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Joan Rivers

[ 36 ] September 4, 2014 |

When I started out, a pretty girl did not go into comedy. If you saw a pretty girl walk into a nightclub, she was automatically a singer. Comedy was all white, older men. It was Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Shelley Berman, Red Skelton … even Amos and Andy were white men, which is hilarious if you think about it.

Phyllis Diller was happening right before me. But even Phyllis was a caricature, and I didn’t want to be a caricature. I was a college graduate; I wanted to get married.

I didn’t even want to be a comedian. Nobody wanted to be a comedian. Nowadays, everyone wants to be a comedian. You look at a Whitney Cummings, who is so beautiful — she wanted to be a comedian! I wanted to be an actress. I was an office temp when one secretary said to me: “You’re very funny. You should go do stand-up, be a comedian. They make $6 a night some places.” And I said, “That’s more than I’m making as an office temp” — I made eight, but I had to also pay for my Correcto-Type because I was a lousy speller — so I thought, “Oh, I could do that and have days free to make the rounds.” And that’s why I became a comedian.

I had no idea what I was doing. The white men were doing “mother-in-law” and “my wife’s so fat …” jokes. It was all interchangeable. Bob Hope would walk into a town and say, “The traffic lights in this town are so slow that …” and it could be any town. When I went onstage, that just didn’t feel right. So I just said, “Let me talk about my life.” It was at the moment when Woody Allen was saying, “Let me talk about my life,” and George Carlin was saying, “Maybe I’ll talk about my life.” So I came in at the right moment.

My group was Woody and George and Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby. Rodney Dangerfield. Dick Cavett. All the ones who were coming up at the same time. But I never was one of the guys. I was never asked to go hang out; I never thought about it until later. They would all go to the Stage Delicatessen afterward and talk. I never got to go uptown and have a sandwich with them. So, even though I was with them, I wasn’t with them.

Everybody broke through ahead of me. I was the last one in the group to break through, or to be allowed to break through. Looking back, I think it was because I was a woman. Because in those days, they would come down to the Village and look at you for Johnny Carson. I was the very last one of the group they put on the Carson show.

I was brought up seven times to the Carson show — interviewed and auditioned seven times by seven different people, and they rejected me, each time, over a period of three years. Then Bill Cosby was filling in, and the comedian that night bombed. Bill said to the booking producer, Shelly Schultz: “Joan Rivers couldn’t be any worse than this guy. Why don’t you use her?” And that’s when they put me on the show. But they didn’t bring me on as a stand-up comic. They brought me on as a funny girl writer. I’m the only stand-up that never did a stand-up routine on the Carson show.

Carson, give him credit, said on air in 1965, “You’re gonna be a star.” Right smack on the air.

I adored Johnny. In the ’70s, I did opening monologues, I was hosting. The turning point was when I left the show. Everybody left the show to go to do their own shows. Bill Cosby. David Brenner. George Carlin. Everybody. I stuck around for 18 years. And they finally offered me my own late-night show.

The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again. And then denied that I called him. I couldn’t figure it out. I would see him in a restaurant and go over and say hello. He wouldn’t talk to me.

I kept saying, “I don’t understand, why is he mad?” He was not angry at anybody else. I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him. I know this sounds very warped. But I don’t understand otherwise what was going on. For years, I thought that maybe he liked me better than the others. But I think it was a question of, “I found you, and you’re my property.” He didn’t like that as a woman, I went up against him.

And I was put up against him. In the press, he said, “She didn’t call me, and she was so terrible.” When you’ve told the truth and you read a lie, there’s nothing you can do about it. To this day, I’m very angry about that. Don’t f—in’ lie. You’re making, what, $300 million a year? What are you talking about? And I was going on Fox. Fox didn’t even have call letters at that point. Fox wasn’t Fox. Fox was six stupid little stations.

Looking back, and I never like to say it, the Carson breakup hurt me a lot, without realizing it. Even now, with our reality show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? or Fashion Police, when I say, “No, this is wrong,” people say: “See? She is a bitch. She is a c—.” If I were a man, they’d say: “So brilliant. He’s tough, but he’s right.” Nobody ever says to me, “You’re right.”

