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How did baseball’s milestone marks get created?

[ 209 ] May 29, 2015 |

arod

Specifically, why is a player’s 3000th hit such a big deal, and when did it become one?

Over the next couple of weeks, Alex Rodriguez will provide an excellent example of the arbitrariness of the career milestones that occasion different levels of media attention.

Rodriguez is about to drive in his 2000th run. He will be only the third player, after Aaron and Ruth, to do so (if you don’t count Cap Anson’s years in the National Association as major league stats, which I don’t because he was a bad guy).

Meanwhile, he’s also about to become the 29th player to get 3,000 hits. The latter achievement is going to get a lot more media attention, because somewhere in the distant past (apparently shortly after Sam Rice retired while 13 hits short) 3,000 hits became The Official Mark of Baseball Greatness. How and when did this happen?

A similar thing happened (quite a bit later I’m guessing, since only two three players had reached the mark prior to 1960) with 500 home runs. In the pre-internet days, when we had to walk five miles to school through six-foot snowdrifts, and baseball statistics were primitive and hard to come by, those were the two milestones that counted. (For pitchers it was and remains 300 wins, probably because 300 is 3000 divided by ten).

Relatedly, I was a fanatical baseball fan and something of a baseball stats geek as a teenager in the 1970s, and I literally don’t remember hearing anything about Aaron passing Ruth to become the all-time RBI leader, which according to the record books happened sometime early in the 1975 season (Of course Aaron’s 715th home run the year before was one of the biggest sports stories ever).

A side issue in all this is the extent to which the steriod era has or is going to destroy the magic of 3000/500 in the mind of the members of the BBWA, who control the politics of glory, in re the Hall of Fame.

. . . in comments, several people argue that RBI are context-dependent in a way that hits aren’t, and that therefore the career hits leaderboard is a better measure of greatness than the list of career RBI men. Except:

Top ten RBI leaders who aren’t in the 3000 hit club:

Ruth
Bonds
Gehrig
Foxx
Ott
Williams
Griffey
Ramirez
Al Simmons
Frank Robinson

Top ten hits leaders who aren’t in the top 29 in career RBI (equivalent to career 3000 hit list):

Rose
Speaker
Jeter
Molitor
Eddie Collins
Lajoie
Brett
Waner
Yount
Gwynn

Obviously the second group is made up of great players, but just as obviously career RBI is a better proxy for all-time greatness than career hits.

An academic matter

[ 202 ] May 28, 2015 |

grifters

The Michael LaCour affair reminds me that I know of several flat-out crazy and/or evil people who have managed to make it big in the academic world. Or maybe this is just an observation about the world in general. In any case academia seems to have its own peculiarities, some of which are illustrated by the following story.

X and Y are both on the market for an entry-level academic position. For various intellectual, sociological, and psychological reasons they are to a significant extent rivals for the same tenure-track slots, which are very scarce and extremely competitive.

X and Y both get initial interviews at Very Prestigious University (hereinafter VPU). Y gets a second interview at VPU; X does not. X then tries to destroy Y’s chances of getting a job at VPU, by engaging in an astonishingly malicious fraud, which among other things involves inventing supposed harsh criticisms of Y’s work, and attributing these imaginary criticisms to members of the faculty at VPU.

Y doesn’t get the job at VPU. It turns out that, for reasons not relevant here, Y not getting the job wasn’t actually caused by X’s fraudulent scheme. Still, under slightly different circumstances the scheme could have had its intended effect. (The analogy with the LaCour matter would be if the paper had been rejected by Science, and then the fraud had been discovered before it was submitted elsewhere).

By the end of the hiring season, Y has gotten a tenure-track job at another school, while X has gotten a position at Fairly Prestigious University. At this point Y knows about X’s fraudulent scheme, but doesn’t know X’s identity. Just after X and Y start their new jobs, Y finds out who X is.

Y consults with various academic mentors. This process leads to these events coming to the attention of Prof. A, who threatens to out X if X does not acknowledge X’s guilt to Y, and to X’s new employer, FPU. X then confesses to Y and to FPU.

X and FPU then enter into an agreement. X agrees to leave FPU, and FPU agrees not to disclose what X has revealed to FPU about X’s fraudulent scheme to destroy Y’s job prospects at VPU. (FPU also agrees not to reveal the existence of any agreement between FPU and X).

