May 18, 2018

How to become a better empiricist, or at least start using empirical methods (Michael Simkovic)

I recently wrote about the evolution of economics--and law & economics--from fields that focused on assumptions and priors to fields that emphasizes data, causal inference, and scientific objectivity.  Many law professors and aspiring academics share my enthusiasm for Albert Einstein's vision of universities as “Temples of Science”, but are unsure of how to acquire or sharpen the technical skills that will make them effective empiricists.

Bernard Black at Northwestern runs extremely helpful and practical summer workshops that I highly recommend. The quality of Professor Black's workshops easily justifies the cost.  (There are free law & economics workshops--and some that will even pay you a stipend to attend--but from what I have seen, these  tend to present non-empirical methods and political view points).

Details about Professor Black's workshop are available below the break.

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May 18, 2018 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Science, Student Advice | Permalink

May 14, 2018

When do donor influence and ideology undermine academic integrity? (Michael Simkovic)

Key takeaways

  • Universities face serious threats to academic freedom from outside pressure groups
  • Some Donors have made demands that can undermine university provision of unbiased, high-quality research
  • Accommodating ethically questionable Donor demands can undermine public confidence not only in individual researchers, but in entire institutions and even in the broader academic enterprise
  • Stronger, more secure, and more stable funding for universities—without strings attached—would help insulate universities from undue pressure by outside groups
  • Universities should work together to secure their financial and intellectual independence, articulate clear ethical standards, and enforce those standards

 

I recently documented efforts by a well-organized network of libertarian and conservative academics, advocacy groups, and media organizations to foster resentment toward universities and then gain control over them, under the pretense of supporting free speech.[1] These efforts continue a decades-long assault on higher education, and have been remarkably effective at tarnishing universities’ reputations. This has paved the way for legislation that further undermines universities’ intellectual and financial independence.[2]

A complementary threat to academic integrity comes from powerful outsiders exploiting universities’ financial needs to leverage relatively small donations into enduring influence over faculty, curriculum and student life. Such money-for-influence arrangements could alter what research gets produced, and by whom.

Outside funding can increase research output and impact in media and policy circles. It can fund great research that might not have been produced otherwise. But funding under inappropriate terms risks undermining the central and unique role that universities play in society as providers of high quality, reliable, and unbiased information. This could quickly destroy the goodwill and trust that universities painstakingly cultivated over decades (in some cases, for centuries).

This issue has come to a head recently with press coverage of some financial relationships and recently disclosed contracts between conservative and libertarian donors (including foundations and re-granting organizations funded by the prominent Koch family) and George Mason University.[3] Much of the controversy relates to a libertarian / free-market embedded think tank at George Mason, The Mercatus Center, which provides supplemental compensation and resources to GMU’s economics faculty and some law faculty members, as well as opportunities to produce commissioned research on timely policy issues. Through Mercatus, the university has received tens of millions of dollars in donations.

GMU faculty members’ chances of obtaining funding and resources apparently did not depend exclusively on an unbiased assessment of their intellectual rigor and academic contributions, but rather appear to have depended at least in part on the political implications of their research. In contravention of academic ethical norms, donors had substantial influence over which faculty members would receive compensation supplements known as “chairs” or “professorships.” Donors maintained control through representation on selection committees, evaluation committees, rights to recommend removal of chair holders, gift rescission rights, and key-man clauses for senior executives, including the dean of the law school.[4]

The language of several contracts suggested that only libertarian or economically conservative faculty members would be eligible to hold professorships or chairs. For example:

“The objective of the Professorship is to advance the . . . acceptance and practice of . . . free market processes and principles [as] promot[ing] individual freedom, opportunity, and prosperity . . . The occupant of the Professorship (“Professor”) shall . . . be qualified and committed to the forgoing principles.”

Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors said “When you start getting into a study of free enterprise then you’re really, I think, stepping into a territory where you’re promoting a political agenda.”[5] Donors may specify a topic of study or type of expertise for a holder of a chair; but they should not specify the chair-holder’s politics.[6]

Critics say Mercatus’s ideologically based funding tips the playing field at GMU in favor of the production of economically right-wing scholarship and the retention of economically right-wing scholars and instructors. Neither Mercatus nor GMU appear to have imposed any limits on the fraction of a faculty member’s total annual compensation that could come from non-state sources such as Mercatus.[7] This is unusual—many funders and universities worry that too much outside funding creates the appearance of impropriety.[8] At least one prominent member of the GMU faculty with a Mercatus affiliation derived over 40 percent of his compensation in 2016 from “non-state” sources, according to public records.[9]

Without supplemental compensation from Mercatus, GMU faculty compensation appears to be uncompetitive with comparable institutions.[10] Thus, working at GMU may not have made sense financially for economists or law professors who were unlikely to obtain Mercatus compensation supplements—i.e., those whose scholarship might support increases in taxes, an expansion of public investment or social insurance, or more stringent regulations of business. At least one moderate economics faculty member says that she “carefully chose [her] research so it wouldn’t be objectionable” to her more conservative colleagues.[11]

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May 14, 2018 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Religion, Science, Student Advice, Weblogs | Permalink

March 14, 2018

"Academic Freedom and the Obligations of University Administrators" especially regarding faculty speech

MOVING TO FRONT FROM MARCH 12:  UPDATED    

This talk (sparked by this incident) that I gave at Columbia Law School last fall is now on-line, for those who might be interested.

A different wrinkle on this issue is presented by the new allegations that Prof. Amy Wax (Penn) has disparaged the academic performance of African-American students at her law school.   Here academic freedom affords her no protection:  any identifiable group of students at a school has a right not to be openly disparaged for its competence by faculty or administrators at their institution, and the Administration should both correct the record and would be within rights, in my view, to take disciplinary action against Prof. Wax (I do not think this is an offense justifying termination, but lesser disciplinary steps would be warranted).  Think of it in Pickering terms:  faculty disparagement of some identifiable portion of the student body interferes with the school's core functions, including helping members of the disparaged group find suitable employment upon completion of their education.   (Contrary to the letter from the Penn alumni and students, it is not clear to me that Prof. Wax's statements violate the "anonymous grading policy," if the Penn one is like that at most schools:   exams are marked without knowing the student's identity, but after the grades are turned in, the professor learns how each student performed.  On the other hand, students have a reasonable expectation and entitlement, perhaps even protected by FERPA [I'm less sure about that], not to have their academic performance disclosed to third parties by the faculty member.)

UPDATE:  Is Prof. Wax the Ann Coulter of the legal academy?  Her colleague Tobias Wolff comments.

ANOTHER:  Penn's Dean Ruger has removed Prof. Wax from teaching required 1L classes.  As a punitive measure, that seems rather mild, given the breach of professional obligations involved, but perhaps he is taking other actions as well.   A good line from Dean Ruger's statement:

Our first-year students are just that – students – not faceless data points or research subjects to be conscripted in the service of their professor’s musings about race in society.


March 14, 2018 in Jurisprudence, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

February 14, 2018

Political bias in the selection of law review articles

This finding--by my colleagues Adam Chilton, Jonathan Masur and our Behavioral Law & Economics Fellow Kyle Rozema--is hardly surprising, given how out of their depth most law review editors are in figuring out what to publish.  Maybe law reviews should advertise that year's ideological tilt of its Articles Editors?


February 14, 2018 in Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

January 29, 2018

Rostron & Levit's updated guide to submitting to law reviews

Professors Rostron & Levit asked me to share the following about their useful guide:

Dear Colleagues,

We  just updated our charts about law journal submissions, expedites, and rankings from different sources for the Spring 2018 submission season covering the 203 main journals of each law school. 

A couple of the highlights from this round of revisions are:

First, again the chart includes information from the handful of journals that posted on their websites that they are not accepting submissions right now and what dates they say they'll resume accepting submissions. 

Second, while 62 law reviews still prefer or require submission through ExpressO, 31 schools (up from 27 at this time last year) now require Scholastica as the exclusive avenue for submissions, with 31 more preferring or strongly preferring it, and 28 accepting articles submitted through either ExpressO or Scholastica. Thirteen schools now have their own online web portals.  And one school each accepts articles on Twitter and bepress, while two accept submissions through Lex Opus.

