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Over-qualification and unemployment

[ 61 ] July 9, 2013 |

If you’re stuck in a cab in Bangalore with Tom Friedman, you’re probably going to end up hearing about how the key to competitiveness for American workers is more education. One problem with this line of argument could be called the It Can’t Hurt fallacy: the idea that the worst case scenario for choosing more schooling is incurring direct (usually debt-financed) and indirect opportunity costs that result in no significant improvement in the graduate’s employment prospects.

The reality is quite different:

Paul Krugman’s column summarized the problems of job hunters quite well. Often overlooked is that 50 percent of the employed are dissatisfied enough with their jobs to also submit their résumés, resulting in thousands of applications for advertised jobs.

Employers use sophisticated applicant tracking software to schedule interviews with only a handful of candidates who seem a 100 percent job match. Overqualified candidates are rejected as well, practically eliminating the chance for anyone unemployed to take on a lesser job.

In the past, an applicant could “simplify” a résumé to get at least some work to pay the bills. This doesn’t seem to work anymore, as recruiters do Web searches that can easily reveal an applicant’s advanced education and skills.

(Referenced Krugman column is here.)

I see this all the time in the legal world: people find that getting a JD actually hurts their job prospects, not just because they can’t get jobs as lawyers (48% of the national class of 2012 didn’t have real legal jobs nine months after graduation), but because, despite self-serving claims of legal academic administrators and faculty that a law degree is “versatile,” most non-legal employers consider a law degree either a negative or a flat disqualification for a job candidate. (Perhaps the most stark example of this is provided by paralegals who quit good jobs to go to law school, then discover that employers won’t hire people with JDs to do paralegal work).

And, as the quoted letter indicates, in the contemporary panopticon it’s becoming increasingly impractical to take a degree off your resume, while hoping an employer isn’t too inquisitive, or perhaps coming up with some acceptable-sounding explanation for the biographical lacunae. In a googled world, the discreet resume gap is ceasing to exist.

I have no idea to what extent the over-qualification trap has been or is becoming a problem for people in other graduate and professional schools, but I would be surprised if this is limited to law graduates.

Six or seven people shot by foreign terrorists in Winnetka

[ 73 ] July 7, 2013 |

Sorry . . . that should have read “67 people shot by well-armed Americans in Chicago.”

Not much of a story after all.

Does your conscience bother you?

[ 58 ] July 6, 2013 |

Updated below

Erik’s latest post regarding MOOCs and the very interesting discussion thread it generated raises a critical question: to what extent will technological innovations in the structure of higher education generate efficiencies that will be passed on to students, and to what extent will those innovations simply enrich the owners of those technologies and their favored hirelings? In a tolerably efficient market one wouldn’t have to worry too much about this — that Bill Gates and Larry Ellison have become gazillionaires has not interfered with a process by which the laptop that I’m typing on costs less in real terms than many electronic typewriters cost 30 years ago, even though the laptop is a vastly superior device.

But of course the market for educational credentials in America is, from a consumer perspective, wildly inefficient and increasingly dysfunctional (Note that the market for educational credentials is not the same thing as the process of education itself, which in many ways is simply not reducible to classical economic analysis).

What follows is a vignette about how rotten one corner of the business of higher education in America has gotten. Read more…

Tips for untenured law faculty

[ 55 ] July 3, 2013 |

It’s been an eventful week in the law school world. Two law schools have announced the immediate or imminent downsizing of their faculties, while another has laid off a dozen staff people, and is claiming that an unspecified number of faculty positions that have opened up because of “voluntary” departures will not be filled (I have heard from one of the departed faculty members that his/her departure was in fact in no sense voluntary).

Interestingly, legal academic law blogs, including some which normally spend inordinate bandwith on the comings and goings of deans and faculty in this status-obsessed and gossip-ridden thing of ours, have with almost no exceptions remained eerily silent about all this.

