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Screening for content

[ 161 ] April 9, 2015 |

american sniper

On Tuesday morning, a University of Michigan undergraduate student, Lamees Mekkaoui, wrote a letter to the Center for Campus Involvement — a university organization that sets up social events for students — about the CCI’s decision to screen the film American Sniper at this Friday’s UMix event. UMix is a Friday late-night social gathering, held at the student union, which has something of an in loco parentis feel, as it features things like Build-A-Bear, bingo, inflatable laser tag, karaoke, and no alcohol.

Mekkaoui had seen American Sniper, and she didn’t think the film was an appropriate choice for this sort of event:

Mekkaoui, who is a a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Middle Eastern and Arab Network on campus, said she found the choice of film disconcerting because of its depictions of the Iraq War and residents of the Middle Eastern and North African region. . .

“As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,” Mekkaoui[‘s letter to CCI said].

She posted her letter on Facebook at 11 AM, and almost immediately many students reacted by voicing similar concerns. This led Mekkaoui to write a second letter in the form of a petition, which she sent to CCI just two hours later:

Students had the opportunity to edit the content of the letter and sign it on a Google document before Mekkaoui sent the collective letter to CCI at 1:00 p.m. It garnered roughly 200 signatures from students in the Muslim Students Association as well as other students who didn’t self-identify with the Middle Eastern, North African or Muslim communities, but wanted to contribute their signatures in solidarity

In the final version of the letter, students voiced several concerns over the film’s portrayal of Arabs and the Middle East and North Africa regions.

“Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome,” the letter read. “The movie ‘American Sniper’ not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.”

This petition led CCI to cancel the scheduled showing of American Sniper at the UMix. The CCI statement said that, in light of student reaction, it had concluded that the UMix was “neither the venue nor the time” to screen the film, and that it would therefore replace it with something “we believe better creates the fun, engaging atmosphere we seek, without excluding valued members of our community.”

The CCI also pledged to “screen for content” more carefully in the future, when considering what sorts of films might be appropriate for events of this sort.

Predictably, this decision provoked an almost instant backlash among other students. Law student Rachel Jankowski launched her own petition, asking CCI to reverse its decision:

The movie American Sniper is not about a racist mass murderer or a criminal. It is about a decorated American war hero who served his country valiantly. While we may disagree about the motives and politics of the Iraq War, the movie shows the sacrifice that Chris Kyle made, like so many of his fellow servicemen and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country, including numerous University of Michigan alumni. If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix purports to provide. As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects. Students should be trusted to interact responsibly on a movie no different than any other film depicting the lives of the troops at war, such as Saving Private Ryan.

The controversy was picked up by the right-wing media, who even more predictably framed it as a textbook example of the New PC rampaging across college campuses.

Thus beleaguered, the CCI did a 90-degree turn, announcing yesterday afternoon that it would screen American Sniper, but at a different time and place, and with a panel discussion to follow:

We are planning to screen American Sniper separately from the upcoming UMix event, in a forum that provides an appropriate space for dialogue and reflection. More information will be provided as details are confirmed.

Not surprisingly, this didn’t placate the objectors, and late last night the university threw in the proverbial towel:

It was a mistake to cancel the showing of the movie “American Sniper” on campus as part of a social event for students.

The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters.

The movie will be shown at the originally scheduled time and location.

We recognize, however, that some students are uncomfortable with the content of the movie, and appreciate that concern.

Therefore, the university also will show an alternative movie, “Paddington,” in another location on campus at that same time and date to provide our students with additional options that evening.

Some observations:

(1) It’s very important to distinguish between a university’s academic and social functions. A petition protesting a screening of a film in a classroom or at a conference would be a completely different matter than the original petition in this dispute.