By the end of the academic year, X has secured a new job at Got Played University. X gets this job with the help of glowing recommendations from various people at FPU, who know why X is leaving FPU. At this point nobody at GPU knows anything about the true circumstances of X’s departure.

Four years later, X is a Rising Young Star, and is up for early tenure. X has now gotten into a bizarre fight with another member of GPU’s faculty, which results in X filing a frivolous complaint with a government agency against this faculty member. This faculty member has many friends throughout academia, at least one of whom knows the story of X and Y. The friend provides a detailed account of the incident to GPU’s dean.

The dean calls the dean at FPU, to try to confirm the story. The dean at FPU refuses to discuss the matter (or the existence of any such matter etc. etc.). GPU’s dean then decides that he can’t pursue the matter further, because all he has to go on is a second-hand story from somebody at another institution who won’t go on the record about any of this. (GPU’s dean actually knows Y personally, but does not contact Y). X then receives tenure at GPU.

There are several other baroque or perhaps gothic twists to this little tale. Here are just a couple:

At the same time X is going through the tenure process, A decides to use X – who he doesn’t actually know — to attack Z, an anonymous internet critic of both A and X. A accuses Z of engaging in behavior similar to that which X engaged in toward Y, although Z’s behavior is “similar” only in the same sense that taking a questionable tax deduction is similar to robbing someone at gunpoint.

A has discovered Z’s identity, and decides to disclose it to X, even though back when A was threatening to expose X’s fraudulent scheme, he speculated both about X’s mental health, and about what effect exposing X would have on X’s apparently fragile mental state. A probably suggests (this is speculative) to X that X file an administrative complaint against Z. In any case, A praises X in a public and fulsome way for pursuing this course of action. (When praising X A does not, needless to say, reveal that he knows X has engaged in vastly worse behavior than anything Z has done).

While pursuing this administrative action against Z — which, like X’s complaint against X’s colleague at GPU, ends up going nowhere — X publishes a number of polemics upbraiding Z and others for engaging in the same general type of malfeasance that X had committed against Y, although again, X’s behavior was exponentially worse. (Recall that X is doing all this at the very same time X is going through the tenure process).

I’ve confirmed the details of the story with three different people who had first-hand knowledge of the events. I also spoke to GPU’s dean, and asked him what he planned to do if he learned X was under consideration for a job at another school. He told me he would have to think long and hard about that.

On one level, I can’t really blame him that much for his ambivalence. After all, there are dozens of people – certainly most everyone at FPU and GPU, and of course Y – who know much if not all of this story, and yet it remains off the official record. Why? For one thing, X is an obsessively ambitious person, of apparently questionable mental stability, and who wants to get tangled up with somebody like that, especially once the person has tenure and is close to unfireable?

For another, rationalizations in these situations are always at hand: while it’s true X’s behavior, had it been known at the time, would have absolutely barred X from ever getting a tenure-track job, maybe it was an otherwise inexplicable one-time act, brought on by exogenous factors which have since been dealt with, cured, or what have you. (This seems to me about as likely as Michael LaCour having been a scrupulously honest fellow until he suddenly had some sort of breakdown, but whatever).

Anyway, I’m not going to attach names to this story, at least not at this time, in part because a couple of at least mostly innocent bystanders have asked me not to. For what it’s worth, in my view the single biggest villain in all this – that is if we assume on principles of interpretive charity that X and A are more crazy than evil — is FPU, and especially its dean, who agreed to offload X onto GPU by covering up an incident which should have permanently precluded X from getting hired for any academic job. But there’s more than enough blame to go around.

Finally, this matter, like the LaCour affair, raises questions about how common these sorts of breakdowns in systems designed to protect academic integrity are. As in the case of LaCour, this story illustrates that institutions like academic tenure must function to a significant extent on the basis of an assumption that those participating in the process are doing so in good faith, even when doing so is inconvenient or costly to them.

It was obviously convenient for FPU to lie to GPU about X, and it would have been costly, in various at least short-term senses, for GPU to deny X tenure after they discovered what FPU had hidden from them. And so here they, and we, are.

Wait, FIFA officials take bribes? Next you’ll tell me bankers rig the financial system

[ 107 ] May 27, 2015 |

renault

Acting on an indictment by the U.S. Justice Department, Swiss police arrested several top FIFA officials, including two vice presidents, during an overnight raid in Zurich on charges of corruption Wednesday.