I have a friend. She was a producer at NBC and so brilliant. And they fired her because she was very abrasive. Lorne Michaels has a reputation of being a tough nut. But they all say, “That Lorne, he’s mean, but he’s brilliant.”

This woman, they said, “Oh, she’s too nasty.” But she pulled in the numbers.

It’s very tough in the business. My act consists of my gown that I carry and two spotlights and a microphone. I’ll do my sound check, and sometimes they’re not happy when I say, “The sound isn’t right,” or “Can we try other lights?” Because they’re men at the board.

And lighting is very key for a woman, especially. I’ve been in the business almost 50 years — I know my f—ing lighting. And there is always pushback from the lighting people. They just don’t want to hear it from a woman. They just don’t want to give you that cookie.

I don’t want to hear that male comics want someone to match wits with. No, they don’t. They want someone to sit there and gaze at them adoringly. That’s still what they want. The upside is, they don’t get to wear the pretty clothes. They don’t get to have the pretty dressing room. Women comedians get the private bathroom first.

During women’s lib, which was at its height in the ’70s, you had to say: “F— the men. I could do better.” I think women did themselves a disservice because they wouldn’t talk about reality. Nobody wanted to say, “I had a lousy date” or “He left me.” But if that’s your life, that’s what they wanna hear. If you look around, very few women comics came out of the ’70s. It really started again in the ’90s, when they realized, it’s all right to say you wanna get married. It’s all right to say I wanna be pretty. That’s also part of your life. Thank God. Because now you know, we’ve got Whitney. I love Whitney. I think what she does is so smart. Sarah Silverman, oh my God. You just look at them and go: Good girls.

I love stand-up — the connection with an audience is awesome. I just played Royal Albert Hall, which is 4,500 people, probably not a lot for some. But for me, it was amazing. The energy! From the beginning, and to this day, I would never tell a lie onstage. So now I walk out, I go, “I’m so happy to see you,” and I really truly am so happy to see them. The one thing I brought to this business is speaking the absolute truth. Say only what you really feel about the subject. And that’s too bad if they don’t like it. That’s what comedy is. It’s you telling the truth as you see it.

I think it was Cosby who also said to me, “If only 2 percent of the world thinks you’re funny, you’ll still fill stadiums for the rest of your life.”

My advice to women comedians is: First of all, don’t worry about the money. Love the process. You don’t know when it’s gonna happen. Louis C.K. started hitting in his 40s; he’d been doing it for 20 years. And don’t settle. I don’t want to ever hear, “It’s good enough.” Then it’s not good enough. Don’t ever underestimate your audience. They can tell when it isn’t true. Also: Ignore your competition. A Mafia guy in Vegas gave me this advice: “Run your own race, put on your blinders.” Don’t worry about how others are doing. Something better will come.

Ignore aging: Comedy is the one place it doesn’t matter. It matters in singing because the voice goes. It matters certainly in acting because you’re no longer the sexpot. But in comedy, if you can tell a joke, they will gather around your deathbed. If you’re funny, you’re funny. Isn’t that wonderful?

If there is a secret to being a comedian, it’s just loving what you do. It is my drug of choice. I don’t need real drugs. I don’t need liquor. It’s the joy that I get performing. That is my rush. I get it nowhere else.

What pleasure you feel when you’ve kept people happy for an hour and a half. They’ve forgotten their troubles. It’s great. There’s nothing like it in the world. When everybody’s laughing, it’s a party. And then you get a check at the end. That’s very nice.

I’ve been told this is a good documentary.

Will life be worth living after Derek Jeter’s retirement?

[ 106 ] September 4, 2014 |

field of dreams

Not the Onion:

The New York Yankees announced Tuesday that the team will wear a patch of Derek Jeter’s final-season logo on all player hats and uniforms from Sunday, the day that the shortstop will be honored at Yankee Stadium, through the end of the season.

There’s an actual Derek Jeter “final season logo?” For he IS the Kwisatz Haderach!

Meanwhile let us not begrudge a bit of beak-wetting among the solemn ceremonials:

The baseballs with Jeter logos that will be put in play on Sunday, and the uniforms used in the game and throughout the rest of the season will be sold by Steiner Sports, company president Brandon Steiner said.