The first chart contains information about each journal’s preferences about methods for submitting articles (e.g., e-mail, ExpressO, Scholastica, or regular mail), as well as special formatting requirements and how to request an expedited review.  The second chart contains rankings information from U.S. News and World Report as well as data from Washington & Lee’s law review website.

Information for Submitting Articles to Law Reviews and Journals:  http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1019029

We’d welcome you to forward the link to anyone who you think might find it useful.   We appreciate any feedback you might have.

Happy writing!

All the best,

Allen and Nancy

Professor Allen Rostron

Associate Dean for Students and William R. Jacques Constitutional Law Scholar and Professor of Law

rostrona@umkc.edu

Professor Nancy Levit
Interim Associate Dean for Faculty and Curators' Distinguished Professor and Edward D. Ellison Professor of Law

levitn@umkc.edu

I do think the W&L data is pure noise, since it does not control for volume of publication.


January 29, 2018 in Professional Advice | Permalink

January 18, 2018

New study of longterm outcomes and value of a law degree

The full document here.  I may say more when I've had a chance to digest it.   Signed reader comments welcome (full name required, valid e-mail address); submit comment only once, it may take awhile to appear.


January 18, 2018 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Student Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 07, 2017

How Long After "Meat Market" Before Candidates Hear from Schools?

MOVING TO FRONT FROM LAST YEAR (SINCE TIMELY AGAIN--AND MORE COMMENTS WELCOME--ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 2007)

A rookie job seeker writes:

A question about the law teaching market, which I suspect will be of interest to a number of candidates who read your Law School Reports blog:  When can we expect to hear from hiring committees we spoke with at AALS?  Do the better schools tend to wait longer to make their calls?  And do schools tend to notify candidates that they *won't* be inviting them for a job talk, or do you only hear from them if they're interested?

If you think this is a worthwhile topic, perhaps you could open a post for comments so that hiring committee members could say what their procedure is.

My impression is that schools will contact the candidates they are most interested in within the first two weeks after the AALS hiring convention, and, more often than not, within the first week.  Schools will often have some candidates "on hold" beyond this period of time:  e.g., because they are reading more work by the candidate, or collecting references, or waiting to see how they fare with their top choices.  So it is quite possible to get call-backs beyond the two-week window.  Schools tend to be much slower in notifying candidates they are no longer in contention (you might not hear for a month or more). 

Schools higher in the "food chain" in general do move at a somewhat more, shall we say, "leisurely" pace, and schools lower in the "food chain" are more likely to have tiers of candidates they remain interested in, on the theory that they are likely to lose their first-round choices.

Those, to repeat, are my impressions, based on a decent amount of anecdotal evidence.  But I invite others to post their impressions and/or information about their school's practices.  No anonymous postings.  Post only once, comments are moderated and may take awhile to appear.


November 7, 2017 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Professional Advice | Permalink | Comments (16)

October 19, 2017

Best publishers of scholarly monographs in law?

More than 160 readers voted in our poll from earlier in the week, and here are the results:

1. Oxford University Press  (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)
2. Cambridge University Press  loses to Oxford University Press by 95–56
3. Harvard University Press  loses to Oxford University Press by 95–56, loses to Cambridge University Press by 93–60
4. Yale University Press  loses to Oxford University Press by 117–33, loses to Harvard University Press by 113–34
5. Princeton University Press  loses to Oxford University Press by 122–25, loses to Yale University Press by 70–67
 

University of Chicago Press was runner-up, trailing Princeton 81-51 (Princeton was essentially tied with Yale).   These seem to me like fairly sensible results--interesting how the two UK publishers dominate.  The mystery of the Harvard catalogue is how uneven it is, perhaps because it is bigger than, say, Princeton's or Yale's law catalogues.


October 19, 2017 in Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Rankings | Permalink

September 29, 2017

How should a Dean who understands academic freedom respond to public controversy about faculty writing?

