Here I collect interesting long emails that I send, usually to my colleagues. I fear this may start looking like a web-log ('blog') which is not my intent. Maybe I'll include a table of contents sometime.
Affirmative Action: Devil's Advocates v. L&Econ
[Affirmative action was being discussed in view of the grant of certiorari to the challenge of Michigan Law's admissions as racially preferential. The previous message in the chain claimed that no objective standards for admissions exist, since the best "preferential adit" is better than the worst "regular admit," and that the preference of the progeny of alumni is more offensive since they offer no cultural enrichment to the students.]
2002/12/11: To continue the conversation about preferential admissions, a devil or her advocate would (1) question the contribution of affirmative-action admits to the college students' cultural education, and (2) point out that alum-progeny admits pose problems but do confer a tangible benefit to students. While the devil and her advocate would rest, a L&Econ scholar would proceed to make an interesting counter-argument (3, below).
(1) Colleges do try to attract people who will make their classrooms "different" and give their students "richer" eye-opening cultural experiences. They are called foreign students and the difference of their cultural baggage from the "median-culture student" is greater than any US student. Think genital mutilation, arranged forced marriages, and such. Hence, students from disadvantaged US-based groups are hardly making any contribution to the cultural experience of the median-culture student. Better to admit more students who have memorized Henry the Vth.
(2) At a law school that shall remain nameless, some thought it was quite noticeable who was an alum-progeny admit. It was a waste and a clumsy thing in the classroom, but students knew that tuition was lower (or aid greater) because of the alum's gifts and that this was a full-paying student. A student admitted because of disadvantaged social background slows down the class without any countervailing contribution. The devil who believes the social disadvantages will also tend to cause this student's future to not be as bright, will also believe that such students will not give as large gifts as alums.
The real question is why Universities use preferential admissions. Somehow, the policy-setters and residual claimants, the tenured folk, chose to favor admitting for reasons that suggest social engineering by, either, (1) providing superior education to a disadvantaged group, or (2) inducing greater social integration. The devil and her advocate would consider both reasons inadequate and rest their case.
(3) A law-and-economics scholar, by contrast, might point out that the policy induces greater equality in the long term. We know that equality is desirable but also that it is a public good. To the extent that a group exists, such as tenured folk at private universities, that accepts reduced rewards in order to provide the public good of greater equality, we should all be delighted. Without them, in order to achieve the same equality we'd have to incur a tax to fund a targeted improvement of the education of the disadvantaged groups. When the group making that choice is funded by taxes, as is the case with tenured folk in public universities, they may be just passing the cost of that policy to the taxpayers. Schools that are ostensibly public but that are financed by private sources, such as Michigan Law School, do not expose tax payers to this free-riding, so they should be allowed to engage in the equality-inducing social engineering of their choice. By the way, tenured folk are supposed to provide other public goods, such as basic research, so there might be some consistency here that is interesting.
It is worth comparing the rule of allowing equality-inducing social engineering by Universities to funding an equivalent improvement of the education of the disadvantaged groups through an optimal (income) tax. The optimal tax would, as any incremental income tax, reduce productivity in addition to distorting the education market. From the fact that private Universities make this social-engineering choice, we deduce that its cost does not reduce their productivity much and they somehow solve the problems of distortions in the market for education. Accordingly, the rule of allowing equality-inducing social engineering by Universities is a rule that achieves redistribution without the double-distortion that Shavell identified, and from which he concluded that only tax rules should redistribute. Thus, this rule can be added to the group of "exo-Shavellian" rules identified by Georgakopoulos, Solutions to the Intractability of Distributional Concerns (33 Rutgers L. Rev. 279-328, 2002). These rules redistribute at less cost than an optimal tax and are called exo-Shavellian in my next draft because they violate the barrier or boundary against redistribution that Shavell's double-distortion argument posits.
[The devil and her advocate would choose to not engage the difference of average performance from the idea that every admit under a reduced standard is inferior to every admit of a higher standard. People generalize even if told not to generalize, making stigma unavoidable for the admits under the reduced standard, but this is of little relevance for this argument, which also avoids the muckety-muck of talking about standardized scores with people who confuse rankings of averages with rankings of members.]
2002/12/06: I agree with ... that a weeklong reading period invites procrastination and poor preparation during the semester and induces
counter-productive reliance on cramming. My own vague recollection seems to be that a reading period of a week offered the danger of
2002/11/10: One of us asked me for specifics about my critical attitude about our speaker (whom you can guess, but whom I will leave nameless). I thought my answer was subject to debate, so here it is. In no way do I intend this to be interpreted as a criticism of the committee. Ironically, I feel this list of gripes is fairly complete, which is what makes other weaknesses you might see, interesting to me.