New Era is selling a limited-edition three-cap box of Derek Jeter commemorative hats for $150.
Steiner also has an exclusive autograph deal with Jeter and has been selling more than 200 Jeter-signed products, including game-used jerseys that retail for $25,000.

Leading up to Jeter’s final games, an even greater flow of merchandise has hit the shelves. New Era is selling a three-cap box of Jeter hats for $150. The hats, which are available only at Yankee Stadium and official Yankees stores, are limited to 2,014 sets.

A man’s got to feed his family. (Per Baseball Reference Jeter has collected $265,000,000 in salary over the years.)

LGM is celebrating The Final Month of Derek Jeter’s Final Season with an official commemorative Derek Jeter Two Minute Hate:

(1) Derek Jeter has become in his logoized Final Season a truly awful player. Indeed he might be the worst regular in the entire league. The Yankees keep putting his .310 OBP and .312 SA at the top of the lineup because he’s Derek Jeter, and continue to play him at a key defensive position even though at this point he has the range of a sleeper sofa, and doing so is actively harming their already-tenuous postseason hopes.

(2) Derek Jeter and Alan Trammell had, per the most advanced metrics, essentially indistinguishable careers, in terms of regular-season value to their teams (Jeter played in a year’s worth of post-season games because he was on a bunch of great teams: games in which he played no better or worse than he did during the rest of his career, despite the endless hosannas to his reputed clutchiosity.) Trammell remains largely ignored by HOF voters, while Jeter is going to have a national monument put up on the DC mall eventually.

(3) Derek Jeter may or may not be an admirable person generally. His baseball career tells us exactly nothing about that. This insight is brought to you courtesy of People Who Are More than 12 Years Old (and don’t cover sports for a living).

The best nightclub in New Jersey

[ 130 ] September 3, 2014 |

Las Vegas casinos invariably give me the creeps. (My entry in a Saddest Place on Earth contest was “Nine PM Christmas Eve, all you can eat buffet, Caesar’s Palace”). I can only imagine the unspeakable dread evoked by a few nights in Atlantic City.

Revel Casino Hotel opened with a bang a little more than two years ago amid high hopes of turning around Atlantic City’s struggling casino market.

But the $2.4 billion resort went out with a whimper in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday, as its casino closed one day after the hotel checked out its last guest. . .

“It’s a … shame,” said Ruthie Fenimore of Warren, New Jersey, one of the last gamblers to play at Revel on Tuesday. “I really love this place. This place would be perfect if it was in Las Vegas. It would be right up there with Wynn. All the restaurants were awesome and HQ is the best nightclub I’ve ever been to in New Jersey. I remember the first time I came here, I was lying on the bed opening and closing the curtains with a remote control. It blew my mind. The bathroom was bigger than my home.” . . .

Revel had been slated to close at 6 a.m., but staff shut it down 35 minutes early, pulling yellow chains across its entrances, and herding the small handful of gamblers that remained inside toward the doors. A pre-recorded announcement programmed in advance blared through loudspeakers precisely at 6 a.m., saying “Attention: Revel Casino is now closed.” Immediately, lights began snapping off inside the glass-covered building, built to appear as it if had been sculpted by waves.

But Revel had gone mostly dark hours earlier. Its hotel, shaped like the 1950s cartoon character Gumby, was closed on Monday, and it was virtually invisible in the early morning darkness. The iconic ball atop the building, designed by the son of actor Frank Gorshin, who played “The Riddler” on the “Batman” TV series, was also turned off, and the only illumination was two emergency red lights at the very top of the structure to warn away approaching aircraft.

Apparently four of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos are closing this year. Of course this is all a product of the gusts of creative destruction unleashed by gradually legalizing gambling from coast to coast. (A few months ago I drove from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo, MI, and noticed that half the billboards were advertising either “gaming” establishments, or bankruptcy services.)

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

[ 99 ] September 2, 2014 |

“I quit,” I said, my black leather carrying bag already over my shoulder. I’d imagined this scene for years, a triumphant take-this-job delivery followed by my supervisor’s wounded expression.

