Category: Education

Should Harvard Last Forever?

Set in the year 3172, Samuel Delany’s novel Nova envisions a future where virtually everything has changed…except for the persistent Harvard University, home to the “eccentric, the brilliant, and the very wealthy.” As Harvard’s endowment balloons to $35 billion, Delany’s work looks less like fantasy and more like prophecy. In our day huge sums of money are the “monumentum perennium” Horace once deemed poetry.

But a former aide to Lynne Cheney has been crusading for wealthy universities to spend more of their endowments, and may be winning the battle of public opinion:

Lynne Munson dismisses Harvard University’s new plan to spend $22-million more annually on student aid as “miserly.” She says Yale University could have shown more leadership by pledging to spend at least 5 percent of its endowment each year, rather than the 4.5-percent minimum it announced last week. And she contends that dozens of other wealthy colleges . . . are guilty of “hoarding” because they do not spend enough to help keep tuitions down.

There are lots of tricky issues here, complicated by an increasingly winner-take-all society and the pernicious USNWR rankings rat race. As the compensation of I-bankers and CEOs rises to stratospheric levels, the top universities may feel that they have to keep raising their own salaries to keep pace. Moreover, competitive pressures are going to lead more universities to try to increase their average incoming SAT scores by offering merit scholarships and providing other amenities.

Robert Frank has proposed curbing that kind of “positional competition” with progressive taxes. Will a spending requirement for endowments have similar effects? Republican senator Charles E. Grassley appears to believe that it will at least lead to tuition relief; he has said

requiring wealthy universities to spend a higher percentage of their endowments could help “more working families see the benefits” of lower tuition bills. . . . The Senate proposal, which has yet to be introduced as legislation, could require rich universities to spend at least 5 percent of their endowment, as private foundations are now required to do, or lose the tax exemption they enjoy on their endowment earnings.

Seems like a fair proposal to me–and it also gives wealthy schools ample opportunity to keep open (in some form) to the end of time.

1

Slow Boat to China Cancelled: Post Office Ends Bulk Rate M-Bags

Mail_service_seaplane2.JPGNPR reports that the U.S. Post Office has ended its M-bag service, at least the old $1 per pound service which took a long time but as one person interviewed noted that does not matter with books. Now one must pay $3 to $4 per pound and use an air mail service. The problem here is that many charities sending books to Africa, Israel, Indonesia, and elsewhere can no longer afford to send books at the new rates. NPR pointed out that the claim regarding the increase is that the old rate is not viable and impacts the mandate that the Post Office break even in all classes of mail it offers, but apparently the Post Office is not really aware of what the service cost. It does appear that countries are less willing to receive mail at ports other than airports. Some claim that the low-cost surface mail has a political, good-will impact as local schools receive books and know that someone in the U.S. helped them.

The problem reminds me of Maggie Chon’s work regarding intellectual property and development. Her two recent articles, Intellectual Property from Below: Copyright and Capability for Education (Cardozo Law Review) and Intellectual Property and the Development Divide (U.C. Davis Law Review) examine the link between intellectual property and the how it can have a “substantive equality principle, measuring its welfare-generating outcomes not only by economic growth but also by distributional effects.” The piece about education seems all the more pertinent. Insofar as means to distribute hardcopy texts are diminishing, Prof. Chon’s presentation of “A human development framework [which] allows intellectual property norm-setters to prioritize the development of healthy and literate populations” draws attention to the goals of intellectual property and what the system is trying to do not mention offering a potent argument regarding what the goals are. In addition lest one think the postal system is not about distributing information, at least one author, David Henken, details the origins of the U.S. postal service in his book The Postal Age and points out “From its creation, the U.S. Post Office was committed principally to facilitating the wide circulation of political news, allowing an informed citizenry to live far from the metropolitan centers of government while remaining active in its affairs.”

Image: Mail Service Sea Plane, Wikicommons

1

Taking a Bit of My Own Advice About Failing Well

I happened to see two quotes yesterday that seemed apropos to the subject of success and failure, which has caught my attention over the last couple days. The first comes from Winston Churchill: “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” The second is attributed to Henry James: “No man like to have his intelligence or good faith questioned, especially if he has doubts about it himself.”

It’s appointments season, so considerations of success and failure smack you in the face whether you like it or not. If my reaction is at all typical, you have to wonder, in the abundance of talent seeking jobs in the legal academy, how you yourself ever got hired. (Well, I am sure there are a few people out there who don’t have to wonder.) In the midst of a hiring season induced bout of impostor syndrome, I received a rejection e-mail from a peer-reviewed journal on a piece I had submitted six months ago. It’s pretty clear it was rejected at the editor level, not after being sent out for review (my experience from having had rejected a book manuscript that richly deserved to be rejected is that if the latter, you see the reviews). So I am here thinking out loud about taking my own advice, liberally offered to others, about failing well.

1. It’s not bad to fail ambitiously. I was attempting a difficult placement, and it was something of a flier when I started it. With six months reflection, I see my own weaknesses better (too many thoughts crammed into too little space; not enough accommodation to the concrete versus the abstract, hesitation about my own voice, etc., etc.).