The U.S. investigation targets alleged wrongdoing that spans 24 years. U.S. prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 14 people, on charges ranging from money laundering to fraud and racketeering. They include FIFA officials who took bribes totaling more than $150 million and in return provided “lucrative media and marketing rights” to soccer tournaments as kickbacks.

A few hours later, Swiss authorities said they have opened a separate criminal investigation into FIFA’s operations, this one pertaining to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, which went to Russia and Qatar respectively. Ten people are being questioned.

The criminal proceedings come as members of soccer’s scandal-plagued governing body gathered for an election Friday that could give its leader Sepp Blatter a fifth term.

Blatter isn’t among those being charged. But he was among those investigated, and officials say that part of the probe continues.

The election will go on as planned, FIFA said — as will the games in Russia and Qatar.

“The timing may not obviously be the best, but FIFA welcomes the process,” FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio told reporters.

The collapsing economics of solo legal practice

[ 101 ] May 25, 2015 |

image

Benjamin Barton, a professor at the University of Tennessee Law School, has generously some shared tax data he’s collected on the earnings of lawyers in private practice. Prof. Barton’s new book, GLASS HALF FULL: THE DECLINE AND REBIRTH OF THE AMERICAN LEGAL PROFESSION will be published next month by Oxford University Press. Here’s OUP’s summary:

The hits keep coming for the American legal profession. Law schools are churning out too many graduates, depressing wages, and constricting the hiring market. Big Law firms are crumbling, as the relentless pursuit of profits corrodes their core business model. Modern technology can now handle routine legal tasks like drafting incorporation papers and wills, reducing the need to hire lawyers; tort reform and other regulations on litigation have had the same effect. As in all areas of today’s economy, there are some big winners; the rest struggle to find work, or decide to leave the field altogether, which leaves fewer options for consumers who cannot afford to pay for Big Law.

It would be easy to look at these enormous challenges and see only a bleak future, but Ben Barton instead sees cause for optimism. Taking the long view, from the legal Wild West of the mid-nineteenth century to the post-lawyer bubble society of the future, he offers a close analysis of the legal market to predict how lawyerly creativity and entrepreneurialism can save the profession. In every seemingly negative development, there is an upside. The trend towards depressed wages and computerized legal work is good for middle class consumers who have not been able to afford a lawyer for years. The surfeit of law school students will correct itself as the law becomes a less attractive and lucrative profession. As Big Law shrinks, so will the pernicious influence of billable hours, which incentivize lawyers to spend as long as possible on every task, rather than seeking efficiency and economy. Lawyers will devote their time to work that is much more challenging and meaningful. None of this will happen without serious upheaval, but all of it will ultimately restore the health of the faltering profession.

I hope to discuss Barton’s data and conclusions in more detail once I’ve had a chance to read the book. Here I’m going to focus on some striking numbers regarding the changing economics of solo legal practice.

Solo legal practice represents a particularly crucial aspect of the economics of the legal profession, because it’s by far the single most common job for lawyers to hold. 75% of all practicing lawyers are in private practice, and half of these people are solo practitioners (the other half is made up of partners and associates in law firms of all sizes, along with lawyers who work for businesses and other non-government entities). This means nearly two out of every five practicing lawyers are solos. (Given this, the fact that almost nobody in legal academia knows anything about solo practice would seem to be suboptimal, at least from the perspective of a professional training school).

Barton’s data reveal that the average (mean) compensation of solo practitioners has declined sharply over the past 25 years:

Earnings of solo practitioners

These numbers are particularly striking when juxtaposed with the change in average (mean) wages of American workers (Note that these figures are for all employees, including part-time workers. They include employer contributions to employee pension plans). This graph represents the percentage relationship between average solo practitioner earnings and the average wages of all American workers:

percent of average salary

Note that these are mean, not median, earnings. Median wages for all US workers (full-time and part-time) in 2013 were about $28,000, and I would expect a similar percentage discount between mean and median solo practitioner earnings, since the most successful solos are among the very highest earning lawyers. This suggests the median solo practitioner is making less than $35,000 per year. Which, given what has happened to the cost of law school over the past 25 years, is another problem:

Public law schoo tuitionPrivate law school tuition

NFL changes extra point rule to make it 3% less boring

[ 91 ] May 19, 2015 |

super bowl

The NFL had a chance to improve its anachronistic extra point rule, but ended up barely modifying it. PATs will now be snapped from the 15. The only other change in the rules is the adoption of the college system whereby blocked kicks and turnovers off two-point attempts can be returned by the defense.