His face barely registered emotion as he said, “Go tell human resources.”

I worked for a respected social policy research organization, where Barack Obama had applied for a job before he was president. For seven years I’d sat in a windowless office and formatted reports in Microsoft Word. I sauntered to human resources like a movie inmate on his final walk of freedom through Shawshank prison.

Forty-two and single, I was jumping without a net into the potential person I was meant to be. I’d watched Larry Smith’s famous TED Talk about following one’s passion, and enrolled in an advertising portfolio class. I was determined to rebrand myself as a digital copywriter.

“Good for you,” my father said. “We’re meant to take risks. Read ‘Start-Up Nation’!”

You can probably guess where this story is going.

People want to do meaningful, creative, and fulfilling work, while getting paid to do it, which is great.

In America, people are told from an early age that this is a realistic aspiration for them, which is not so great, since for 96.32% of the population, that turns out to be untrue.

I’ve read or at least skimmed thousands of personal statements in law school applications over the years, and not once has anybody said “I want to be a lawyer because it’s a high-status occupation that pays well.” Instead everybody wants to be a lawyer so they can do meaningful, creative, and fulfilling work.

The cynic assumes these people are lying, to the schools, or themselves, or both. The pessimist assumes they’re telling the truth.

What’s going on at Suffolk?

[ 56 ] September 1, 2014 |

Just days before the start of the new school year, Suffolk University Wednesday abruptly replaced president James McCarthy with a year remaining on his contract, and tapped a veteran educator with a reputation for turning around struggling colleges to serve as interim leader.

At an afternoon meeting, the university’s board of trustees voted unanimously to appoint Norman R. Smith, 68, who is best known for his tenure at Wagner College in New York City, where he led a small school on the brink of closing to new prominence.

Smith, who will begin next week, said he was first approached about the Suffolk position just two weeks ago.

“This has happened very fast,” he said. “They didn’t want to go internally, but wanted to have a seamless start for the fall.”

The law school seems to be at the center of the school’s financial problems:

The unexpected change in leadership comes as Suffolk seeks to stabilize its finances and attract students in the college-dense region. Facing a decline in enrollment and revenue, the university announced in June it would freeze employee salaries for the next fiscal year. It also offered buyouts to all law school faculty members with tenure or renewable long-term contracts.

Unfortunately the university’s most recent publicly available tax filings are now two years old, but they reveal a heavily tuition-dependent school with a small endowment and very large bond liabilities (I assume the latter are products of the typical grandiose building schemes that have infested the American higher ed empire over the course of the last generation).

In FY2012 Suffolk was carrying nearly $400,000,000 in debt, versus total assets of just over $600,000,000, half of which were comprised of the downtown Boston real estate which the school currently occupies. Almost 95% of the school’s revenue came from tuition. The school paid its former president David Sargent — his presidential tenure was from 1989 through 2010 — just under $1.2 million in FY2012, which seems like a very prolonged and passionate golden handshake. Sargent began his “academic” career as a member of Suffolk law school faculty, and eventually became the school’s dean. The law school’s then-new building was named after him in 1999 in the midst of his reign, which seems rather tacky, but I’m probably failing to appreciate what a “transformative” figure he was etc. etc. (Actually he appears to have been forced out in 2010, after much outcry over his increasingly grotesque compensation packages).

Speaking of the law school, the striking news that the university has offered buyouts to all of its tenured faculty raises some questions regarding the school’s financial status. Suffolk Law by itself generates about one fifth of the university’s total tuition revenue. Recall that tuition revenue makes up almost all of the university’s operating income, so the if the law school catches a cold the larger institution may soon develop pneumonia.

