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October 29, 2020

A lot of anxiety, resentment, self-deception, and sour grapes about the law teaching job market...

...on display here, especially in many of the comments (and there's also pushback in the comments).  The law teaching job market is very far from a "lottery" (as one commenter put it); if it were a lottery, it wouldn't be possible to predict fairly well how candidates will fare.   It is true that the law teaching job market is even more pedigree-sensitive than most academic job markets, and that is not a good thing.   But in other respects it rewards conventional markers:  e.g., decent publications, strong oral presentation skills.   Max Weber observed, correctly, that "luck" plays an outsized role in academic careers, which is undoubtedly true; but that doesn't mean the results are wholly random, as they would be in a lottery.  It does mean that even if one does all the right things, the outcome is far from assured.

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 29, 2020 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

October 27, 2020

How NYU recruited faculty from top law schools in the 1990s: a case study

Richard Stewart, a leading scholar of administrative and environmental law at Harvard, moved to NYU in the early 1990s.  He lived in a 4,000 square foot town house in Greenwich Village, a few blocks from NYU's law school.  This was rented to him by the University at an undisclosed price, but no doubt well below market rates which even a law professor could not ordinarily afford in that area.  As part of the deal, he had the option to sell the property, with some of the gain going to NYU, and some to Professor Stewart.  He exercised that option a few years ago, netting over eight million dollars.  Eight million divided by the 25 years he taught at NYU up to that time works out to an additional $320,000 per year of service, on top of his salary.  (The article notes that another NYU law faculty member, recruited from Chicago in the early 1990s, lives in a similar townhouse, but without the option to profit from a sale.)

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 27, 2020 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest, Rankings | Permalink

October 26, 2020

Evidence-driven education policy, money, and influence (Michael Simkovic)

I recently discussed research debunking claims that law school and business school are only worthwhile for those privileged enough to gain admission to elite programs.  Press coverage has been curiously oblivious to social science research using high quality data and well-established methods. 

Why might the press overlook high quality information sources while instead elevating the views of less reputable sources of information like think tanks and advocacy shops?  Experts proffered by such sources often have questionable credentials, use dubious methods, and rely on opaque sources of funding.

Anti-education narratives have become increasingly prominent in press coverage since the Gates Foundation and its partners began sponsoring news coverage and affiliated charities at a vast number of publications including the New York Times (see also here), NBC, BBC and its affiliated charity, NPR, PBS (see also here), The Guardian (see also here), Gannet (which owns USA Today), the Hechinger Report, The Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, the Financial Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among many others. 

The Gates Foundation and its partners have also funded education policy analysts at many think tanks and advocacy groups, as well as groups like the Education Writers Association that connect the press with education experts and award prizes to journalists and editors. Gates has reportedly spent more than $250 million on press sponsorship—which is more than enough to outright buy several newspapers. 

Gates has not only funded advocacy and news coverage of that advocacy, but also new approaches to measuring the ripple effects of news coverage to ensure that his organization gets a good return on investments in influence.  The echo chamber created by Gates-funded press, quoting Gates-funded policy advocates, packaging and promoting minor variations on Gates’ personal views—all the while concerned that layoffs will be even worse if another round of funding does not materialize—can make it difficult for dissenting voices to be heard.

The Gates Foundation is controlled by technology billionaire William H. Gates III ("Bill Gates"), the scion of William H. Gates II, a prominent law firm partner at K&L Gates.  (Mr. Gates Senior recently passed away). Warren Buffett also sits on the Gates Foundation board, and often invests alongside Mr. Gates.

The younger Mr. Gates dropped out of college after two years at Harvard to focus full time on entrepreneurship.  He built his fortune through hard work, business acumen, ruthlessness, and his parents' connections.  Specifically, Mr. Gates' firm bought, polished, and relicensed software such as DOS and PowerPoint, imitated successful ideas from competitors such as Apple and Netscape while undercutting them on price, and also developed leading products in areas such as office productivity software and console and PC gaming. 

Riding high on his success, Gates reportedly remarked at a dinner that he had as much power as then President Clinton.  This may be too modest with respect to health and education policy. Mr. Gates’ authority is not subject to term limits or popular election outcomes or impeachment or constitutional limits or the APA or civil service protections for employees or mandatory transparency through FOIA.

But Mr. Gates’ reputation as an innovator was badly damaged by a Department of Justice anti-trust case against Microsoft and an infamous deposition of Gates (taken by David Boies).  The evidence convinced many that Mr. Gates leveraged control of operating systems to make it harder for competitors' products to reach consumers and to sabotage competing products’ functionality. 

Mr. Gates’ subsequent, heavily-publicized philanthropy has largely succeeded in rehabilitating his image.  Among other things, the Gates Foundation helped to fund efforts to eradicate polio with expenditures equal to approximately 2% of Gates’ net worth. 