Anyway, if you’re an untenured member of a law school faculty, here’s some free advice on how to do what you can to avoid ending up looking for — Jah forbid — a job as a lawyer. (Obviously the salience of this advice will vary depending on your particular institutional situation, this is far from an exhaustive lists, no warranties of quality are expressed or implied etc)

(1) Work with your senior colleagues to put pressure on your administration to cough up candid financials to the faculty. How much money is the school spending? How much is it bringing in? How much, historically speaking, has the law school been expected to kick to the central university? (This latter question can be very tricky to answer, as universities are hives of various forms of cross-subsidization. For example, the law school will be reasonably expected to pay a certain amount in “indirect expenses,” that is, university-wide expenses, a certain percentage of which will be imputed to individual schools. However, if a school is being used as a cash cow — if revenues are being siphoned off to pay for other programs, as opposed to covering genuine collective costs — they will often be categorized in this way).

(2) How has the admissions office been told to handle the severe contraction in law school applications — nationally they’re down by nearly a third over the past three years, and of course by much more at some schools — and who has given the marching orders? The dean? Central? Has there been any faculty input? The options here are, cutting real tuition by giving out ever-larger “scholarships” to people with high or at least historical median scores, shrinking class size, and slashing entrance requirements. Which or what combination of these things is happening? How much tuition revenue will be generated by this fall’s incoming class relative to last fall’s?

(3) What plans are in place, or being formulated, to deal with further revenue contraction? Are staff layoffs being contemplated? What are the rules for laying off faculty? Should people take a pay cut now to avoid layoffs, not only of faculty, but of (generally powerless) staff? What about buyouts of senior faculty? Has central offered anything along these lines?

(4) Depending on the answers to the above questions, why is the school planning to spend X dollars on faculty hiring this coming year (Other than, of course, to give the dean something to highlight in the glossy law porn that gets distributed to alumni and the rest of legal academia. Speaking of which, how much does that thing cost to put together and distribute?).

(5) Go to your (probably enormous and largely empty) law library and dig up some annual catalogs. Count the number of administrative positions at the law school ten and fifteen and twenty years ago. Compare those numbers to the present situation, and do some back of the envelope math. Start asking questions about who does what and why.

(6) Do the same for the teaching faculty, and compare the teaching loads back in that distant era known as, say, 1998, to that borne today by you and the rest of your “insanely busy” (this is an actual term used in faculty meetings at many schools to describe faculty schedules) colleagues. Start asking questions about whether some — needless to say long-term and very gradual! — downsizing might not be in order, via retirements, buyouts, natural attrition, and not doing idiotic things like tying up several million dollars of future revenue by adding someone to the faculty to teach an “understaffed” first year course.

(7) Volunteer to teach an understaffed first year course.

Songs and movie scenes

[ 194 ] July 3, 2013 |

I’m very excited about having an 8:30 res at Dorsia this evening; and agonizing about what to order has somehow reminded me that several songs are now permanently intertwined in my mind with the scenes in which they’re used in various films. These include:

(1) Hip To Be Square (American Psycho)

(2) Suzy Q (Apocalypse Now)

(3) American Girl (Silence of the Lambs)

(4) Layla (Goodfellas)

(5) April Come She Will (The Graduate)

(6) Basketball Jones (Being There)

. . . comments remind me of a huge personal omission, (7) Let’s Stay Together, Pulp Fiction

What songs are inextricably embedded in celluloid for you? Is this a good or a bad thing? (For me it’s good, because it only seems to happen with songs in movies I really like).

Seton Hall Law School cuts faculty compensation by 10%; gives notice to all untenured faculty of possible termination

[ 23 ] July 1, 2013 |

1. The law school has given notice to its entire junior faculty, approximately seven untenured professors, that their contracts might not be renewed for 2014-2015.
2. The affected professors will be able to teach for the 2013-2014 academic year, but could be terminated after that.
3. As part of a larger effort to streamline the law school and control costs, these notices have been issued to preserve all of the administration’s options.
4. But the notices could ultimately be rescinded — and the administration hopes to be able to rescind them, provided it can find the needed savings elsewhere within its budget.

The school’s dean:

Because of the dramatic drop in interest in legal education, all schools must make decisions about the size and quality of enrollment. We will stand for quality and that will necessitate an adjustment of our costs going forward. With the University’s support, the faculty, administration and I are working together to make those adjustments. The faculty has already made a significant contribution toward continuing excellence by giving back 10% of total compensation.

Story at ATL.