Mekkaoui’s original complaint doesn’t seem to me to have been inappropriate. I haven’t seen American Sniper, and have no opinion on the extent to which, if any, the petition’s description of it is accurate. The core of her objection, however, was that showing this film in this particular venue was a mistake, given that it could make many Muslim, Arab, and North African students (the University of Michigan has an unusually large number of students, relatively speaking, from these backgrounds, as southeastern Michigan is home to many people of Middle Eastern descent), uncomfortable, and UMix is supposed to be a lighthearted social event:

“The reason why the film was disturbing to be played at UMix is because UMix is supposed to be fun and inclusive, and the movie ‘American Sniper’ raised a lot of controversy from all sides of the spectrum,” Mekkaoui said. “It’s clearly not something that could be fun and inclusive. It just doesn’t go with Build-A-Bear and inflatable laser tag, those things just don’t go with ‘American Sniper.’ ”

Again, making students (appropriately) uncomfortable in academic settings, by forcing them to confront difficult questions in pedagogically useful ways, is a much different thing from this sort of objection, which goes to the social atmosphere the university is promoting outside academic settings.

(2) While nothing is easier than to play the role of Captain Hindsight, in retrospect the CCI should have anticipated that canceling the screening would end up exacerbating their original mistake of scheduling it to be shown at a UMix event. Doing so has almost surely stirred up exactly the sorts of prejudices whose existence made Mekkaoui uncomfortable when she saw the film originally.

(3) Jim Harbaugh should be spending his time finding a serviceable quarterback.

Appeasement is strength

[ 76 ] April 8, 2015 |

ayn rand

rr

cargo cult

Rand Paul was named after Ayn Rand, [edit: it turns out this probably isn’t true, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to treat it as “constructively” true, as lawyers say] which is arguably less creepy than naming your kid “Hubbard.” Arguably.

Negotiating from a “position of strength” is a fairly vague term. Since the American military is and always has been vastly larger than Iran’s, one might argue that every American negotiation with Iran, including President Obama’s, have been from a “position of strength.” If there is such a thing as negotiating with Iran from a position of weakness, though, it would probably take the form of a deal in which we promise to give Iran more weapons in return for it letting some of our captives go free.

But a Reagan skeptic fails to grasp the higher truths of the Reagan cult that are apparent to the Republican Party. It is a truism for the faithful that all of Reagan’s beliefs were correct, even the Reagan beliefs that contradicted other Reagan beliefs. Likewise all of Reagan’s actions projected strength and are worthy of emulation, even his underhanded appeasement of a radical regime that led to a massive scandal. Even Reagan’s appeasement projected strength. That’s just how great he was.

Who should go to college and who should pay for it?

[ 61 ] April 5, 2015 |

McMansion

Those are the real underlying issues that need to be addressed in any comprehensive discussion of the extraordinary increase in the cost of higher education in America over the past half century.

I argue here that purported cuts in legislative funding of American higher ed have ultimately little to do with that increase, in large part because these “cuts” are, subject to some exceptions and caveats, mostly imaginary.

Data

Average public school tuition in 2014$

Average private school tuition in 2014$

How do these rates of tuition increase correlate with legislative appropriations for higher ed? Read more…

You were saying something about best intentions

[ 26 ] April 3, 2015 |

pulp fiction

Michael Simkovic thinks I don’t understand how grant-funded research works. He also thinks I criticized him for failure to disclose that the S&M million-dollar degree articles were funded by Access Group and LSAC. I didn’t criticize him for failing to disclose this, since I never claimed these articles was funded in that way:

So great is [Access Group’s and LSAC’s] enthusiasm for these findings that they are, as the intrepid scamblogger Dybbuk reveals, generously funding their further propagation. (emphasis added)

As for how grant funding works, Prof. Simkovic is much troubled by the suggestion that the sources of his funding could affect the character of what I believe are referred to in the relevant literature as “deliverables:”

Frank and I are interested in methodological rigor, not in particular results or outcomes, which in any case are unknowable until after we analyze the data. We believe in maximizing the transparency of the methods we use for our research so that it can be replicated or challenged by future empirical researchers. There has never been any effort by LSAC or Access Group to influence or censor our results.