2. Like Winston Churchill, I don’t mind learning, but I don’t always like being taught. What I think is more accurate in my case is that I don’t mind learning, I don’t even mind being taught (by a kind teacher), but I really don’t relish the prospect of being taught or criticized, which is always far worse in the anticipation than in the doing. And that, I think, is because of a slight variation on Henry James’ offering, which is that we Type-A, hyper-competitive, perfectionist, impostor-syndrome-affected sorts don’t like to anticipate our intelligence being questioned (which it rarely is!), especially when we have doubts about it ourselves.

3. It’s probably a bit of jargon, but in my prior life I always liked the idea of a learning organization as corporate model. It’s really, really tough to do, because it’s idealistic and aspirational, and the realities always come back to undermine it. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful enough concept that GE installed Steve Kerr as its Chief Learning Officer a number of years ago (he since moved on to Goldman Sachs doing the same thing). Learning in this context is more than being educated. This is from Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, which attracted quite a following. The idea is “personal mastery,” the kind of self-view we’d expect both from leaders and those led in a learning organization:

People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’. Sometimes, language, such as the term ‘personal mastery’ creates a misleading sense of definiteness, of black and white. But personal mastery is not something you possess. It is a process. It is a lifelong discipline. People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, their growth areas. And they are deeply self-confident. Paradoxical? Only for those who do not see the ‘journey is the reward’.

The great irony here, of course, is that schools are not necessarily learning organizations, particularly for faculty, but that’s a subject for another time and another place. Suffice it to say that in a learning organization we would talk about the relationship between failing ambitiously and succeeding cautiously.

Larson on Legacy Preferences as Titles of Nobility

ballcrown320.jpgCarlton Larson’s article on the “Unconstitutionality of Legacy Preferences in Public School Admissions” is provocative, persuasive, and beautifully written. I read its seamless synthesis of legal history and constitutional advocacy at one sitting, and I think anyone interested in egalitarian thought would do well to consult it. As its precis states,

[The Article] sets forth a framework for building a modern jurisprudence under the Nobility Clauses and concludes that legacy preferences are blatantly inconsistent with the Constitution’s prohibition on hereditary privilege. Indeed, the closest analogues to such preferences in American law are the notorious “grandfather clauses” of the Jim Crow South, under which access to the ballot was predicated upon the status of one’s ancestors. The Article considers a variety of counterarguments supporting the practice of legacy preferences and concludes that none of them are sufficient to surmount the Nobility Clauses’ prohibition of hereditary privilege.

Larson’s piece is also impeccably timed, as controversy over admissions to elite universities heats up. Justice Talking featured a series of speakers on college admissions on last week’s podcast. As book after book reveals inequities in the system, apologists for privilege are mounting a counterattack. Larson’s article reminds us of what is at stake–no less than the egalitarian values at the core of the American Revolution’s rejection of British aristocracy.

Read More

3

Corporate College Presidents and Super-Sized Endowments

Yesterday The New York Times had two articles that left me thinking about university endowments. One discussed the increased Congressional pressure on charitable institutions to spend down their endowments; the other noted the soaring salaries of college presidents. Combined, the articles highlight the need to challenge conventional thinking about what constitutes a strong endowment.

The Times reports that in the last 10 years, the amount of assets held by non-profits has nearly doubled, to $2.5 trillion by the end of 2005. Educational institutions held almost $600 billion. (If nothing else, employees deciding whether to enroll in TIAA-CREF should take note of what compounding interest and tax-free gains can yield!) Private foundations are required to spend 5% of their assets each year; educational institutions are not subject to even this minimal requirement.

Grinnell College, with 1500 students and an endowment of over $1 billion, was highlighted in the Times article. Russell Osgood, Grinnell’s president, points out that Grinnell gave about $1 million more in financial aid than it received in revenue from tuition and fees. He also says,“We’re here to ensure the long-term health and function of Grinnell College. That’s our sole objective.” But the Times does not quote Osgood as explaining why more than $1 billion is necessary to protect a small liberal arts college against an economic downturn. Rather, Osgood says:

Society at large benefits from those monies being invested in our economy. . . . The United States has a problem with its rate of savings, and one of the few bright spots are colleges and universities, which are two of the largest contributors to the national rate of savings. Anyone thinking about reducing endowments should think long and hard about what that might do to the overall ability to generate jobs and fund good ideas.

Maybe, although no-one is suggesting that universities empty their coffers. And the national savings rate is what not alumni were thinking about when they wrote checks to their alma mater, or what Congress was considering when it extended favorable tax treatment to educational institutions and their donors.

Read More

25

Diversity?

Did you ever notice that law school hiring seems to aim for not-all-that-diverse diversity? It reminds me of a friend who claims to love Thai food and then orders everything “extra mild.” Does he like Thai food (as in embrace it) or does he simply embrace the idea of liking Thai food? It’s like the question I often ask my classes: Can you have a preference for a preference?