What’s the impetus for trying to seriously downsize the law faculty? Is the law school losing money, or not making enough surplus income for the university? I’ve calculated how much net tuition revenue the law school cranked out in FY2013 per full-time faculty member:

Full time sticker tuition: $24.8 million
Full time discounted tuition: $15.7 million
Part time sticker tuition: $12.6 million
Part time discounted tuition: $4.4 million
Total JD tuition revenue: $57.5 million
Non JD tuition revenue: $1.3 million
Total tuition revenue: $58.8 million
Total tuition revenue per full-time faculty member: $632,258

Note this isn’t the law school’s total revenue, as it omits endowment income, annual gifts, grants and contracts, rentals etc. Let’s assume all of the latter comprise only 5% of the law school’s total revenue (frankly it probably isn’t much higher than that). That would mean the school was generating around $670,000 in annual revenue per full-time faculty member in FY2013 (the school’s dozens of adjuncts are of course paid next to nothing — probably a few hundred thousand dollars collectively).

It’s hard to believe the law school can’t generate some surplus income for the university on the basis of those figures, despite the inevitable existence of various Assistant Vice Deans For Achieving Bureaucratic Rectitude, paying the debt on the school’s fancy relatively new digs, and so forth. On the other hand, the law school is dealing with plunging demand: while class sizes have yet to be much affected, the school has moved from a mildly selective to a quasi-open admissions model. In 2004 the school admitted 40% of its applicants; last year that figure was 77%, and the median LSAT score of matriculating students has plunged from the 67th to the 41st percentile.

All this raises the question of whether the ongoing crisis in American legal education is creating an opportunity for central university administrators to engage in draconian cuts, in order to restore their law schools to something of a cash cow status, after years of profligate law school spending in the severely negative sum pursuit of rankings and “prestige.” Of course the answer to that question will vary across institutions, but at many universities I suspect the answer will be yes.

Law school discovers giving away a formerly expensive service increases demand

[ 18 ] August 31, 2014 |

UC Davis law school dean Kevin Johnson was crowing to the media last week about a surge in applications to his school, in the midst of a shrinking national applicant pool that has hit California schools particularly hard:

Law school applications nationwide dropped again in 2014. But at least one California school is defying the trend.

UC-Davis School of Law saw its applicant pool surge by nearly 25 percent.

The school had ramped up outreach efforts and eliminated its $75 application fee, said Dean Kevin Johnson, adding that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the results.

UC Davis received 3,007 applications, nipping at the heels of UC-Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, which received 3,118. . .

“I do think the market is coming back,” he said. “And I do think the nay sayers of law schools and being a lawyer, their days are limited in number.”

Davis got 2,420 applications in 2013, when the school was charging $75 to apply. Readers may be wondering why dropping the price of applying from $75 to zero produced such a relatively modest increase in applications: the answer, in part, is that to apply to an ABA law school you have to pay LSAC $21 to process your application materials, in addition to whatever the individual school charges, so applying to Davis still costs money.

I bet Dean Johnson would be “pleasantly surprised” by yet another surge in applications in this coming application cycle if Davis started actually paying people to apply (by for example sending them an I-tunes gift card, although I imagine cash money would be even more effective, if somewhat less discreet).

Leaving aside the dishonesty and/or cluelessness of touting an increase in demand that’s almost wholly the product of a 100% price cut, Johnson’s crack about “the market’s” comeback, and how this comeback augers the Twilight of the Naysayers makes no sense on its face, since he’s boasting about how well Davis is doing in comparison to a steep ongoing decline at other law schools. (Note that even with the increase produced by its new giveaway strategy, applications to Davis are still down 25% relative to four years ago).

UC Davis Law School resident tuition and mandatory fees:

2002: $11,502

2014: $50,712

Will American University’s law school sue students who drop out or transfer?

[ 46 ] August 28, 2014 |

That’s the question that’s raised by a provision of the school’s Public Interest/Public Service scholarship.

The terms of the scholarship include the following:

Scholars will be expected to maintain matriculation at the Washington College of Law until graduation. Absent compelling circumstances, a scholar who chooses to withdraw or transfer from the law school will be required to pay back the full amount of tuition within 30 days of the end of the last semester of enrollment plus any other WCL grants or scholarships. As a condition of receiving the scholarship, incoming PIPS Scholars will be asked to sign a form indicating their understanding and acceptance of the foregoing terms and conditions of the award.

