It appears that the decision process on selling the for-profit Charleston School of Law to the for-profit Infliaw system is moving along. Charleston Law is seeking ABA approval of the sale and will make a presentation to the ABA on October 30. At the same time, a unanimous Charleston faculty, as well as one of the school's owners, are opposing the move. They want to turn the school into a non-profit.
As far as I can tell, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education has not yet decided whether it would approve the move in any case.
A WSJ reporter just tipped me off to this news release by Facebook regarding the changes it has made in its research practices in response to public outrage about its emotional contagion experiment, published in PNAS. I had a brief window of time in which to respond with my comments, so these are rushed and a first reaction, but for what they're worth, here's what I told her (plus links and less a couple of typos):
There’s a lot to like in this announcement. I’m delighted that, despite the backlash it received, Facebook will continue to publish at least some of their research in peer-reviewed journals and to post reprints of that research on their website, where everyone can benefit from it. It’s also encouraging that the company acknowledges the importance of user trust and that it has expressed a commitment to better communicate its research goals and results.
As for Facebook’s promise to subject future research to more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people within the company, with an enhanced review process for research that concerns, say, minors or sensitive topics, it’s impossible to assess whether this is ethically good or bad without knowing a lot more about both the people who comprise the panel and their review process (including but not limited to Facebook's policy on when, if ever, the default requirements of informed consent may be modified or waived). It’s tempting to conclude that more review is always better. But research ethics committees (IRBs) can and do make mistakes in both directions – by approving research that should not have gone forward and by unreasonably thwarting important research. Do Facebook’s law, privacy, and policy people have any training in research ethics? Is there any sort of appeal process for Facebook’s data scientists if the panel arbitrarily rejects their proposal? These are the tip of the iceberg of challenges that the academic IRBs continue to face, and I fear that we are unthinkingly exporting an unhealthy system into the corporate world. Discussion is just beginning among academic scientists, corporate data scientists, and ethicists about the ethics of mass-scale digital experimentation (see, ahem, here and here). It’s theoretically possible, but unlikely, that in its new, but unclear, guidelines and review process Facebook has struck the optimal balance among the competing values and interests that this work involves.
Most alarming is Facebook’s suggestion that it retreat from experimental methods in favor of what are often second-best methods resorted to only when randomized, controlled studies are impossible. Academics, including those Facebook’s statement references in its announcement, often have to resort to non-experimental methods in studying social media because they lack access to corporate data and algorithms. “Manipulation” has a negative connotation outside of science but it is the heart of the scientific method and the best way of inferring causation. Studies have found that people perceive research to be more risky when it is described by words like “experiment” or “manipulation” rather than “study,” but it’s not always the case that randomized, controlled studies pose more risk than do observational studies. The incremental risk that a study — of whatever type — imposes on users is clearly ethically relevant, and that's what we should focus on, not this crude proxy for risk. I would rather see Facebook and other companies engage in ethical experiments than retreat from the scientific method.
It’s also unclear to me why guidelines require more extensive review if the work involves a collaboration with someone in the academic community.
Elizabeth Garrett, the provost of the University of Southern California - and a law professor - has been named the new president of Cornell University. She will take over in July. Before joining USC, Garrett was on the University of Chicago Law faculty where she also served as Deputy Dean.
Texas Tech University School of Law invites applications from exceptional individuals for a tenured or tenure-track position teaching Oil and Gas, Energy Law, and related courses. Applicants must possess a J.D. degree and have relevant experience such as teaching, legal practice, or a judicial clerkship. Appointment may be made at the Assistant, Associate, or full Professor level. Entry-level candidates must show scholarly promise, as evidenced by publications in scholarly journals, scholarly works in progress, or a scholarly agenda. For lateral applicants, a distinguished record of teaching and scholarship is required. Once hired, faculty members are evaluated and advancement is determined by contributions in teaching, research, and service to the law school and the university.