How is this like faculty hiring for diversity? My, admittedly unofficial, view is that when hiring committees look for candidates the pecking order is like this:

White elite eduated male

White elite ed. female

African American ed. elite male

African Americna ed. elite female

White non elite female

White non elite male

African American non elite female

African American non elite female

The ranking is, no surprise, consistent with social comfort and, let’s face it, given that there is no evidence that one group is better at law teaching than another and that law professors can “interpret” resumes to mean anything, social comfort plays a big role.

So, do law professors on average like the idea of embracing diversity or do they really embrace diversity? I think it’s the former and it’s not even close. They have a preference for a preference for diversity but the real preference is just not there.

So how would you recruit for actually diversity? No question in my mind that race is a big factor but how about these questions:

1. What was your father or mother’s occupation?

2. How much school did your father and mother complete?

3. How much student debt have you accumulated?

4. How many people do you know at an Ivy League school?

5. Ever worked at McDonalds, washed cars, or bagged groceries?

6. Anyone in your family on welfare.

7. Has anyone in your family done time?

8. Ever been out of the US?

9. What is the difference between rigatoni and zitti? (oops, sorry this one accidently came over from a completely different list)

When and if law faculties get serious about diversity, let me know.

0

Announcing Deanship Opening

We are seeking applicants for the position of Dean. The applicants should have some administrative experience although a prior deanship is not required. Some but not exceptional scholarly productivity is a requirement. Among the attributes that will be examined is the ability to work well with others. More specifically:

1. The dean should generally say yes to all faculty requests no matter how absurd.

2. The dean should not ask faculty to fill holes in the curriculum on a temporary basis.

3. The dean should make use of liberal summer research grants without expecting immediate – or any – results.

4. The dean should prepare massive glossy publications publicizing the scholarship of the faculty in lieu of actually requiring the production of scholarship.

5. Classes should not be scheduled on Monday or Friday or any day before 10:00 AM.

6. The deans should avoid controversy by shifting difficult issues to faculty committees, ignoring issues in hopes they will go away, or by redefining the issue

7. The dean should listen to no one except those on the faculty who he or she believes could influence the future of his or her deanship.

8. The dean should first and always think about the welfare of the faculty over that of the students.

The Search Committee is aware that there are many highly qualified decanal candidates and ask that interested applicants submit their resumes as soon as possible.

0

Law School Capture

My blogging schitk is grousing about legal education. I do this mainly on moneylaw and classsbias and serve as a technical advisor to privilegelaw – a blog that must be read starting earlier and moving to more recent. In many respects I think legal education has been captured by and run for the convenience of faculty who are far more often than not the children of privilege. (If you are already preparing to comment, I ask that you skip it if the comment is about a law professor who is not a child of privilege.) As I blog along this month these themes will become more developed. First, here is a test to examine your own school for its level of capture.

Before taking the test there are some clarifications. There is good and bad capture. I can imagine a law school captured by the faculty and, with or without help from the administration, run for the benefit of stakeholders. This would be faculty that is constantly asking “What should we be doing”? and matching it against what it is doing. On the other hand, capture can mean that a faculty runs the law school for its convenience with only modest limitations imposed by others and even here observing the limits are part of a pattern of self-interested behavior.

Second, from time to time I get an email that carries with it the assumption that all my grousing is about my own School. Wrong! The examples are not all taken from my School, and if you really called my bluff I would not bet that my school is any different than the average. So how does your school stack up on the capture quiz: (you can give your school partial points)

1. Are classes scheduled mid week and mid day even though it means conflicts that limit student choices? (1 point for a yes.)

2. Has you school seriously reviewed any of its foreign programs, centers, institutes or degree programs in the past two years? (1 point for a no.)

3. Does your school depend on adjuncts to teach mainline courses while offering small enrollment specialized courses taught by full time profs? (1 point for a yes)

4. Does your school have a high curve that is sometimes defended by not wanting to hurt the feelings of the students or other justifications that amount to “I do not want to actually have to evaluate someone?” (1 point for a yes)

5. Do colleagues propose programs that are needed even though they will not actually be teaching, traveling, or receiving a reduced teaching load if the program is adopted? (1 point for a no)

6. Can students graduate and take half or more of their classes on a pass/fail basis. (See question 4) (1 point for a yes)

7. Does your school encourage massive, barely supervised, externships that generate tuition dollars, provide free labor and, by the way, mean less teaching ? (1 point for a yes).

8. Does your administration mass mail glossy reports listing every conceivable thing faculty submit as reportable? (1 point for a yes).

9. Does your dean appear to be afraid to suggest that the School should do better and then hold people accountable? (1 point for a yes)

10. Is the norm that just about everyone is gone by 11 AM on Friday? (1 point for a yes)

If you scored a 10, it’s best to go into receivership and start from scratch.

If you are in the 7-9 range you will probably be a 10 soon.

If you are 4-6, I think you are average and a few hires could move you either way.

If you are 3 or less, congratulations.