(1) Superficially, Seton Hall has much better employment statistics than the average law school, as two thirds of the 2012 class got legal jobs (full-time non-temp, non-law school funded, non-solo bar-required positions. The national average was 52%). This number may be significantly inflated, however, by New Jersey’s state court clerkship system, which put nearly 30% of the class into one year state judicial clerkships, which count as long-term legal employment by this definition, even though most of them are one year positions).

(2) Seton Hall’s tuition and fees have gone from $29,950 in 2004 to $48,640 this fall (that’s per year).

(3) The 82% of the class of 2012 that incurred law school debt had an average (mean) of approximately $145,000 in such debt at repayment in the fall of last year. The median was certainly higher. (This figure does not include an unknown amount of other educational debt. A recent report indicates that average undergraduate debt among new college graduates with debt is now around $35,000, which suggests that somewhere close to half of Seton Hall’s 310 2012 graduates have $200,000 or more in educational debt).

Related: A golden not so oldie.

Don LeDuc, Myth Buster

[ 54 ] July 1, 2013 |

Updated below

Thomas M. Cooley Law School is the largest in the nation by a healthy margin. The school, which was founded in 1973 by former Michigan supreme court justice and current right-wing crank Thomas Brennan, has four campuses in Michigan, and recently opened a fifth in Florida. (Brennan was at last check still drawing compensation of more than $350,000 per year from Cooley, nominally for compiling a ludicrous ranking system that declares the school the second-best in the nation). The school is now emitting more than 1000 graduates per year, three quarters of whom are not getting jobs as lawyers (Definition: full-time non-temporary employment requiring bar admission minus people listing themselves as solo practitioners). A quarter of the 2012 graduating class was known to be completely unemployed in February of this year, while another ten percent had disappeared completely (this latter stat is particularly remarkable in the age of the internet, which allows the typical law school to account for the employment status of 99% of its graduates nine months after graduation.)

The school’s dean and president, Don LeDuc, recently posted a “commentary” on the school’s blog entitled Myth-Busting. It’s an interesting document for a number of reasons, and I’m going to look at it in some detail. Read more…

Vermont Law School gets rid of 21.4% of its full-time tenure track faculty positions

[ 43 ] June 28, 2013 |

Updated below

Story here.

Class size at VLS dropped from 200 to 170 in 2012, and VLS President Marc Mihaly expects it to take another 30-student plunge this year. The school is still accepting applications, and school officials say they won’t have a final count until the students show up in September.

Mihaly says he is also worried that they’ll see a decline in the average GPA and LSAT scores of the incoming class. [Comment:VLS admitted 83% of its applicants in 2012 so it would be difficult for the scores of its matriculants to decline much further]

Starting last September, VLS enacted a plan to shrink the school in response to a tuition dollar drought that left it with a $3.3 million budget gap. The school attracted national attention last winter when it cut 12 staff positions — 10 were through voluntary buyouts and two were involuntary.

This past spring, in a quieter move, VLS whittled down its faculty. Eight professors, of the 40 who were eligible, voluntarily moved from full-time to part-time positions. Mihaly estimated that two or three other positions were eliminated when professors departed for personal reasons.

VLS has been pruning expenses elsewhere, too. It has cut down on cleaning services and changed the hours and offerings of its food service, among other changes. At one point, there were conversations about whether coffee would continue to be available in offices, according to one staff member.

I guess coffee really is for closers.

This isn’t the only law school where things like this are happening, and there are several other stories along this line that are likely to be hitting the media over the course of the next few months.

Update: After some correspondence with Peter Glenshaw, Director of Communications at Vermont Law School, I’ve learned that the precise numbers involved are:

(1) Four tenure/tenure-track faculty have gone from full to part-time. Two tenured/tenure track faculty left the school, and their positions were eliminated. Together this represents a 21.4% reduction in the number of full-time tenure track faculty.

(2) Four contract faculty have gone from full to part-time. This represents 13% of the contract faculty. Thus the number of full-time positions on the teaching faculty (TT and contract) has been reduced by 17.2%.

Mr. Glenshaw wishes to emphasize that the eight faculty members who have gone from full-time to part-time status will, in his words, “continue to teach or work at VLS in the coming years. We are thrilled that every faculty member who participated in this voluntary program will remain involved in our community as teachers and educators, and we look forward to their contributions in the coming years.”