Please submit your cover letter, resume, and contact information for three professional references electronically to the attention of the chair of the Personnel Committee, Eric A. Chiappinelli, Frank McDonald Endowed Professor of Law, at the Texas Tech Jobs website https://jobs.texastech.edu or www.workattexastech.com. Please reference Requisition Number 1187BR. You may contact Professor Chiappinelli directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.
The (expected) news that Florida State Senator John Thrasher has been named FSU's new leader is here.
This was a controversial search. As the Chronicle details here:
The process in which the board selected Mr. Thrasher had been controversial almost from the beginning. In May, the board’s search committee drew protests from students and faculty members by announcing that Mr. Thrasher was the only candidate it planned to interview at its next meeting. In June, Florida State’s Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the search committee’s consulting firm, William Funk & Associates, which subsequently ceased its involvement with the renewed search process.
The no-confidence statement is here. An op/ed opposing the hire is here. The Tallahassee Democrat editorial opposing his hire is here.
Dean Makau Mutua, who has led Buffalo Law for seven years, will be stepping down from the deanship this December. Dean Mutua made some size adjustments in the law school and has also had controversy in his time. (In fact, the litigation with Jeffrey Malkan continues. A filing here, submitted by the dean's co-defendant in the Malkan litigation, is pretty interesting in its own right.)
Professor Sarah Deer, of William Mitchell College of Law, has been named one of this year's MacArthur Fellows. Deer, a graduate of Kansas Law, is active as both a scholar and advocate in fighting domestic violence among Native American women. Other MacArthur Genius Award winners are here. Congratulations!
Imagine that once there was a famous golf school, the dean of which believed that everything that needed to be known about golf could be learned on the putting green. Being the head of a famous school, the dean was able to put into place a theory of instruction based on just that theory. Students arrived, were handed a putter, and were told that they were learning to think like a golfer.
To be fair, when the dean launched his method golf schools were in a bad state. The primary method of instruction before he introduced the putting method was lectures, where old golfers would stand before a classroom in their knickers (American meaning), holding their mashies and niblicks, and expounding on the science of golf. By comparison, the putting method was positively experiential.
Each year I spend the first few minutes of my Civ Pro class, as I expect so many other profs must do, showing my students the death cage match from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The battle between the “man with no name” and the baby-faced giant, all to decide who really owns a vehicle, sets up a lively discussion about procedural justice and modes of dispute resolution.
The second day I turn away from no-holds-barred adversarial battles and towards topics that are less traditional for Civ Pro classes. For reasons that at first clearly perplex my students, we take our second day in Civ Pro to discuss a book called The Geography of Thought, written by a psychology professor named Richard Nisbett. The book collects the results of decades of research by Nisbett and others, in which experiments are run on the cognitive styles of different cultures. In particular, he contrasts the cognitive style of east Asians – such as my students – with the cognitive styles of Europeans and Americans, such as myself.
The first interesting thing about Nisbett’s results is that cognitive differences are notable in very early childhood. They are in no way genetic – Chinese Americans, for example, test as Americans after a generation or two – but they are sufficiently deeply rooted in cultures that they show up before philosophies or dogmas can be taught with any sophistication.
The reporting is fuzzy, but a University of Illinois undergrad who met with U of I Chancellor Phyllis Wise and other administrators states that Steven Salaita's name has been forwarded to the Board of Trustees for a vote at the Board's September 11, 2014 meeting. On the other hand, U of I English Professor Ted Underwood reports that the undergrad was mistaken.
Putting aside all the heated doctrinal and factual debate about this case, which I think is far from straightforward, I think that the University of Illinois should have approved his offer in the first instance and should do so now. I believe this not because I am certain the University is under an obligation to hire Salaita. Rather, I think that, under these circumstances, the decision of the Chancellor and/or Board to exercise the reserved rights in the offer letter is corrosive to a university community.
