concepts, slightly different terminology, with no explanation that could be got from the [...]

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Joseph Massad Update

Long-time readers will recall the controversy over tenure for Columbia professor Joseph Massad. Massad’s defenders argued that his tenure was only in doubt because pro-Israel forces were out to get him due to his anti-Israel views. I wrote in response, after Massad received tenure

It’s often alleged, as in the Finkelstein case at DePaul, that someone’s anti-Israel views prevent him from getting tenure, or otherwise succeeding in academia. Putting aside the merit of those claims, Massad’s case involves exactly the opposite scenario. He landed at Columbia to begin with as a disciple of leading Palestinian activist and Columbia professor Edward Said. And given not just the quality of his “scholarship,” but his hostility to the international gay rights and feminist movements (which shouldn’t matter for tenure purposes, but who are we kidding?), and his haranguing of a questioner at a university event based on his (Israeli) nationality, it’s hard to imagine a university like Columbia tenuring him if he wasn’t a leading Israel-basher, and therefore was able to pose as both a “progressive” and a martyr to academic freedom.

The latest news with regard to Massad is that he wrote an essay about the history of Zionism and anti-Semitism that was so offensive, so preposterous, such complete and utter bullshit that Al-Jazeera decided it had made a mistake in publishing it and pulled it from its website (it later reinstated the article after being criticized for pulling the piece without explanation). It would take an entire book to correct the foolishness of this particular piece, but if you have some knowledge of Jewish and Israeli history, it’s worth looking at to see how low standards can go at an elite Ivy League university.

As I wrote previously,

The good news is that if Columbia had denied Massad

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Joel Alicea on Intellectual Diversity in the Legal Academy

Last month, I posted about a first-rate conference at Harvard Law School on the topic of intellectual diversity in the legal academy. Joel Alicea, the student who organized the conference, has a nice op-ed in the Washington Times on this topic today. Here is how it begins:

“One cannot truly understand a legal argument on behalf of one client or side without thoroughly understanding and addressing competing arguments and objections,” said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow at a recent Federalist Society conference on intellectual diversity in law schools. Unfortunately, this foundational tenet of legal education is not realized in the nation’s leading law schools, including Ms. Minow’s, where students learn a narrowly progressive view of the law from a predominantly leftist faculty. Our nation’s top law schools are failing their students, and in a country whose future will be shaped by those students, it is an urgent problem that we should demand law schools address….

Read the whole thing. [...]

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My Review Fear Itself by Ira Katznelson

has been published at

It’s not a favorable review–I argue that Katznelson grossly exaggerates the extent to which FDR was stymied from pursuing a progressive agenda by the power of southern Congressmen, and that he is unpersuasive in excusing some of Roosevelt’s worst policies on the grounds that the alternative was to put democracy in grave peril.

But the book is even worse than the review lets on. First, there are many times when the subject at issue cries out for the author to display at least a rudimentary understanding of economics, but he never does.

Second, and more important, while Katznelson’s prose is fine, the book is both a disorganized mess, with little apparent rhyme or reason as to which topics the author covers and in how much detail, and way too long. To take just one very minor but telling example of unnecessary detail that clogs the narrative, we learn that Sen. Theodore Bilbo favored “loud check suits and brash ties.” That would be relevant information for a biography of Bilbo, but what does it tell us about “the New Deal and the Origins of Our Times” (the subtitle of the book)? Overall, the book reads as if Katznelson and/or his research assistants gathered lots of information on a bunch of different topics from a particular historical period, and then basically dumped the information into the book, regardless of whether and to what extent it formed a consistent narrative. As long-time readers know, I think most books written by academics are too long, and this one, in particular, could easily have been cut by at least 40%.

On the other hand, for favorable reviews here is Kevin Boyle in the New York Times, and Robert Kaiser in the Washington Post. [...]

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Congratulations to Jeffrey Rosen, New President and CEO of the National Constitution Center

My law school classmate and GW professor Jeff Rosen has been named the new president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Jeff and I have sometimes sparred on this blog (no, Jeff, there is no still such thing as the “Constitution in Exile movement,”) but he’s a top notch and amazingly prolific scholar who will undoubtedly bring new prominence and intellectual energy to the Center. Among his many books, my favorite is The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America.

My sense is that the Center, which describes itself as a “museum, town hall, and civic educational headquarters” has had limited interaction with the legal academy. Indeed, until now I was only vaguely aware of the Center’s existence. It will be interesting to see whether the Center will now engage more with Jeff’s academic colleagues.