(There’s no indication on the school’s web site that this is actually a scholarship in the traditional sense of the word, that is, money flowing from an endowment for the purpose which replaces the student’s payment. Instead it looks like a straight tuition discount, which of course means that the vast majority of American’s students who are getting little or no discount off sticker tuition — see below — are actually paying for these “scholarships”).

The PIPS is a full-tuition scholarship, which means a recipient who drops out of law school or transfers to another after the first year will be required to pay the school $49,542 within 30 days of doing so, while a student who drops out after his or her second year is supposed to write the school a check for $100,000 immediately. Let’s put aside for the moment the question of how this much blood is going to be squeezed out of these particular stones, and note a few other details.

(1) For the first five years of its existence — the program was created in 2001 — the scholarship had no repayment obligation of any kind, but recipients were expected to commit to working for at least three of their first five years after graduation for a public interest entity.

(2) Starting in 2006, this condition was added:

Scholars will be expected to maintain matriculation at the Washington College of Law until graduation. Absent compelling circumstances, a scholar who chooses to withdraw or transfer from the law school will have the scholarship converted to a loan and be subject to repayment to the law school.

(3) This year, the conversion of the scholarship to a loan was replaced with the obligation to pay the entire amount of the scholarship immediately.

Questions:

*As a formal matter, is this new condition legally enforceable? Offhand, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, but my knowledge of contract law is shall we say a bit tenuous at this point, so perhaps a real lawyer or three might want to weigh in.

*As a practical matter, is American actually going to sue somebody who transfers or drops out? In regard to marketing considerations, such a step would seem to make Memories of Butter look like a good idea. Not to mention that 23-year-old law school drop outs and transfers usually don’t have $50,000 stuck in their couch cushions.

*Why did American change the terms of the scholarship? Were too many recipients thumbing their nose at the putative conversion of the scholarship to a school-issued loan and bailing after the first year? (A big chunk of the top of American’s class transfers each year, often to Georgetown or GW).

In regard to this last point, it’s worth noting that American is a famously stingy law school, that gives out very few large scholarships. For example, last year only 38 of 1,522 students were getting full rides, and 97% of the student body was paying more than half sticker (fully 57% was paying sticker). This results in a situation where the 88% of 2013 American grads who had law school debt probably had an average of more than $200,000 in educational debt when their first payments came due in November (The average 2013 American grad who took out law school loans took out $158,636 in such loans, which means that with accrued interest and origination fees this person had close to $190,000 in law school debt alone, not counting undergraduate or other debt).

So it’s a little mysterious as to why American is going to such lengths to keep the tiny handful of its students who have full tuition scholarships from transferring. The LSAT and GPA scores of these students do nothing to protect the school’s plummeting medians, because the only scores that count for ranking and disclosure purposes are those of entering students (which is one reason GULC and GW are more than happy to poach the top of American’s class every year). The marginal cost to the school of these students’ attendance is of course close to zero. The only interest American would seem to have in trying to keep them captive is that they may on average have better job prospects than those of the typical American grad, and the school doesn’t want to lose even one student who might actually get a job as a lawyer.

America’s gun fetishism

[ 267 ] August 27, 2014 |

Yesterday a nine-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed a 39-year-old instructor at a firing range designed to cater to Las Vegas tourists.

Sprawling across more than 30 acres in the Mojave desert 26 miles from Vegas, Bullets and Burgers advertises itself as an “Outdoor Machine Gun Adventure” with a “Desert Storm atmosphere.” “Our guests have the opportunity to fire a wide range of fully automatic machine guns and specialty weapons,” the Web site says. “At our range, you can shoot FULL auto on our machine guns. … Let ‘em Rip!”

The shooting range’s Web site says the minimum age for the “ground adventure” is 8, and children ages 8 to 17 “must be accompanied by parent or legal guardian at all times.”

She lost control of an Uzi sub-machine gun when the instructor allowed her to fire it in its automatic mode. The video below captures the moments immediately before the accident, and cuts away at the moment the instructor is shot (you can hear the girl scream however).

Fans of the Second Amendment and the Rule of Law will be relieved to learn that nothing illegal took place during this incident:

The sheriff said no citations would be issued and no charges would be filed against the shooting range because it is a licensed, legal operation.