Law talking guys

[ 47 ] June 27, 2013 |

George Zimmerman’s lawyer has just performed a cross-examination of the prosecution’s star witness which suggests that he’s either drunk or on the take from the Obama administration DA. Or possibly both.

And the LORD did cause AARON to slay his BROTHER, so that TEBOW’s career might have life

[ 40 ] June 26, 2013 |

It is written. (Not in The Onion).

A new standard

[ 83 ] June 25, 2013 |

Over the past quarter century I’ve read a lot of SCOTUS opinions as a matter of professional obligation. The majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder is the worst SCOTUS opinion I’ve ever read, considered simply as an exercise in formal legal argument. And I’ve read Bush v. Gore.

Enjoy your all expenses paid by soon to be unemployed law students Prague vacation (and the $15,000 bonus check that goes with it) C.J. Roberts. You’ve earned it.

Update: I’ll have a piece on this tomorrow morning in Salon.

The Legend of John Sexton

[ 30 ] June 22, 2013 |

This morning’s New York Times features Marty Lipton taking umbrage at the idea that anyone would raise questions about why NYU is lavishing seven-figure annual compensation packages on the Great and the Good in its midst:

Luring the Best to N.Y.U.

June 20, 2013

To the Editor:

Re “N.Y.U. Gives Its Stars Loans for Summer Homes” (front page, June 18):

The board and the leadership team of New York University have led a sustained and successful effort to transform N.Y.U. from a regional university into a world-class residential research university. This has been done by recruiting, retaining and building a community of outstanding scholars, as well as experienced, innovative leadership. It is one of the great success stories in the history of modern higher education.

None of this happened by accident, and none of it happened in a vacuum; other top universities actively compete against us to recruit the same top faculty and academic leaders. N.Y.U.’s loan programs have been, are and will remain a legitimate, appropriate and successful part of attracting, retaining and compensating top scholars and innovative academic leaders.

The board remains wholly committed to continuing the mission of sustaining the academic momentum that has brought N.Y.U. so far. We are wholly confident in N.Y.U.’s president, John Sexton, whose own innovative leadership has done so much at the law school and the university to maintain the university’s upward trajectory.

Chairman, N.Y.U. Board of Trustees
New York, June 20, 2013

Lipton, who is a founding partner of the world’s most profitable large law firm, is here repeating John Sexton’s carefully crafted narrative that Sexton has been a “transformative” figure at NYU, first at the law school, where he was Dean between 1988 and 2002, and as NYU’s president, the post he’s held for the last 11 years. But has Sexton actually “maintained an upward trajectory” for NYU’s institutional reputation?

In the law school world, it’s a constantly repeated platitude that Sexton, more than any other dean, successfully gamed the US News rankings system, in part through a relentless publicity campaign, which among other things invented the loathsome genre dubbed “law porn” by Pam Karlan. By doing so, the story goes, he improved NYU’s reputational status enough to significantly improve its ranking in the law school hierarchy, thereby achieving an almost unprecedented and much-envied feat.

It’s perhaps a symptom of the general lack of empirical skepticism or basic curiosity among legal academics that this story can be exploded by spending a few minutes with a search engine. The US News law school rankings began on an annual basis in 1990, which means they provide a perfect vehicle for testing this hypothesis, given that Sexton’s first academic year as dean was 1988-89 (this is the year that formed the basis for the 1990 USN rankings).

NYU was the 6th-ranked law school in the 1990 USN rankings. 12 years later, at the conclusion of Sexton’s deanship, (and after a massive expansion of the school’s operating budget, and, not coincidentally, the doubling of its tuition) NYU was ranked . . . 5th. I suppose that can count as “maintaining an upward trajectory,” if you give a sufficiently liberal definition to the phrase.

What about Sexton’s presidency? The year before he took over, NYU was ranked 33rd among American universities by USN. Last year the school had risen to . . . 32nd.

Clearly, the only “upward trajectory” here has been in Sexton’s unmerited reputation, and relatedly, his compensation, which among other things now features a lifetime annuity of $800,000 per year once he chooses to retire. All of this, of course, is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, because NYU is a “non-profit” institution.

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