And I would add, finally, that I am not sold on the claims that Salaita is anti-Semitic. He is an Arab-American, post-colonialist critic of Zionism and I take it his critiques are grounded in both his own personal relationship to the issue and, more broadly, his critique of colonialism. Many Israelis concede that the creation of Israel involved deeply troubling moments - Ari Shavit's account of the expulsioin in Lydda is a good example. There is, of course, a deep divide about the moral takeaway of this history and Shavit and Salaita don't come to the same conclusion. But both conclusions seem to me comprehensible when the underlying facts are viewed from radically different perspectives.
I also take it that his tweets (which must be read in context, rather than individually, if one wants to claim any insights into what he is thinking) reflect his ideological, or perhaps epistemological, commitment to the notion that politics and scholarship cannot be disentangled. (I also think he was a fool if he figured his tweets would, in fact, be read in context.)
Particularly given that his tweeting was part of his scholarly project - that is, his job - as I imagine he understood it, it seems to me that the best decision for the University is to embrace the scholar the department recruited, warts and all.
There are fewer folks going on the AALS market this year, according to this data over at Prawfs, but there will always be aspiring law professors. And for the sixth straight year, Arizona State is putting on an Aspiring Law Professors Conference. It's September 27 in Tempe, and this year, Paul Caron will deliver the keynote.
This just in: University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise reaffirmed her decision not to hire Professor Steven Salaita, and she has received backing from the University Board of Trustees.
In an email to the University community, Wise wrote:
We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.... A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.
The Board, and University President, issued a statement offering "unwavering support of Wise", stating:
Disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice is not an acceptable form of civil argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education. If we educate a generation of students to believe otherwise, we will have jeopardized the very system that so many have made such great sacrifices to defend. There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university.
The complete statements can be found at the link above.
Yes, it is true. As the recent story in the Atlantic by Paul Campos accurately reports, I was the dean candidate who was asked to leave Florida Coastal School of Law by school President Dennis Stone in the middle of my presentation to the faculty. Since the story came out, I’ve been contacted by many law faculty members wanting to know the whole story. I’ve also seen a fair amount of uninformed speculation on the topic floating around the blogosphere. So, I have decided to write about what happened in the hopes that I can put all the speculation to rest and move on.
Let me start by saying that just because I appear in Paul Campos’ article does not mean that I endorse Paul Campos’ point of view about Florida Coastal School of Law, InfiLaw, for-profit law schools, or the “law school scam” theory in general. I believe Paul raises a lot of serious and important issues, and makes several valid points, but the views expressed in the article are his, not mine. Dan Filler has graciously offered me the opportunity to expand on my own views on legal education here at The Faculty Lounge, and I will do so in future posts. (And thank you for the kind introduction, Dan.)
I also want to make it clear at the outset that I do not agree with the view expressed by some commentators that Florida Coastal School of Law, Charlotte Law, or Arizona Summit School of Law are “diploma mills.” I believe that each of these schools provides a solid legal education, on par with many of their peer schools. The truth is that the faculty hiring market has become so competitive that all three of these schools have been able to hire many highly qualified and distinguished lawyers and scholars as faculty members. I have friends on the faculty of all three schools whom I know to be fine teachers and scholars who would be a credit to any law school faculty in the country. I have seen no evidence that the educational program at InfiLaw is any less rigorous than the typical J.D. program. There is no question that all three InfiLaw schools have produced many fine attorneys, a substantial majority of whom passed the bar on the first attempt. My concern about InfiLaw has primarily to do with its admissions policies over the last four years. During this time, InfiLaw schools have admitted hundreds of students with extremely low LSAT scores and mediocre GPAs. This clearly appears to be an administrative policy as the admission numbers look very similar at all three of their schools. I do not believe that InfiLaw has any special insight that would enable them to identify students with extremely low LSAT scores who have much greater aptitude for the study of law than their test scores and GPAs would indicate. Nor do I believe that InfiLaw schools have any magic formula for getting students of marginal aptitude to outperform their indicators. InfiLaw schools are not notably better or worse or different than the many other unranked law schools around the country, aside from their for-profit status.