But numerous critics point to mounting evidence that Gates philanthropy could often be a form of tax-subsidized, profit-generating lobbying for policy changes that will increase the value of Gates’ and his partners’ portfolio of investments (see also here).  Indeed, some grants are clearly made to lobbyists (see also here). Moreover, critics allege that the technology-heavy policies Gates pushes are often more expensive and less effective than evidence-based alternatives.

Mr. Gates famously claimed that all of higher education can be replaced by $2,000 worth of online videos, without any need for social interaction.  Gates has invested heavily in education technology companies to try to make this vision a reality. As a graduation speaker at Harvard, Gates quipped that had Harvard invited him to orientation, he would have convinced more of them to drop out.

Complementary to Gates' Ed Tech investments, groups funded by the Gates Foundation have advocated for reforms to education that would increase the education sector's technology spending.  There is little evidence that these alternate modes of delivery provide comparable education benefits at lower cost than traditional education.  Extenuating circumstances during COVID have led many to adopt online education as the least bad option available.  The resulting shift to online education and mounting dissatisfaction with it has made online education's deficiencies salient.

Mr. Gates claims that traditional higher education has become unaffordable.  But increases in higher education earnings premiums and life expectancy show that this is demonstrably false.  To the contrary, it is for-profit online education that may not produce enough benefits to pay for itself.  And while a few individuals will inevitably have bad outcomes, education investment risk can be mitigated through progressive income taxation for those who succeed and income-based loan repayment programs with debt forgiveness for those who suffer misfortune. 

Mr. Gate's grantees have repeatedly sought to undermine and cut such risk-spreading programs.

In a strategy that echoes Mr. Gates' efforts to prevent competing software from reaching consumers, recipients of funding from the Gates Foundation and its partners have advocated policies that would make traditional education more difficult and expensive to finance.  In particular, they have sought changes that would make federal student loans less available, more expensive, and riskier for borrowers.

Many Gates Foundation grants apparently call for recipients to advocate for pre-determined changes to higher education policy, not to study issues and identify the best solutions based on careful empirical research and consultation with subject-matter experts and stakeholders. For example, the Gates Foundation has publicly disclosed a summary of a 2012 grant to the New America Foundation "to make the case to key audiences that federal financial aid reform is necessary now and that aid programs must go beyond ... funding access to a higher education ...."  Some additional examples of ostensibly similar grants to numerous advocacy and policy shops appear in the footnote below.*

Many of the arguments that have resulted from this Gates-funded advocacy spree are dubious or outright nonsense.  Some of the arguments depend on clear math errors.  Some masquerade as egalitarian proposals while effectively pitting less well-off groups against each other in a battle over public funding that is scarce only because taxes are low.  For example, Gates grantees have suggested that the only way to increase funding for Pell Grants is to cut funding for student loans to graduate students.  This is wrong--and indeed, obviously wrong--considering that all higher education funding adds up to around 3% of GDP and federal student loans to graduate students are highly profitable for the government.  There is ample room to shift more resources to education to make Pell Grants and Student Loans both more generous. Indeed, such investments would likely pay for themselves over the long run.  

Mr. Gates has compared progressive taxation, which could help fund a better quality of education for those born into less wealthy families than himself, to repressive human rights abuses "like [in] North Korea."  (The full interview is fascinating).

Mr. Gates subsequently clarified that he is willing to pay slightly higher taxes. Mr. Gates garnered effusive praise from media organizations for this ostensible progressivism. 

But the Gates Foundation—which spends hundreds of millions on advocacy annually—has spent virtually nothing advocating for progressive taxation and increased public investment. 

If Mr. Gates in fact opposes taxation to increase public investment, his views would be fairly typical of wealthy individuals.  Such views would also be at odds with the preferences of the overwhelming majority of Americans.  Given Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett’s funding priorities, they may have more in common with other billionaires—for example, Charles Koch— than their popular portrayals would suggest.  Indeed, Microsoft-co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation funds organizations that distort legislative budget scoring and thereby bias the legislative process against taxation and public investment.

To the extent that Mr. Gates and those like him prevail on fiscal policy, we can expect suboptimal outcomes with respect to inclusive economic growth and representative governance.  It may be tempting to delegate policy making to the wealthiest among us on the assumption that their success in business—and the philanthropic power it affords them—proves their moral and intellectual superiority in all areas of human endeavor. 

But if we forget that people are selfish, that positive press coverage can be bought, and that being good at one thing does not make one good in all things, we may find ourselves basking in the reflected glory of our leaders’ ever larger palaces as we struggle to cope with emaciated and ineffectual services.


