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September 29, 2007

The Challenges Facing a New Public Law School in California

Vik Amar (UC Davis) comments.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 29, 2007 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

September 28, 2007

ASU Law Dean White to Step Down After Nearly a Decade

The ASU press release is here, which includes an unusually impressive list of glowing appraisals of Patricia White's accomplishments as Dean at Arizona State.  One thing that is certainly clear to an outsider is the quality and strength of faculty appointments during her tenure.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 28, 2007 in Faculty News | Permalink | TrackBack

September 27, 2007

Stone on Columbia, the Iranian President, and MoveOn's Ad about "General Betray Us"

This is about the most sensible (and principled) commentary I have seen on these issues; others may find Geof Stone's remarks of interest. 

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 27, 2007 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

The Most Productive Non-Elite Law Schools

The folks at Roger Williams have completed the study of scholarly productivity for which they were soliciting feedback a couple of weeks ago.  They studied all schools in the 3rd and 4th tiers of U.S. News, plus (for comparative purposes) local schools in New England (Roger Williams is in Rhode Island).

The results are, I think, interesting, and provide useful information, especially for prospective law professors, about which schools outside the "elite" ranks maintain an institutional culture conducive to scholarly work.  The results also by and large comport with my own, admittedly anecdotal, impressions of the faculties that are well-ranked.

UPDATE:   Professor Eric Mitnick, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, writes:

Your post on the Roger Williams productivity study, and Dean Yelnosky's study itself, is misleading in one respect.  It is not a study of all law faculties in the Third and Fourth tiers of the US News rankings. Instead, the study excludes schools that are not members of AALS. 

For what it’s worth, following Dean Yelnosky's methodology strictly, I determined that the faculty at Thomas Jefferson would have had a score of 2.78, ranking us 15th among the schools included in the study.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 27, 2007 in Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack

September 26, 2007

Is it Unethical for Law Schools to Lie to US News?

Ann Bartow (South Carolina) is certain it is:  "lying to improve Useless News & World Distort rankings is despicable."  I'm not so sure it's that simple.

Let's put to one side a position that seems to be Kant's, namely, that lying is always immoral.  Sometimes, surely, lying is justified:  e.g., when you lie to the Gestapo who come to your door in 1943 and ask whether you have any Jews in the attic.  What characterizes cases in which lying seems the correct  course of conduct is that those to whom the truth is told would use that information for wrongful ends. 

Of course, that principle needs to be tempered by consideration of our epistemic limitations:  we may not know for sure what ends the truth will be put to, and we may not know confidently that the ends are wrongful (perhaps we think they are, but perhaps there is room for reasonable disagreement).  In the Gestapo case, however, we can be rather confident on both scores:  that the truth will, indeed, be put to ends which are, indeed, wrongful.

What U.S. News does with the information that law schools supply it is, arguably , wrongful:  instead of reporting that information, it massages it through an unprincipled formula that results in a nonsensical ordinal hierarchy of schools that conceals and confuses more than it illuminates.  By misleading students, and unfairly demeaning institutions (which are, after all, comprised of real people), U.S. News engages in wrongful conduct, and so there should be no obligation of truth-telling under the circumstances. 

Or so the argument would go.

Now the obvious difference in degree of wrongfulness between the U.S. News case and our illustrative hypothetical also has some bearing on the earlier point about epistemic limitations:  the wrongfulness of what U.S. News does with the information is at least arguable.  In particular, there is reason to think that the more sophisticated consumers look past the nonsense ordinal ranking and attend to the underlying data, some of it supplied, more or less directly, from the law schools themselves.  That means that lying to U.S. News entails lying to prospective students, who have a legitimate (i.e., non-wrongful) interest in much of this information.  So, e.g., when law schools lie (or, more euphemistically, fudge) in reporting their employment statistics, they are misleading prospective students, since U.S. News reports that data directly and it is of significnat interest to prospective students.  So that lying probably is fairly characterized, following Professor Bartow, as "despicable."

But not all the self-reported data is as transparent and important as the employment statistics; indeed, a crucial portion of the data, about expenditures (the tail that wags the ranking dog, as it were), is not reported directly at all by U.S. News, since it would make it too obvious how much profligate per capita spending drives the major differences between schools once one forgets about anything of academic relevance (it is, for example, the only reason Yale ranks ahead of Harvard every year, even in years when Harvard has higher reputational scores).  Of course, if any particular school misreports its expenditures data, it will gain an "unfair" advantage, it seems, over all the schools who report it correctly.  The advantage will consist in a somewhat higher rank, and the "unfairness" will be by reference to the metric set by U.S. News which, by hypothesis, other schools are adhering to.  Since the metric is, as noted above, arguably a wrongful one, that leaves us only with considerations of gaining an advantage over those institutions that report accurately.  So perhaps all schools should simply lie about their expenditures data?  Or perhaps only those schools that are otherwise unfairly denigrated by the overall ordinal rank should lie in order to restore some sense to the final results?  But can we entrust the schools themselves to make that determination reasonably?  And if schools are thought to be making such determinations, then how can one ever know what is truthful and what not in their reporting of any data? 