Given that NFL kickers now make about 95% of their 30-35 yard FG attempts, this change is adds almost no extra strategy or uncertainty to the post-TD ritual, which already takes up too much of that increasingly precious portion of airtime during NFL broadcasts not dedicated to advertisements.

A better rule would have done away with PATs altogether, while awarding seven points for a touchdown. Teams would have the option of going for an eighth point from the two-yard line, at the cost of having the TD reduced to six points if the attempt failed.

No, faculty salaries have not actually gone up, part infinity

[ 44 ] May 14, 2015 |

baulmol

There’s really no excuse for this kind of thing in the age of the internet, when you can look stuff up in five minutes that 20 years ago would have taken weeks to track down:

Sarah Maslin Nir’s extraordinary two-part exposé, in the Times, of the rotten pay and terrible working conditions in New York’s nail-salon industry is full of revelatory and shocking details. Who, for instance, would believe that, in 2015, there are businesses in the city running classified ads advertising that they pay a mere ten dollars per day? But one of the most surprising, and economically telling, facts in the piece is also among the most mundane: namely, that the price of a manicure hasn’t budged much, if at all, in the past two decades.

This wouldn’t be surprising if we were talking about, say, personal computers, or even automobiles. In those industries, businesses get consistently more productive over time, thanks to things like automation, better information technology, and incremental innovation. Such advances mean that workers in those industries can make a lot more stuff per hour than they could two decades ago. The number of hours it takes to build a car, for instance, has plummeted since the nineteen-seventies. This allows companies to pay workers more (and/or to increase their profits) without raising, and often while cutting, prices.

There are many industries, though, that don’t experience this dynamic. These include labor-intensive service businesses, like nail salons, in which it’s hard, if not impossible, for workers to become more productive over time. After all, it takes as long to cut hair, tailor a suit, or give a manicure today as it did twenty years ago.

The economic problem that companies in these industries typically face is that, in order to attract workers, you need to pay them roughly as much as they could earn doing other kinds of work. If you don’t, they will, in theory, take other, better-paying jobs. In effect, the rising wages of workers in industries where productivity is rising set a relative benchmark for workers in all industries. (That’s why the average tenured professor is paid considerably more today than he would have been twenty years ago, even though he isn’t any more productive.) So companies in the service sector have to raise wages, and the only way to do that while keeping profits steady is also to raise prices. This is what economists call “Baumol’s cost disease.” You can see it in many service businesses: look at the rising cost of education or health care, or even the price of a haircut, which has risen faster than inflation over the past thirty-five years.

This is James Surowiecki in the New Yorker, the magazine’s resident economics writer. He’s a big fan of citing Baumol’s cost disease, and indeed I hear this rationale all the time for why the cost of higher ed keeps skyrocketing, despite increasing rates of per student subsidization. You have to pay the faculty a lot more or they’ll go start a literary theory factory or something.

Except, on average, the people who do the teaching in American higher education are getting paid far lower salaries than they were several decades ago, back when cars were still built by teams of UAW workers instead of robots (BTW is it true that car companies actually pay production workers more, in real dollars, than they did in say the 1970s?).

Now I bet Surowiecki is at least vaguely aware of the adjunctification of academia, which is probably why he adds the qualifier “tenured.” But he’s still completely wrong. Let’s go to the tape: (All dollar figures are in 2013 dollars, which is the most recent year for which data are available)

Average salary in 1993 of all full-time faculty in American degree-granting post-secondary institutions:

$74,746

In 2013:

$78,625

That’s a 5.2% increase. How does that compare to the average American wage earner, who doesn’t have Baumol’s disease to help keep his or her wages up? Not too good, it turns out:

National average wage in 1993:

$37,294

In 2013:

$44,888

That’s a 20.4% increase.

Now things are a bit better if you belong to the exalted ranks of the tenured, although not by that much. Full professor salaries were 12.4% higher in 2013 than in 1993, and associate professors were making 7.7% more. But again, those increases are both quite a bit lower than those experienced by the average American wage earner (of course the “average” wage has been pulled up to some degree by huge increases in the wages of the one percenters, but still).

And again, average wages of the people who do the teaching in American colleges and universities — that is, the faculty — are lower in real terms than they were 20 years ago, because a much higher percentage of the faculty are part of the academic precariat.

Some men you just can’t reach

[ 21 ] May 14, 2015 |

sm

Updated below

How much money has the law school reform movement cost ABA law schools?