Yet Prof. Simkovic and his co-author have levied exactly the same criticisms regarding how the funding of research might influence the conclusions reached that I suggested might be applicable to their work:

Two professors at Seton Hall University, Frank Pasquale and Michael Simkovic, have been tracking studies released by Lumina-funded think tanks that criticize federal student lending, which is Sallie Mae’s direct competitor. For example, Lumina has given the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on issues ranging from national security to technology, nearly $3 million since 2008… “It’s hard to make sense of a lot of what Lumina is advocating on student loans unless you think of how it would benefit Sallie Mae,” says Michael Simkovic, an associate professor at Seton Hall… There is “no connection at all” between Sallie Mae and The New America Foundation, said Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, who said two of the three studies that criticized federal student loans were funded exclusively by the Gates Foundation.”

A number of recent Brookings studies have been singled out for criticism by academics and others… One study, released in June, analyzed Federal Reserve Board data that tracks student debt and income levels in young households to conclude that typical student borrowers were no worse off now than they were a decade ago and that reports of a student debt crisis may be overblown. The study contradicted arguments from critics of the for-profit student-loan industry… Michael Simkovic, a visiting associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on lending issues, said that if Brookings’s reports on student debt were to dictate policy, they would “boost the profits of the student lenders like Sallie Mae.” Critics pointed to a potential tie between Brookings and the lending industry: $1.9 million in donations since 2009 from the Lumina Foundation… Lumina did not underwrite the June study, according to co-authors Matthew M. Chingos and Beth Akers…. Lumina’s director of strategy, Zakiya Smith, said suggestions of meddling were “mind-boggling.”

Prof. Simkovic also says the money from two groups who are, to put it mildly, eager to see certain sorts of results from S&M’s further work is only going toward their salaries, as well as some research costs, so what’s the problem? This is a remarkably naive (to put it charitably) interpretation of what benefit Seton Hall and S&M are getting, respectively, from the grant-funding of this research. Grant-funding of their salaries, or part of their salaries, takes that money off the rest of Seton Hall Law School’s budget, which, given the fact that the school was recently on the verge of laying off its untenured faculty (including, presumably, Prof. Simkovic), adds up to a pretty powerful incentive to come up with the right results at the remains of the day.

But as the quotes from him above illustrate, he understands all this perfectly well, or at least he does when it’s not in his self-interest to forget it. (“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends etc.”).

Prof. Simkovic gives some anecdotal examples, off the top of his head, of grant-funded law school research, to illustrate that I supposedly don’t understand how common such research is. My statements in regard to this aren’t made off the top of my head: they are based on studying the budgets of several dozen law schools over the past couple of years. Those budgets reveal that grant-funding, on average, covers a tiny percentage (usually much less than five percent, and often less than one percent) of these schools’ operating costs.

*An amusing side note: Prof. Simkovic doesn’t actually link to LGM, but rather to a PDF of my post. Apparently the landlord who is leasing his cyber-real estate out for Prof. Simkovic’s benefit cannot bear the thought of providing LGM with any link love.

Also, if you laugh at this you’re going to Hell.

Is this a good time to ask a completely ridiculous question?

[ 107 ] April 3, 2015 |

m

Erik’s post about media discourse regarding higher ed is related to an aspect of Steve Solomon’s “is this a good time to go to law school” piece that itself reflects . . . wait, this sentence is getting too complicated.

Why do people ask questions like “is this a good time to go to law school?”

Compare:

Is this a good time to get a Ph.D. in political science?

Is this a good time to go to college?

Is this a good time to get married?

Is this a good time to write a novel?

Is this a good time to buy a house?

All these questions are the same, in that they’re asked at a uselessly high level of abstraction.

Good questions are things like:

Is this a good time to see Jerry Bruckheimer’s new film?

Is this a good time to take Bill Kristol’s advice regarding foreign policy?