What was wrong with the talk: I rank my concerns from most grave to most easily excusable:
He never argued why the outcome was socially desirable (logical consistency is not social desirability). Actually by the end I was left wondering whether the opposite of his thesis was correct: that ... He came as a Law & Economics specialist and never aimed for social welfare (or whatever he might think L&E does) or uttered any L&E arguments.
He did not display mastery of the legal fields in which he traveled . Actually, he displayed confusion: (1) ... (2) ... (3) ...
He did not defend (or attempt to defend) any attacks against his thesis. He just backpedaled.
He had not thought through basic conflicts of his thesis with existing law. I expected to have heard more details about the supreme court opinion against the thesis, or the congressional view of the policy. Can a S.Ct. opinion fall without making any sound?
He had not thought through rudimentary consequences of his thesis. Is it pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant? If neither, why is it good? If it produces accuracy, why is accuracy desirable? If so, why should the federal court budget subsidize accurate state adjudication?
He had not thought through alternative means or interpretations for obtaining the same outcome, mostly tax, or state law.
He did not even realize his talk bombed, which would indicate openness and the existence of feedback mechanisms.
He showed lack of curiosity and pizzazz , by not pursuing details about ...
Ruminations on Chair Allocation and Fundraising
2002/10/23: The details of the chairs are a bit messy. The new chairs are not in any specific field, and they are four. Moreover, two of the new chairs are more generous than some existing chairs. As a result, some faculty members already holding existing chairs will apply to trade up. Faculty members without chairs (like me, but I just joined this faculty) are applying to get any chair, either one of the new chairs or one of the old chairs that are vacated. Thus, the candidates are, potentially, all the members of this faculty and we are each a candidate for all chairs, all new and potentially all existing chairs.
Chaotic as this seems, it makes some internal sense as a meritocratic scheme. Perhaps it has fundraising weaknesses. I imagine a Dean soliciting funding for a chair in a specific field where a strong candidate exists might be expected to raise more money than if the new funds were going to be up for grabs. The full-blown chairs (unlike these mere professorships) are also designed to attract outsiders. If some areas of scholarship, such as corporate, attract more funding (does it?) this scheme undermines the possibility of the differentiation of faculty remuneration depending on the funding "demand".
Subject: Technological Breakthrough in Teaching!
Sent: Wednesday, October 09, 2002 1:30 PM
I just realized a teaching technological gain I wish to share. I found an inexpensive and easy way to project blackboard drawings through the classroom projectors.
Having used the touchscreen SMARTboard in small room 39?, I was very impressed by the results. I am a very heavy blackboard user, and the computer let me write in a way that was more legible for the students, and most importantly, let me flip back and forth to alternative drawings (blackboard screens). Rather than a jumbled blackboard full of erasures and rewritings, I am left with a sequence of [relatively] clear screens. I was looking to replicate this for the large classroom. Laptops were inadequate because they do not let one draw on the screen. The new "tablet" computers sounded promising, but their $2,000 starting price did not invite experimentation.
Surfing the net, I found a "handheld" computer with a touchscreen, that used to be made by NEC, that has a VGA-out port that can project the screen with a resolution of 600x800 (NEC's site's description). A search for "MobilePro 880" (not the 780, that projects a smaller screen) revealed that used ones with the AC power supply are sold for $300+shipping. I had to buy the VGA cable adapter from a different Ebay seller for another $27+shipping (search for MobilePro VGA cable"; I hope the links work; if you can wait and don't use "buy it now" you can get the cable for $17). The built-in pocket version of Windows (Windows CE) includes "pocket" versions of Word (no footnotes) Excel (I can't notice the difference) and PowerPoint (no animations, must import presentations from PC, I must buy an infrared port for the PC if I decide to use PowerPoint; search for "USB Infrared", one now at $11+shipping). More importantly, one of the included programs is a drawing notepad called InkWriter (Microsoft's description). Although it is not as good a blackboard as the dedicated software of the SMARTboard, it worked fabulously in class. The drawback is that you are restricted to background colors of white or yellow, while a black background seems to work best. An advantage is that the notepad keeps extending down as you draw, rather than the SMART board's restriction to the size of the screen. I kept drawing and scrolling down for more room, then scrolled back up if I needed to display previous drawings. Scrolling was a little less precise than switching screens on the SMARTboard (I almost omitted its link) and, as I have not linked the MobilePro to the PC, I won't be able to upload the drawings to OnCourse. The students definitely liked it, but missed the screeching of the chalk on the board. I only regret not being bathed in the chalk-dust that I so enjoy.
If you want a demonstration, please come by my office or, better yet, come to my class Mondays or Wednesdays 10:20 to 11:40 room 300 (if you ask good questions or make good comments you might earn a Hershey Kiss!). If you want to access the internet, the MobilePro can be equipped with an "Ethernet" PC card that will link to the network and the outside world, but I do not anticipate doing that (searching for "PCMCIA ethernet" reveals they are at $12-$25). By the way, my class is open to visitors, particularly if they are willing to ask questions and otherwise animate the class. The syllabus is accessible through my website, under the link "Teaching". Surprisingly, we are about a week behind schedule, maintaining my 0% record of semesters that I have managed to follow the syllabus's timing.