So we know from the unhappy example of Dean Ferruolo throwing a faculty member under the bus what not to do:  you don't publish a statement on the homepage of the school singling out a faculty member's work, declare that not only do you, as Dean, disagree with it, but suggest that these are pariah views in "our law school community", and imply that the offending views may implicate "racial discrimination" and persecution of the "vulnerable" and "marginalized."  Making an obligatory reference to academic freedom in passing does not undo the damage that this decanal misconduct causes. 

The job of administrators is not to share their opinions about the views of members of the faculty, but to administer a university environment in which faculty and students may express points of view that do not otherwise violate anti-discrimination, sexual harassment or other laws.  (The silly op-ed did not violate any applicable law obviously).  So one obvious, and preferable, option would have been for the Dean to make no public statement at all.  He could have met with concerned student groups, and educated them about academic freedom and reaffirmed institutional policies about equal opportunity.  If a Dean makes any public statement in the context of such a controversy, it should not include any comment on a faculty member's views; it would suffice, for example, to simply reaffirm the institution's commitment to equal opportunity for all students and the like.

The Kalven Report got it exactly right fifty years ago, and all administrators ought to read and think about it.  The university sponsors critics, it is not itself a critic or advocate (except for that narrow range of issues central to the university's function).   A Dean, or other university administrator, forfeits his academic freedom upon becoming Dean--in part, because Deaning is not a scholarly enterprise but an administrative one, and academic freedom exists only to protect the scholarly pursuit of truth.  As an administrator, the Dean's job is to protect academic freedom and protect an environment in which faculty and students can express their views in the appropriate fora, such as the classroom, scholarship, and sometimes in the public sphere.   In order to preserve a community of open and vigorous debate, the Dean must not lend his authority to one side or the other.   That there is an uproar about a faculty member's scholarship or op-ed does not mean the Dean must speak out, except perhaps to educate people about what a university is and what academic freedom is and why it matters.

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September 29, 2017 in Faculty News, Jurisprudence, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

September 25, 2017

The law school monopoly myth (Michael Simkovic)

It is often assumed that the only way to become a lawyer is to attend an ABA-approved law school.  That is true in some states and, indeed, the ABA has at times expressed the view that it should be true in all states.  But it is not the case in large jurisdictions such as New York or California, nor is it the case in the majority of jurisdictions.  Claims that ABA-approved law school have a monopoly on entry into the legal profession are exaggerations.  Rather, the most popular—and probably most likely—way to become a lawyer is to graduate from an ABA-approved institution. 

In leading jurisdictions such as New York, California, and Virginia, an individual who wishes to become a lawyer may sit for the bar examination with between zero and 1 years of law school and between 3 and 4 years of apprenticeship and study under the supervision of a licensed attorney (this is also known as “law office study” or “reading for the bar”).  In California, graduates of non-ABA-approved law schools are eligible to sit for the bar examination.  This includes schools with extremely low-cost, technology-driven approaches to teaching, such as online and correspondence schools.

In fact, non-ABA law school graduates are eligible to sit for the bar examination in most jurisdictions (31 in total as of 2017) according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.**  This includes extremely large and important jurisdictions such as California, Florida, New York, Texas and Washington D.C.  Graduates of online and correspondence law schools are eligible to sit for the bar examination in 4 jurisdictions.

Very few people choose the apprenticeship route, and only a minority opt for non-ABA law schools.  Among those who do, relatively few successfully complete their courses of study or pass the bar examination.  But those who do will have the same license to practice law as someone who graduates from an ABA-approved law school and successfully passes the bar examination.

Why then do so many prospective lawyers choose ABA-approved law schools?

The most likely explanation is that prospective lawyers choose ABA-approved law schools because those law schools provide a valuable and worthwhile service that supports a higher price point than other options.* 

Many employers value legal education.  That’s why they typically pay law school graduates tens of thousands of dollars more per year than they pay similar bachelor’s degree holders, even in occupations other than the practice of law.  When law school graduating class sizes increase, and a lower proportion of graduates practice law, graduates don’t typically see a noticeable decline in their earnings premium. 

In other words, the benefits of law school are versatile. Graduates of ABA-approved law schools also seem to be much more likely to complete their studies and pass the bar examination than students attending more lightly regulated and lower cost alternatives.

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September 25, 2017 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Student Advice, Weblogs | Permalink