* Similarly, a grant to the Third Way Institute was "to facilitate advocacy efforts to [change] existing higher education policies, support development of advocacy capacity across key partners, and increase demand for [policies favored by the Gates Foundation]."  A grant to the Aspen Institute, which is affiliated with the Atlantic and Washington Monthly, was "to support decision makers and advocates in working together to [change policy] in K12 and education beyond high school."  Numerous education grants call for an emphasis on "innovation" which may be a euphemism for increased technology spending.  

Similar education policy grants have been made to the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Brookings Institute and the Center for American Progress, among others, as well as to regranting organizations like New Venture Fund and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Regranting organizations like NVF are used by wealthy donors to anonymously and indirectly make donations both to well respected groups and to groups that use controversial tactics.  Regranting organizations are sometimes referred to in the press as "dark money slush funds."  Among other things, NVF has reportedly funded attacks on Google, a Microsoft competitor.

It is impossible to know with certainty what the Gates Foundation expects of its grantees without full, complete and unfettered access to their grant contracts and communications with grantees, and the selection process by which they decide what to fund. 

The information that is publicly available is disconcerting.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on October 26, 2020 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic | Permalink

October 23, 2020

The era of Condorcet polls is over

The results of the last poll are here, and basically regurgitate US News (or the "halo effect" of school name) with a couple of exceptions.  But there was also more mischief this time.   As one reader reported (by examining the detailed breakdown of votes):

I’m reaching out because I was looking at the raw balloting data on the website and I noticed something curious.  There are 66 voters in your survey who rank UC Davis as one of the top 10 law schools and UC Hastings as one of the bottom 8 law schools.  Interestingly, only 5 voters rank UCLA as one of the top 10 law schools and UC Hastings as one of the bottom 8 law schools and only 2 voters rank UC Irvine as one of the top 10 law schools and UC Hastings as one of the bottom 8 law schools.  Whoever these pro-Davis, anti-Hastings voters are, they appear to be a large percentage of the respondents and to have a material impact on Hastings’ rank.  It is possible my read of the data is incorrect, but this is what jumps out at me once I load your spreadsheet into Stata.

Conversely, no voters rank Hastings in the top 10 and Davis in the bottom 8.

There were other, shall we say, peculiar patterns in the voting.   If someone wants to undertake a serious and informed survey about law faculty quality, get in touch, and I'll offer guidance about how to do it.  I don't have the time myself, but am happy to be an advisor and to publicize the results.

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 23, 2020 in Rankings | Permalink

October 21, 2020

Everything (and then some) you might want to know about the appointments scandal at Toronto Law...

...is collected here.  (Earlier coverage.)

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 21, 2020 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink

October 20, 2020

Rank the top 40 law schools in terms of the scholarly strength of the faculty

It's time for our annual Condorcet poll of the best scholarly faculties in U.S. law schools.   Please note the instructions:  "Rank order the law schools below in terms of the scholarly strength of the faculty (consider only scholarly strength in your best judgment, not current U.S. News rank!)."  If you don't have informed opinions about the scholarly strength of different law faculties, then you should not participate. 

I listed 58 schools that might have some claim to being in the top 40 for scholarly accomplishment.   Have fun!  Note that the more schools you rank, the more impact your vote will have on the results.

(Any faculty found mobilizing votes on social media will have their school eliminated from the results!)

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 20, 2020 in Rankings | Permalink

October 19, 2020

Blast from the past: an open letter to Bob Morse at US News about steps to take to prevent the "gaming" of the rnakings

Ten years ago.  U.S. News took none of the recommended steps, which pretty well sums up what the law school rankings are really about (and it's not providing help to students).

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 19, 2020 in Rankings | Permalink

October 15, 2020

The timing of this year's job market

Without a "meat market" around which schools and candidates coordinate their behavior, the timing is quite various this year.  Some schools are still scheduling initial interviews, while other schools hosted call-backs as early as September.  Some schools have even started extending offers.  This is going to make things more challenging all around; I hope hiring schools will give candidates at least one month to consider an offer.  By the same token, candidates should be timely in letting schools know if they are no longer interested in being considered because they have other offers in hand.

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 15, 2020 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

October 13, 2020

Law professor Thomas W. Mitchell (Texas A&M) is a 2020 MacArthur Foundation Fellow...

...along with 20 others.  It's a big award, $625,000 over five years!

(As I noted a number of years ago, these awards were, back in the 1980s, known informally as the genius" awards, until it became obvious that that wasn't the selection criterion. What is the selection criterion? No one is really sure, since both the nomination and selection process are secret.)

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 13, 2020 in Faculty News | Permalink

October 12, 2020

"Farmer's intent"

That's not a typo.  Important insights from legal philosopher Leslie Green (Oxford & Queen's U).

Posted by Brian Leiter on October 12, 2020 in Legal Humor | Permalink