Butter and the Before Time

[ 127 ] August 26, 2014 |

Memories of Butter?

memories

This is an acceptable name for something only if dairy cows have been obliterated by whichever flavor of apocalypse comes home to roost. In between shifts at the sludge plant you smear Memories of Butter on your protein cube and weep silently when the child who doesn’t know any better asks you what it was like during the Before Time.

In a world where there is butter, this is literally the worst possible marketing. The butter is three feet away. Once moved to action by the memory of butter, you can reach out and acquire butter. Our operative theory was that it was badly mistranslated from French, or at least there was something lost in translation. What that could possibly be we do not know.

Perhaps the Canadian friends of LGM can help explain.

Some years ago, my brother was working at a big recording studio on an ad campaign for a butter substitute product. The tag line for the ad campaign was “Tastes Like Butter.” After many, many hours of recording ads, the lawyers came in at the last minute and insisted that the tag be changed to “Buttery Taste.”

Butter. I don’t care what they tell you they’re putting or not putting in your food at your favorite
restaurant, chances are, you’re eating a ton of butter. In a professional kitchen, it’s almost
always the first and last thing in the pan. We sauté in a mixture of butter and oil for that nice
brown, caramelized color, and we finish nearly every sauce with it (we call this monter au
beurre); that’s why my sauce tastes richer and creamier and mellower than yours, why it’s got
that nice, thick, opaque consistency. Believe me, there’s a big crock of softened butter on
almost every cook’s station, and it’s getting a heavy workout. Margarine? That’s not food. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? I can. If you’re planning on using margarine in anything, you can stop reading now, because I won’t be able to help you.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Cooley Law School changes name, fires a lot of its faculty and staff

[ 19 ] August 18, 2014 |

The Thomas M. Cooley School of Law is now officially Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

In an awkward bit of timing, the school announced its name change the day before reports appeared in the media that the school was laying off a large chunk of its faculty and staff:

Sources in Lansing who are being laid off say the cuts are deep, upwards of 50 percent, according to one. Another said the impact could be as high as 70 percent. A Cooley spokesman disputed the amount, but said he did not have numbers.

“We have non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses upon which our severance packages hinge so I cannot say anything on the record and very little off the record other than to confirm that the cuts to faculty and staff are significant and I am among those in that category,” shared one faculty member, who spoke under condition of anonymity. “Plus I am really, really pissed.”

The source continued: “I was notified last week. My last day is August 31 … I honestly don’t know if they are done. If enrollment continues to decline then maybe not.”

Cooley’s JD enrollment has fallen from just under 4,000 (!) three years ago, to around 2,300 last fall, and seems likely to be lower this fall. On the other hand, the school’s FY2012 tax disclosures showed it clearing a $12.6 million profit enjoying excess revenues of $12.6 million over operating expenses of $108.5 million, and that the school’s net assets increased from $81.6 million to $118.6 million between July of 2009 and July of 2012. That was two years ago now, and it seems certain Cooley’s current balance sheet is not as robust, but the apparently radical nature of these faculty and staff cuts raises some interesting questions (I’ll have more to say in another post about the possibility that some law schools are exploiting the contraction in law school applicants for the purpose of eliminating expensive and/or troublesome faculty).

Anyway, it’s unfortunate that a respectable state university like WMU has agreed — no doubt for valuable consideration as lawyers say — to allow its name to be slapped on Cooley’s letterhead. The agreement between the two institutions appears to be essentially a legal and verbal fiction:

This is an affiliation between Cooley and WMU, not a merger of them. Thus, the affiliation does not change the governance of either institution by its respective board. The institutions remain autonomous.

Cooley remains a private, independent, non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational corporation. It is not a public or taxpayer-supported institution. . . The affiliation will not involve an exchange of funds or financial support, although as the relationship builds the institutions might enter into subsequent agreements, for example relating to the use of the other’s facilities.