In April, Dan wrote about the Florida Coastal dean search where the candidate was asked to leave in the middle of his job talk (under threat of a security escort out of the building) after his presentation turned a critical eye towards the school's admissions standards and bar passage rates.
Now Paul Campos fleshes out some of the details in this Atlantic piece, which he uses to launch a longer discussion about the Infilaw suite of schools and the crisis in higher education generally.
Last Spring, I had a post here at the Lounge that discussed the dramatic decline in law school enrollment. The post specifically addressed an exchange between Steven Freedman and Brian Tamanaha about whether it was appropriate for legal academics to argue that now is a good time to go to law school. I argued that the dramatic decline in law school enrollment meant that students entering law school now are virtually certain to graduate into the best legal job market in recent memory, and that therefore it was appropriate for legal academics and others to argue that now is a good time to law school.
In this post, I don’t want to re-litigate those issues. Rather, I want to discuss a funny thing that happened on the comment thread to the prior post. If you follow on-line discussion of law school enrollment and job market issues, you will not be surprised that the prior post generated a flood of hostile and skeptical comments. I welcome critical comments, but a lot of the thread was unproductive. One anonymous commenter (“anon”) and I spent a large part of the tread talking past each other (to put it charitably), with anon stating that I was making a prediction and me replying by asking anon to explain what, precisely, was wrong with my analysis.
More than 100 comments in, anon and I discovered that we actually agreed on some important issues. The discussion started turning around when a person posting as Prospective Law Student (“PLS”) started raising some interesting questions. PLS already had already started a career in another field, and had a full-ride offer to attend law school. PLS’s comments raised some important issues (e.g., the opportunity cost of attending law school), and the tone of the discussion was productive. In this context, anon wrote:
If a prospective law student is making the choice to attend law school based on the goal of "status and money" then the advice should be, and always should have been in my view, in up markets and down, "don't go."
That is the reason I find purely economic arguments - arguments that tend to commodify a legal education . . . so disappointing.
These arguments reduce "buy now" to a "product" type analysis, when the decision to attend law school should be anything but a decision akin to buying a product, like an annuity. By doing this, Ben defeats his purpose, because he will, in arguing the "investment" angle so vociferously, merely cement the notion that the decision to attend law school is based on economic forecasts and akin to a money investment, like buying a ticket to wealth. This is wrong.
I responded that I agreed more than I disagreed with this point (though I don’t think the characterization of my argument was accurate.). A lot of the criticism of law schools has been framed in economic terms, and economic issues are relevant to the decision to go to law school. But the decision to go to law school should not be purely economic. People should go to law school because they want to get a legal education, not because they want to get rich. Steven Freedman chimed in with this:
I think people are misunderstanding Ben's emphasis on the cost-benefit analysis of getting a JD. I don't think either of us are suggesting that you should go to law school because it offers the best return on investment among grad programs. Instead, what Ben and I are trying to do is to refute two major memes that have been dominating the conversation. First, that there are no jobs for law grads. Second, that even if good jobs were available, it doesn't matter because the debt makes it a terrible financial decision to go to law school. . . .
If you are happy doing what you're doing now, and will be happy doing that as a career, and you wouldn't be happier being an attorney, or you aren't willing to take the risk of failing the bar, then I see no reason why you should go to law school.
But I'll say this to PLS. If you want to be a lawyer, or make use of a JD some other way, you should go to law school. And you should do it now because now is likely the best time to do it because of the enormous scholarship opportunities out there and because of the changing dynamics to the market. There are no guarantees in life, but there is strong evidence that the typical student entering law school in 2014 will be setting him/herself up for a good start to a career in law in 2017.
But don't choose not to go because web bloggers and commenters exclaim that law school is a scam, that law grads are highly unlikely to find employment, or that only students who find biglaw employment are able to make it in this world. All three of those statements are false, meaning they are not good bases for making your decision.