This is not very difficult to calculate, if we define the law school reform movement as including everyone who has helped bring about more transparency regarding employment outcomes for law graduates: scambloggers, journalists, Law School Transparency, internal critics of the system, internal defenders of the system making arguments that are so bad that they lend yet more legitimacy to criticisms, etc.

If you assume none of the above had done any of the stuff they’ve done over the past few years, it seems reasonable to assume that, conservatively speaking, there would have been no downturn in law school enrollment (actually it seems more realistic to assume enrollment would have continued to climb, but we’ll go with the more conservative assumption that it would have remained where it was five years ago). It also seems reasonable to assume that effective tuition (sticker minus discounts) would have continued to climb at its recent rate of two or three percent a year above inflation, instead of flat-lining as it has over the past couple of years.

On the basis of these assumptions, a legal academic world without any push-back to the carny barking that dominated the information available to students until about four years ago would feature about 147,500 JD students this coming fall, who would be paying about $31,500 per year, on average, in effective tuition. So law schools would be extracting about $4.65 billion in tuition revenue from their JD students during the 2015-16 academic year.

Instead, they’re going to be getting a lot less. This year’s enrollment cycle is almost complete, and at this point it’s easy to estimate within a few hundred students how many people will matriculate this fall. Schools are going to receive applications from just under 53,000 applicants. The quasi-open enrollment policy already in place at several dozen schools means that approximately 80% of these applicants will be accepted to at least one school to which they apply (many applicants won’t apply to schools with open enrollment policies, plus about 10% of the applicant pool won’t be admitted anywhere because their files more or less scream potential litigation exposure risk to any school reckless enough to take them).

Of those who are admitted to at least one school, around 87% will end up matriculating somewhere. That means the first year class is going to be around 36,850 students, which in turn means the total JD population this fall will be about 111,000. (This past fall’s total JD enrollment was a little over 119,000, and the 2015 entering class is going to have about 8,000 fewer students than that of 2012). How much they’ll be paying in average effective tuition is a touch more speculative, but massive tuition discounting at many schools over the past couple of cycles will if anything be likely to intensify, so it would be optimistic to assume that schools will be getting more than the $28,500 per student they were pulling in three years ago. But let’s assume an average effective tuition of $30,000, just to be on the generous side.

That adds up to $3.33 billion in total JD tuition revenue this coming year. So schools are looking at about $1.3 billion less this fall in tuition revenue than they would have enjoyed if only some troublemakers had gotten their minds right. That in turn is about $6.37 million per school, on average, which works out to about $140,000 less tuition revenue per faculty member.

When you put it that way, I almost want to fire myself.

Update: Pace’s law school’s dean — Pace University, which was founded in the 19th century, has its main campus is in lower Manhattan, but the law school, which is 39 years old, is in White Plains — has apparently sent out a Secret Memo to the faculty, which, in the way of such things, is no longer secret. (The secrecy was supposed to be maintained by a secret invisible watermark on the memo, which was designed to identify any potential Deep Throat to a vengeful administration).

The memo announced an immediate 10% salary cut for all faculty, the elimination of summer research stipends and sabbaticals, and a 5% salary cut for some staff. These measures are designed to eliminate $2.1 million of the law school’s current $5 million operating deficit. Interestingly, the administration apparently hasn’t offered to buy out any faculty.

h/t Taxprof

Government subsidies and the spiraling cost of higher ed, con’t

[ 46 ] May 13, 2015 |

treasure

I have another piece on the relationship between government subsidies for higher ed and tuition rates. When I wrote about this last month in the Times, various people complained that I didn’t emphasize sufficiently the relative decline of state appropriations for higher ed on a per capita student basis (While total state appropriations for higher ed have increased by 48% in real terms since 1980, enrollment in public higher ed has grown by 60% since then).

But, as I mentioned at the time but didn’t explore in any detail, state funding is just part — in fact it’s almost exactly half — of the picture when it comes to government subsidies of higher in America. Many people are aware of the Pell grant program, but what isn’t nearly as well known are the ways in which the federal tax code has been amended in recent years to subsidize higher ed.

According to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation’s most recent estimates of federal tax expenditures, the IRS is currently redistributing approximately $45.7 billion annually in tax revenue in ways that directly and indirectly support American higher education. (This represents a 675 percent increase in such spending since 1990.) These subsidies can come in the form of tax credits or other types of favorable tax treatment—excluding certain forms of income from taxation or creating special deductions, for example.