Nicholas "the awed tinkerer" Georgakopoulos
On Prestige versus Teaching and Colegiality
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2001 12:43 PM
Subject: Re: Pursuing Prestige is Paramount!!!!
I am delighted and tormented by the prestige discussion I am delighted because it is fundamentally crucial for us. I am tormented because it consumes a lot of time and energy. If my own self-interest dominated, I would stay silent. Because prestige as a measure of service to society motivates me, I speak and I thank Mary for the initiation of this discussion and all participants for advancing it.
I want to address here Mary's comments about (1) consumerism versus social good (2) collegiality and (3) the underserved and prestige as a fund-raising trick, (4) Franc's comments about fad scholarship and (5) George's comments about excessive glossy brochures.
1. Consumers or Society?
Mary's answer that the primacy of prestige implies a consumer view of legal education is incorrect and could not be farther from my intent. If the consumer were paramount our only obligation would be to the consumers, the students, and we should be teaching as in high schools: 40 hours per week, with many exams and close monitoring of homework, etc.
Prestige moves the focus from this consumer-centered view, to place the focus on society. We derive prestige by promoting the interest of society in a better legal system. This justifies scholarship and service because scholarship and service further the improvement of the legal system.
Mary's also raises the issue of collegiality. Should we not be proud of our collegiality? Yes. But let me ask back: How does our collegiality promote society's greater good? In some ways it may, and in some others it does not. Suppose, for example, that a conflict between collegiality and prestige exists because the rewards to prestige-getting members of the faculty undermine collegiality. If we were to ignore prestige, we could produce ample collegiality. Nevertheless, if we are truly public-spirited we should not acquiesce to this because it abdicates our responsibility to society, in exchange for the pursuit of our own well-being (furthered by collegiality). Since prestige is earned by improving the legal system, pursuing prestige is a service to society. In some ways, pursuing collegiality is a service to us alone.
3. The Underserved by the Legal Community
Mary also raises the specter of the segment of society that is underserved by the legal community. If we pursue prestige we will serve those more than if we serve them individual by individual. A good example is Peter Scheck's [sp?] uncovering that many (most?) death row inmates are exonerated by DNA evidence. This is service to a group greater than the individual clients--all minorities--that earns Scheck much prestige. Saving a single individual does not have nearly as much impact. As we choose our service, we must be cognizant that it should directly or indirectly be to groups. Prestige probably measures that feature very well. Changing a finding of fact is service to an individual that does not promote group interests or improve the legal system. Changing interpretation or the law by appellate litigation does promote group interests and also leads to prestige. Being involved with law-change organizations, such as the ACLU or the ALI, does exactly that.
Mother Theresa also fits here nicely. I think that her prestige was not due to the help she gave individual-by-individual but to the mass-help she produced by creating orphanages and other such group-position-improving institutions. The fact that prestige, in this way, attracts funding, is a good consequence that shows the world works. Those who can produce mass-good are funded. If we mass-serve we will be funded. Great!
4. Underappreciated Teaching Skills and Fad Scholarship Directions
Frank's comments about the comparative weight that is placed on scholarship and teaching are very important. I also share Frank's annoyance at fad scholarship, but I doubt it is the result of proper prestige-seeking; I think it is the result of a false way of seeking prestige. The two concerns are linked.
If scholarship could be accurately assessed for its importance to the legal system, the rewards to scholarship should and would depend on the importance (quality) of the scholarship. Then there would be little fear of this reward structure inciting infantile scholarship at the expense of teaching. The solid scholarship which would earn rewards, would also earn prestige, and to the extent it compromised teaching, this compromise would be desirable by society (and its representatives at the legislature who fund us). Infantile scholarship would not earn rewards, it would be abandoned and efforts would return to teaching.
5. Glossy brochures
Some marketing is necessary and desirable, but marketing, like anything else, can be overdone. When a school spends on glossy brochures the question is whether it would earn more prestige by spending the same money elsewhere. To the extent glossy brochures help scholarship reach its destined readers (judges, legislators, practicing lawyers and what not) and to advertise that event it is good. To the extent it beats an empty drum, it is not. If empty-drum-beating earns prestige, we are faced with an error that must be repaired.
In sum, I am increasingly convinced of the accuracy of my position that prestige is paramount. Prestige is the reward for helping society and if we want to help society we must pursue it. Only if we acknowledge that we want to pursue other interests, our own or our students', only then should we abandon prestige-seeking. I should not be surprised if the legislature does not view favorably such a change in our mission.