So, Ben, I have pleaded here for a model of salesmanship that sells the essence of what I believe, and what I think you believe too, a legal education truly has to offer. Let's work to make the legal system more responsive and more accessible and to educate our students to take proactive roles in bettering our society by these efforts.
That sort of "pitch" for legal education honors our traditions and will sell itself through inspiration and relevance.
As I mentioned at the outset, I’m not interested in re-litigating the underlying issues in this post. Rather, I think that this exchange illustrates something useful about internet discussion of these and other controversial issues. After sniping at each other for a while, anon and I discovered that we had some common ground, and had a productive exchange of ideas. I have no illusions that anonymous internet threads will become forums for reasoned debate. It is worthwhile remembering, though, that tone matters. It is also worth remembering that it can be productive to assume a little bit of good faith on the part of your interlocutor, even on the internet.
Seriously. Is anyone surprised by these stories? Ivy League as a stop on the way to Wall Street? One of my favorite lines from Jerold Auerbach's Unequal Justiceis that Columbia Law School and Wall Street are not just stops on the same subway line; they're stops on the same career line. I didn't need Auerbach to clue me in to this, though -- in the same freshman history class where we read Unequal Justice our TA asked whether Sinclair Lewis' character Babbitt was a positive or not. I almost started laughing because of course he was terrible; I thought our TA was just throwing us a softball to get discussion started. But you know what, someone else right away answered he's positive. That's just another vignette that shows that he knew how to get a conversation going!
According to this report from Inside Higher Education, Steven Salaita - formerly a controversial English professor at Virginia Tech - was offered a new tenured job in the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois. As with most offers, it was conditional on approval from Board. The Board apparently will not even take a vote because Chancellor Phyllis Wise has announced the University will not be presenting his name for a vote. The reason for this sudden change in plans? From Inside Higher Ed:
The sources familiar with the university's decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel's policies in Gaza. While many academics at Illinois and elsewhere are deeply critical of Israel, Salaita's tweets have struck some as crossing a line into uncivil behavior.
For instance, there is this tweet: "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza." Or this one: "By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror." Or this one: "Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already."
Since Salaita did not yet have tenure at Illinois, is this just a case study of why tenure matters? Is former AAUP President Cary Nelson right in backing the Chancellor's decision, arguing:
"I ... do not know of another search committee that had to confront a case where the subject matter of academic publications overlaps with a loathsome and foul-mouthed presence in social media. I doubt if the search committee felt equipped to deal with the implications for the campus and its students."
Please skip inflammatory or non-substantive comments.
I have a long article in Slate (with Chris Chabris) on the importance of replicating science. We use a recent (and especially bitter) dispute over the failure to replicate a social psychology experiment as an occasion for discussing several things of much broader import, including:
The facts that replication, despite being a cornerstone of the scientific method, is rarely practiced (and even less frequently published) not only in psychology but across science, and that when such studies are conducted, they frequently fail to replicate the original findings (let this be a warning to those of you who, like me, cite empirical literature in your scholarship);
Why replications are so rarely conducted and published, relative to their importance (tl;dr: it's the incentives, stupid);
Why it's critical that this aspect of the academic research culture change (because academic science doesn't only affect academic scientists; the rest of us have a stake in science, too, including those who fund it, those who help researchers produce it (i.e., human subjects), those who consume and build on it (other scholars and policy-makers), and all of us who are subject to myriad laws and policies informed by it); and
Some better and worse ways of facilitating that cultural change (among other things, we disagree with Daniel Kahneman's most recent proposal for conducting replications).
UT President William Powers - the former dean of Texas Law - has had a challenging tenure as the head of the university. Recently, the law school has come under harsh scrutiny over the question of whether the school has admitted less qualified applicants for political reasons. Now, according to reports, the University system chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa, has told Powers to resign by next Thursday or face firing by the Board of Regents.