I couldn’t find any mention of how Jeff’s new position will affect his relationship with GW, beyond the fact that he is apparently moving to Philadelphia (“I’m very much looking forward to coming to Philadelphia and experiencing all this great city has to offer”), or his other job as legal affairs editor of The New Republic. [...]

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Eliminating the “C” in Law School Grading?

Via Paul Caron at TaxProfBlog and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, a proposal by Joshua Silverstein, law professor at Little Rock-Arkansas William Bowen School of Law, to eliminate the “C” in law school grading.  Here is the SSRN abstract for “A Case for Grade Inflation in Legal Education,” forthcoming in University of San Francisco Law Review:

This article contends that every American law school ought to substantially eliminate C grades by setting its good academic standing grade point average at the B- level. Grading systems that require or encourage law professors to award a significant number of C marks are flawed for two reasons. First, low grades damage students’ placement prospects. Employers frequently consider a job candidate’s absolute GPA in making hiring decisions. If a school systematically assigns inferior grades, its students are at an unfair disadvantage when competing for employment with students from institutions that award mostly A’s and B’s. Second, marks in the C range injure students psychologically. Students perceive C’s as a sign of failure. Accordingly, when they receive such grades, their stress level is exacerbated in unhealthy ways. This psychological harm is both intrinsically problematic and compromises the educational process. Substantially eliminating C grades will bring about critical improvements in both the fairness of the job market and the mental well-being of our students. These benefits outweigh any problems that might be caused or aggravated by inflated grades. C marks virtually always denote unsatisfactory work in American graduate education. Law schools are the primary exception to this convention. It is time we adopted the practice followed by the rest of the academy.

It is worth the time to read the whole article, because it is a more nuanced argument than perhaps the abstract suggests.  In fact, speaking as someone best described as a reluctant [...]

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The Highest-Paid Government Employee in Your State is Probably a Football or Basketball Coach

At Deadspin, Reuben Fischer-Baum has an interesting piece cataloguing the highest-paid state employees in each of the fifty states. Forty of fifty are coaches, all but one of them in either football or basketball.

As Fischer-Baum notes, this state of affairs is not quite as egregious as it may at first seem. Many of these Division I football and basketball programs generate a lot of revenue for their state universities, and the coaches are often paid out of that revenue rather than taxpayer funds. I would also add that NCAA coaches are among the very few state employees who face a serious risk of being fired for poor performance. Most Division I football and basketball coaches get fired within a few years of starting a new job.

On the other hand, as Fischer-Baum also points out, many of the coaches are paid far more than is justified by their marginal contribution to their universities’ revenue streams, even as the NCAA – supported by state and federal governments – continues to operate a cartel that tries to prevent all financial compensation for the players. I made the case for paying Division athletes here and here.

Finally, the state of Maine deserves special recognition from legal academics. According to Fischer-Baum, the highest-paid state official in the Pine Tree State is a law school dean.

UPDATE: In the original version of this post, I accidentally got Fischer-Baum’s first name wrong (I put “Robert” instead of “Reuben”). Perhaps I subconsciously confused him with the late Bobby Fischer. In any case, I apologize for the error, which has now been corrected. [...]

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Diversity at Harvard Law School

The Harvard Crimson is currently running “a three-part series on gender disparity issues at [Harvard] Law School.” Part I reports that there are 17 tenured or tenure-track women out of 92 total on the Harvard Law School faculty. It goes on to report:

Since she took the helm of the school four years ago, [Dean] Minow has worked to change these numbers. Her first step: hiring equal numbers of men and women for entry-level faculty positions since 2009. This year, the Law School has made two hiring offers, one to a man and one to a woman.

Annually, the entry-level hiring committee conducts about 40 interviews, which are balanced in terms of gender breakdown. From these initial interviews, the hiring committee whittles down the pool of potential candidates, who must present to a faculty workshop, secure the recommendation of the hiring committee, and finally secure the approval of the faculty as a whole before they are hired. All the while, the hiring committee is careful to retain an equal number of male and female candidates, according to Law School professor David J. Barron ’89, chair of the entry-level committee.

The goal of having more female faculty members is “very much part of the consciousness, and consciousness matters,” said Barron.

At least as described, this sounds rather like a strict 50/50 gender quota, doesn’t it?

Reading this article, I couldn’t help but recall the recent conference on intellectual diversity at Harvard Law School. Readers may recall that Dean Minow issued an eloquent endorsement of intellectual diversity in conjunction with that conference:

“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” John Stuart Mill’s insight carries importance for any place of learning and special significance for a law school. For one cannot truly understand a legal argument

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