The policy dynamics driving these increases are fairly straightforward: Democrats generally like to subsidize public goods such as education, and Republicans typically like tax cuts. (A number of GOP politicians have also started to champion the for-profit college industry.) Tax credits and deductions for higher education enable Congress to simultaneously pursue both of these policy preferences.

The net result of all this is that per student government subsidies for higher ed are at an all-time high in real dollars, and are a good deal higher than they were in the 1980s and 1990s, when tuition at both public and private schools was drastically lower on average.

This graph represents the change in direct and indirect subsidies over time:

ChartGo-2

Here’s how that translates into per student subsidies:

ChartGo-5

Now here are the same totals when limited to direct subsidies (appropriations, grants, and tax credits):

ChartGo-3

ChartGo-4

The disturbing bottom line:

Whether measured in terms of both direct and indirect subsidies, or in terms of direct appropriations, grants, and tax credits, total per-student government support for higher education has increased. Yet this increase has failed to stop or even slow massive tuition increases at both public and private schools.

It’s important to emphasize that this torrent of increased revenue has not been going to people who perform relatively marginal tasks within the modern American university, such as for example teaching and research. Per capita salaries for university faculty are much lower now than they were in the 1970s (This fact is conveniently obscured if you don’t consider the people who do the majority of the teaching at most universities, i.e., contingent faculty, to “really” be part of the institution).

Nor is it going to the people who clean the buildings, cook the food, take care of the grounds, etc. etc. (I’m currently taking part in a union-led movement to try to do something about the disgraceful fact that there are more than 500 full-time employees at the University of Colorado-Boulder who are paid less than $15 an hour — more on this soon).

I appreciate that government subsidies for higher ed constitute a tricky issue for progressives. Certainly, appropriately broad access to reasonably-priced higher educational options needs to be high up on any progressive agenda. But what we have now is something quite different: an invidious synergy between administrative rent-seeking in the guise of expanding educational opportunity, and the political process’s affection for transferring tax revenue to the upper classes (tax credits for tuition payments are a perfect example of the latter).

Reforming America’s higher ed system needs to be based on the understanding that shoveling ever-larger amounts of money into the hands of the contemporary administrative class for them to redistribute as they see fit is at best an incredibly inefficient way to promote genuine educational opportunity. More realistically, the current system promotes the interests of those at the top of the higher educational hierarchy, at the expense of the vastly larger number of people in less privileged positions within these institutions.

Lawyers Guns & Money: A beer review

[ 38 ] May 12, 2015 |

beer

Awhile back, Erik discovered the existence of a new “barley wine” style beer (whatever that is) named Lawyers, Guns & Money. A request to the manufacturers to provide LGM’s key personnel with free gifts in the form of samples, or risk facing a potentially devastating trademark infringement suit, went nowhere, after someone who shall remain nameless printed out this carefully crafted demand letter on the back of a recycled piece of paper, the front of which turned out to be a letter dated May 31, 1990, addressed to Tim Raines and asking for his autograph.

A subsequent grant application to the Robert Wood Johnson foundation also failed to bear fruit. Last night, one member of the LGM team decided to take unilateral action. After setting up base camp at the Whole Foods Hot Bar at Pearl and 28th in Boulder (demographers have tentatively identified this spot as the single whitest place on Earth), this blogger set out with a party of Sherpas to a nearby liquor store, where according to unconfirmed reports the heretofore legendary beverage could be found.

After setting our pitons, we rappelled, guttered, and philosophized our way to the craft brew aisle. A final assault on the Colorado section proved successful, and we purchased (on sale no less: $10.99 for a four-pack of 12-oz. cans) the heretofore obscure object of desire.

Review: Very good, although perhaps a touch overpriced. 10% ABV is obviously a bonus.

Law school owners pocket $25 million in profits, won’t pay $21,000 for commencement reception

[ 18 ] May 7, 2015 |

charleston

It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy that everything was to be paid for. Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter. And if we didn’t get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there.

The Charleston School of Law, a for-profit ABA-approved school in South Carolina, appears to be on its last legs, as the the two men who own the school have announced they might not enroll an incoming class this fall.

As a parting gift to the students who have paid these gentlemen tens of millions of dollars over the last three years, George Kosko and Robert Carr have decided they aren’t going to pony up for a commencement reception this week:

If Charleston School of Law’s newest graduates want better than Ramen noodles at their commencement reception, they and their friends are going to have to pay for it.

