Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Bad Stuff In Academia

Dear Colleagues:

There have recently been some news articles -- sometimes in publications that could be considered unlikely -- that shed light on what the academic world is all about these days. What these articles show isn’t good.

Let’s start with some articles relating to recruitment of professors and/or their salaries -- sometimes law school professors and sometimes other professors. On May 30th, The Chronicle Of Higher Education ran a story about the bitterness-causing divide in salary levels at universities. The basic point is that professors in professional schools like law, business and medicine make a ton more money than professors of English, library science, etc. The main, though not sole, excuse given for this is alleged competition from the private sector -- market forces are the culprit, you see.

Subsequently, in its June 14th issue, The National Law Journal ran an article on the so-called "star system" in law schools. The essence of this is that, to become or remain "elite" -- indeed, to be at the top of the "elite" -- law schools are recruiting big names and promising younger people like crazy. Deans and star professors claim that big money is not the draw, is not even involved if you believe these persons who must be avatars of the repeal of human nature. However, some deans admitted "that top law professors can make salaries in the range of $200,000 a year." In the range of $200,000 a year? That’s chicken feed for lots of law professors, as hinted in the very next sentence of the NLJ’s article, which says that a recent report in the Virginia student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, shows that full-time law professors at Virginia make from $74,000 to $350,000 a year. Being curious (nosy?), this blogger got from The Cavalier a list of the annual law school salaries at Virginia. The list for 2002 showed that no less than 24 professors made from $200,000 to $350,000, with most of them making a lot more than a "mere" $200,000. And that list is at least two years old. It is from sometime in 2002. God knows what these people will make in 2004-2005.

Virginia, I would estimate, is in competition with about 15 or 20 other law schools. This estimate is only a guess, but it is a guess based on about 40 years of experience. It likely is in competition with such schools as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, NYU, Georgetown, Duke, Chicago, Michigan, Texas, Stanford, Southern California and some others. So if Virginia is paying 24 professors at least $200,000 per year, and usually amounts well north of $200,000 per year, these other schools are likely doing the same.

Now let’s turn to buildings. For decades Dickinson Law School was a free standing law school of no great reputation in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A few years ago -- in accordance with what the American Bar Association accreditors have longed liked to see -- Dickinson was taken over by a university, Penn State. On June 25th, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article saying that Penn State is going to construct a new law building for Dickinson on the university’s main campus in State College, Pennsylvania. The cost? Sixty million dollars. That right. Sixty million dollars for a law school building. (The cost of the new law school building for the Suffolk Law school in Boston was $65 million, plus another five million for furniture and accoutrements.)

But $60 million is not the total cost for Penn State. Nope. It is spending another $25 million to renovate Dickinson’s current facilities in Carlisle, so that there will be two branches of The Dickinson School of Law of Pennsylvania State University. The total cost for the law school buildings is 85 million dollars. And there’s not even a cyclotron in them.

What does all this stuff about the star system and huge salaries and incredibly expensive buildings show? The obvious, I would say. Today the name of the game in the academic world, at least in the professional schools, is money. (The same, of course, is true in academic science.) Getting and spending money is what the academy is all about -- with students and their families footing a large part of the bill for the getting part.

We live in a time when universities would do well to think about, and to think about teaching, the values which much of this society has lost, and which have been extensively lost in the fields served by schools of law and business: the values of honesty, diligence, competence, a concern for social justice. But no. The universities, and the professional schools, are not thinking about or teaching these values. They are thinking about money instead. Just like the lawyers, the accountants, the businessmen, the politicians, the media and the others who are wrecking this country by dishonesty, lack of competence, celebrificaton, and the attitude of getting the most you can and screw everyone else. Not to mention the regular use of the immodest vertical pronoun to which politicians are addicted.

* * * * *

Bragging and immodesty being one of the curses of the society, a recent story in The Boston Globe bears notice. On June 11th, The Globe carried a story about a young man who started life as a migrant worker picking various fruits and other crops in California, but was now graduating with an MBA from the Harvard Business School. The Globe article was in many respects a feel good piece, but one point seemed two sided. The article said:

But being around self-assured classmates, many of them Ivy League graduates, taught Curiel the importance of speaking up for himself.

‘In my culture, you’re taught to be modest,’ he said. Harvard Business School ‘has taken a little of that out of me,’ he said.

Modesty is a trait learned by many of us who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. Yet, one subsequently learned that modesty was a disaster for anyone who wanted personal success. America is not Japan. Here modesty begets only lack of advancement. It begets only failure. As many have found out, success in America requires constant pushing and bragging. It requires one to constantly say, as our hack politicians all do, that "I" did this, and "I" did that, and "I" did the third, and "I" did the fourth, ad nauseam. Learning this lesson, by the way, has particularly been a problem for women apparently, because so many of them are taught from birth not to push themselves forward, and to think that competence will be recognized of its own accord. Not in America it won’t.

It is a shame, isn’t it, that a young man who made it from the fruit trees of California to the Harvard Business School has had to learn that one of the desirable attributes taught by his culture, modesty, just won’t hack it in the United States of Amerika, with a k. It is often said, mainly rightly in this man’s opinion, that the greatest benefit of higher education is not what you learn in class, but what you learn about how to conduct yourself in the world. The atmosphere of the Harvard Business School has taught this young man, rightly for Amerika, that getting somewhere will require lack of modesty, will require pushiness. How abysmal.

* * * * *

Lastly, onJune 13th The Times had a very lengthy article on the ten percent rule in Texas. Under this rule the top ten percent of the class at any public or private high school in Texas is automatically guaranteed admission to the University of Texas, described as the crown jewel of public higher education in that state. The ten percent rule is apparently causing all kinds of bitter and angry feelings because the need to accept the top ten percent from every high school has caused denial of admission to kids who do well, but are not in the top ten percent, at top public and private high schools in Texas. Those kids, it is said, are forced to go out of state to college.

Well, isn’t that just tough noogies. Imagine, kids from highly rated public and private high schools have to go out of state to school!! Like so many of us did in prior years. How terrible!!! What an awful injustice. Of course, those kids are getting into out-of-state schools -- nobody claims they are not. And obviously lots of their families can better afford to send them out of state than can the families of poor kids who are now getting into the University of Texas but never could get into it previously.

And by the way, why don’t some of those kids who can’t get into the University of Texas go to other good schools in Texas. There are a number of them, aren’t there? Or has all of Texas given up all of education for football?

There are several arguments on both sides of the argument over the ten percent rule in Texas, and some of them appear to be fairly decent. But that kids who do pretty well, but are not in the top ten percent at highly rated public schools (which are usually in wealthy areas?) or at (expensive?) private schools, will supposedly have to go to schools outside of Texas if they are not admitted to the University of Texas isn’t one of those good arguments.

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