Of course a name change is a time-honored marketing tactic when demand for a product is waning, as Prof. Stringer Bell, holder of the University of West Baltimore Distinguished Chair in Law and Economics, explores in a lecture below, via the Socratic method:

A follow up on Infilaw’s cyber-propaganda efforts

[ 81 ] August 14, 2014 |

Amusingly, the same Infilaw shills who posted dozens of messages on the Atlantic’s web site between 1-3 AM this morning, attempting to attack the facts and interpretations in my article immediately after it was posted, are now posting very similar messages on other sites linking to the piece. (Whether these people are Infilaw administrators or employees of the PR firm Infilaw hired to deal with the fallout from the article — and whom I dealt with during the fact-checking process — I don’t know.)

One particularly implausible claim being made by the one commenter who claims to be a FCSL administrator is that something like 70% to 80% of FCSL grads with LSAT scores below 145 pass the bar, despite the dismal bar passage rates of people with such LSAT scores in general (Until very recently there was very little data on bar passage rates for people with LSATs below 145 since it was nearly impossible to get into an ABA law school with such a score, but what data there were — largely from non-ABA-accredited California schools — indicated the chances of someone with a score below 145 passing the bar were slim). Remarkably, the school’s representatives failed to mention this supposed “fact” during the extensive back and forth between themselves and the Atlantic prior to the article’s publication. Another reason this claim is implausible is that, until the past couple of years, even the Infilaw schools admitted very few people with such rock-bottom scores. For example, in 2010 (the most recent entering class that has taken the bar) less than 5% of the students FCSL admitted had LSAT scores below 145. By contrast, last year 31% of their admits had scores below 145, and the median LSAT of the school’s matriculants ended up being 144. The figures for the other Infilaw schools are comparable.

In other words, around half of the students at Infilaw schools are now people with such weak credentials that they couldn’t even have gotten into an Infilaw school three years earlier. It’s doubtful that even turning the school into nothing but an extraordinarily expensive three-year bar review course is going to produce acceptable bar passage rates from these cohorts. But of course by then the tuition checks will have all been cashed.

The Infilaw bust out and American higher education

[ 90 ] August 14, 2014 |

I have a piece in the September issue of the Atlantic on for-profit law schools, and what their predatory behavior has to tell us about the increasingly market-driven structure of higher ed in America generally. (While it’s true that the financing of higher education in this country has become a particularly distorted and dysfunctional market, it’s also important to keep in mind that advocates of market solutions to social problems are especially prone to no true Scotsman fallacies).

Across the ideological spectrum, it is almost universally assumed that more and better education will function as a panacea for un- and underemployment, slow economic growth, and increasingly radical wealth disparities. Hence the broad support among liberal, moderate, and conservative politicians alike for the goal of constantly increasing the percentage of the American population that goes to college. Behind that support seems to lurk an inchoate faith—one that is absurd when articulated clearly, which is why it almost never is—that higher education will eventually make everyone middle-class.

That faith helps explain many economic features of American higher education, such as the extraordinarily inefficient structure of federal loan programs, the non-dischargeable status of student debt, and the way in which rising college costs that have far outstripped inflation for decades are treated as a law of nature rather than a product of political choices.

This past April, the Congressional Budget Office projected that Americans will incur nearly $1.3 trillion in student debt over the next 11 years. That figure is in addition to the more than $1 trillion of such debt that remains outstanding today. This is the inevitable consequence of an interwoven set of largely unchallenged assumptions: the idea that a college degree—and increasingly, thanks to rampant credential inflation, a graduate degree—should serve as a kind of minimum entrance requirement into the shrinking American middle class; the widespread belief that educational debt is always “good” debt; the related belief that the higher earnings of degreed workers are wholly caused by higher education, as opposed to being significantly correlated with it; the presumption that unlimited federal loan money should finance these beliefs; and the quiet acceptance of the reckless spending within the academy that all this money has entailed. These assumptions enabled InfiLaw’s lucrative foray into the world of for-profit education. But they have just as surely shaped the behavior of nonprofit colleges and universities.

The result is a system that has produced an entire generation of overcredentialed, underemployed, and deeply indebted young people. Just as the law school reform movement has exposed the extent to which law schools have overpromised and underperformed, similar reform movements are calling into question the American faith in higher education in general, and all its extravagant promises regarding the supposed relationship between more (and more expensive) education and increased social mobility.

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