The troubled law school’s two-member board cut the traditional post-commencement reception from its budget this year — despite pulling in $25 million in profit from the school between 2010 and 2013. The move has pushed student and alumni groups to take up a collection to cover the cost, said Matt Kelly, president of the Student Bar Association.

He and others, through Dean Andy Abrams, have asked board members and owners George Kosko and Robert Carr to reconsider holding the reception, which last year cost $21,000. “We’ve given them two weeks to stand up and do the right thing, but they haven’t,” Kelly said.

The law school is holding it’s commencement ceremony Sunday afternoon at The Citadel’s McAlister Field House. The event usually is followed by an outdoor reception for the graduates and their families and friends, Kelly said.

His group, along with the school’s alumni association and the Charleston County Bar Association’s student division, expect to raise about $6,000 for a simple reception after the commencement ceremony.

Tuition at the law school this year is $39,096, and many students borrow more than a $100,000 in student loans to pay for their law degrees.

More precisely, the 85% of Charleston’s 2014 graduating class that took out law school loans took out an average of $147,000 in such loans, which means that, with interest accrual and origination fees, they had an average of about $170,000 in law school debt alone this past November, when those loans began to become due.

Also, less than half the class got any kind of law job, and nobody got a good one.

At least they got a reception.

Deflategate

[ 83 ] May 6, 2015 |

simpsons

Shorter Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP: Crime pays.

Michael Simkovic defends bait and switch law school “scholarships”

[ 100 ] May 6, 2015 |

bait and switch

Michael “Step Right Up and Buy Your Million Dollar Law Degree” Simkovic is apparently planning to dedicate his career to defending every single law school practice, including something I would have thought even the most hardcore law school denialists would blanch at backing: bait and switch conditional “scholarships.”

Here’s how this sweet little racket works: A law school offers a prospective student a big discount on sticker tuition (inaccurately characterized as a “scholarship,” when in fact it’s a discount cross-subsidized by students who are paying full boat, rather a real scholarship, i.e., income from an endowment which subsidizes what would otherwise be the student’s tuition obligation). There’s a catch though: the discount is conditioned on maintaining a certain grade point average.

Now on its face this doesn’t seem like a big deal, given that lots of undergraduate scholarships have similar conditions. But in fact the two situations aren’t at all comparable. Almost all law schools have strict forced grading curves, which means that at many schools it’s going to be mathematically impossible for a significant number of students with these conditional “scholarships” to retain them.

Until a couple of years ago law schools weren’t even required to disclose how many students lost their “scholarships.” Perhaps having learned from the debacle that ensued when he argued recently that law schools shouldn’t be required to distinguish whether their “employed” graduates are employed at Cravath or Starbucks, Simkovic doesn’t actively oppose the new disclosure requirements, although he doubts they’ll be of any real use.

Given the effects of optimism and confirmation bias, he may be right about that.

Another factor that may be in play here is that various law schools are rumored to “section stack.” Section stacking involves putting a disproportionate number — perhaps even all — of the students who have conditional scholarships in the same 1L section, thus ensuring that the forced curve causes the largest possible number to lose their scholarships.

Note that no decent law school gives out conditional scholarships, other than the pro forma condition of not flunking out. On the other hand:

Unsurprisingly, almost 37% of Seton Hall 1Ls with conditional scholarships lost them last year, which places them in the top quartile of law schools in terms of having the most conditional scholarships lost. It seems apropos, as it is so par for the course. Untenured law prof at law school finds massive law school premium after said law school publicly stated it may have to lay off its untenured faculty (and where 8 of 285 grads scored BigLaw last year); writes more papers of a similar vintage after receiving six figure grants from financially interested parties (LSAC, AccessGroup). Moreover, the proffered rational of “attracting and retaining the best students, rewarding motivation and ability seems like a reasonable policy” has failed. Despite lopping more than 50% of its entering class size since 2010 in a vain attempt to keep their stats up, Seton Hall’s LSAT splits have still dropped from a 155/159/161 to a 152/156/159.

Based on extrapolation, Simkovic’s next contribution to the debate over whether it’s a good thing for law schools to hide data, bait and switch their students, etc., will be to defend schools for publishing fake LSAT and GPA figures for their matrics. After all, doing so makes students more likely to cash in on their million dollar law degree premium. Those more learned in matters of theology can determine whether such an approach could fit into the doctrine of mental reservation.

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