All of which might suggest a certain amount of wisdom in Kant's original thought.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 26, 2007 in Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack

September 25, 2007

Senator Obama Interviewed on ImmigrationProf Blog

Here.  Kudos to Professor Johnson and his colleagues for getting the Senator to answer these questions about immigration law and policy.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 25, 2007 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

So what did happen at Irvine?

The mystery continues.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 25, 2007 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

Speaking of Paranoia on the Right--

--as we were just the other day--David Bernstein (George Mason) has now served up a remarkable example

First there is the sheer weirdness of comparing being fired from a job with being disinvited to give a dinner speech to a Board of Regents.  (Even a commenter remarked on this:  "[Y]ou really think being disinvited from speaking at a Regents dinner is an issue of academic freedom? If I don't want to mow Larry Summers' lawn because I don't like what he said, am I also violating academic freedom?   Once upon a time I was sick of political correctness. By now I am mostly sick of the martyrdom of its foes.")  It is, indeed, foolish to hang the albatross of one remarkably ignorant speech given several years ago around the neck of someone like Summers who has multiple professional and scholarly accomplishments that might make him an interesting speaker, but only on the paranoid right would someone think this at all comparable to the case of outside political muscle resulting in the rescission of a job offer!

And that brings us to the far odder aspect of Professor Bernstein's opinion piece.  for Professor Bernstein claims that the Chemerinsky case is "highly unusual" because "the pressure to enforce political orthodoxy at Chemerinsky's expense came from the right, not the left." 

In fact, from the McCarthy era to the present, the most successful efforts to "enforce political orthodoxy"--the ones that resulted in people being fired from jobs, or having their jobs threatened--have almost all come from the right in the United States.  Professor Bernstein may be blind to this because many of the targets of smear campaigns and orchestrated attacks by political forces outside the universities have, in recent years, been critics of Israeli policy, from Norman Finkelstein to Joseph Massad.  But how many times in the last 50 years have "liberal" politicians and interest groups outside universities successfully mobilized to get someone fired or even threatened that person's tenure because of "conservative" views?  Where are the right-wing counterparts to M.I. Finley, Chandler Davis, Clement Market, and Staughton Lynd, among many others?

I guess there must have been at least one case Professor Bernstein had in mind, but, to be honest, I can't think of any.

So what in the world is Professor Bernstein thinking? 

What he has in mind is suggested when he writes that,

the primary challenge facing academic freedom in American universities: the rise of an academic far-left establishment that seeks to use universities as a base for political activism, and is perfectly willing to violate accepted standards of academic freedom to achieve that goal.

As an example, Professor Bernstein indicts the field of Women's Studies.  He might have chosen the field of economics as a more striking example, though it does not fit his fantastic vision of the academy as a bastion of the fearsome "left":

"There is much too much ideology," said Alan Blinder, a professor [of economics] at Princeton and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Economics, he added, is "often a triumph of theory over fact."

This charge, if warranted (and far be it from me to dispute the assessment of an economist of Professor Blinder's standing in the field), should strike those outside universities as far more worrisome, given the role that economics plays in public policy.  And since the "ideology" that dominates economics--and which lets theory trump facts--is a kind of free market utopianism, it can hardly be adduced as evidence of the make-believe "academic far-left establishment."

In any case, diversity is overrated as an intellectual virtue, as I noted a couple of years ago in my debate with Peter Schuck (Yale) about "ideological diversity" in law schools.  My central example was none other than Professor Bernstein's own law school, George Mason:

I think again of George Mason, the least intellectually diverse law school in the United States, but whose phenomenal success in the last 25 years is largely attributable to that fact. A familiar fact in academic life is that intellectual and scholarly work often flourishes in an environment where like-minded individuals can work together. By adopting as its market niche "conservative/ libertarian law and economics," George Mason has been able to attract a highly productive and accomplished faculty, who no doubt stimulate each other to do more and better work. One of the more unfortunate consequence of Justice Powell's introduction of the "diversity" mantra into American public discourse is that it obscures the extent to which in scholarly pursuits depth, subtlety, and the comprehensive exploration of the possibilities of an intellectual paradigm require the stimulation of colleagues who share some basic premises, substantive and methodological: it's some degree of homogeneity, not diversity, that often makes possible the deepest work.

UPDATE:  Professor Bernstein is unmoved, alas.  I should note that I thought Economics a "more striking example" because it is a more central and substantial academic discipline than the various ethnic or gender studies fields.  (His data on the economics profession is also rather misleading.)  I fear Professor Bernstein also has a mistaken impression of why Larry Summers resigned, but it had nothing to do, on any account I have seen, with forces outside the university engagead in persecution of him for his political views.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 25, 2007 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

September 24, 2007

"Nietzsche's Theory of the Will"

On the off chance that this topic interests some readers, there is more information on this paper of mine here.  Although it is a philosophical exegesis, it is done with an eye to general philosophical issues about free will and moral responsibility, and also shows how Nietzsche's theory wins support from recent empirical psychology.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 24, 2007 in Jurisprudence | Permalink | TrackBack

The Realities of the Legal Job Market Outside the Ranks of Elite Law Schools

Wall Street Journal story here.

Posted by Brian Leiter on September 24, 2007 in Legal Profession | Permalink | TrackBack