Is this a good time to put ketchup on the hot dog I plan to wash down with a vodka “Martini” [sic]?

These questions are specific, and have real, specific answers.

The passage of time

[ 21 ] April 3, 2015 |

cricket

On Wednesday Steven Solomon, a law professor, published a column in the NYT on why, despite the claims of certain hysterical alarmists, things really are actually pretty good these days for law grads. He cites stats for Georgetown’s 2013 graduating class, showing that 93.2% of the class is “employed” and that something something something $160,000 median salary something.

Kyle McEntee is not amused:

If a law school talked about employment as Solomon does, it would violate the ABA’s accreditation standards — and risk a hefty fine. Instead, Solomon manages to publish his misleading statements in the paper of record. Let’s look at the tricks that Solomon pulls:

*Deceptive salary information. Solomon uses Georgetown’s class as an example. He celebrates “a median starting salary of $160,000” for the private sector, but neglects to tell us the response rate. All told, about 40% of the class made that much or close to it. Beyond that 40%, just a small percentage of the class made six figures. The drop-off is quick and, if you’re in a lot of debt, painful. (I don’t, by the way, have anything against Georgetown; it’s Solomon who features the school’s employment statistics throughout his column. Georgetown itself is quite transparent and Solomon could have easily reported the correct figures. Doing so would not have allowed him to make his point, however.)

*Counting school-funded jobs without comment. Georgetown paid for jobs for 83 of its 2013 graduates — that’s 13% of the class. More than 75% received a stipend of just $1,000 per month, earnings that put them barely above the poverty line in 2014 ($11,670 for an individual). Solomon appears to believe that “things are returning to the years before the financial crisis” when 1 in 8 graduates at this top law school are so desperate that they’re willing to accept poverty wages.

*Including part-time, short-term, and non-professional jobs in an overall percentage of “employed” graduates — again, without disclosing that fact. Once we exclude those jobs, along with the school-funded ones, Georgetown’s employment rate falls to 79%.

How 2009.

Not to mention that Georgetown is an elite law school, which means that citing the employment stats of its grads for the proposition that law school reformers are exaggerating the difficulties facing new graduates is more than a bit disingenuous.

What’s even more disingenuous — and kinda pathetic and sad — is that Solomon mentions that employment stats are even better at UC-Berkeley, where he’s on the faculty, and which is higher ranked than Georgetown. He mentions this, he says, in the spirit of “full disclosure,” which will allow readers to take into account that his perspective might be shaded by the fact that he’s on the faculty at a top ten law school. So perhaps he doesn’t have the clearest perspective on what happens to graduates of less exalted law schools, being that he’s on the faculty at UC-Berkeley, which is a top ten law school, where he’s on the faculty.

Solomon actually got to Berkeley seven minutes ago. He spent the first decade of his legal academic career climbing a very steep ladder, going from Wayne State, to UCONN, and then to Ohio State. His rather extended residence in these declasse neighborhoods is not mentioned on his new faculty webpage, although his much more distant employment with Wall Street and Magic Circle firms is.

Consider Wayne State’s most recent graduating class stats, which look a bit different than Georgetown’s and Berkeley’s. Less than half the class got any legal job at all, while nearly a third of the class was either unemployed, working in part-time and/or temp jobs, or doing barista-type work. One (1) graduate got a job in Big Law (500+ lawyer firm) — the only employment outcome that pays a salary even vaguely commensurate with the average law graduate’s educational debt.

A final note: when I read Solomon’s piece on Wednesday, my reaction was — well, I really didn’t have one. Law school prof engages in egregious self-interested stat-spinning, Part 743. Whatever, as the kids say. Then I saw Kyle’s take down, and I felt a little ashamed. Kyle is still a very young man, and I’m very much not, and all this reminded me of a passage from Orwell:

WHEN I read of the goings-on in the House of Commons the week before last, I could not help being reminded of a little incident that I witnessed twenty years ago and more.

It was at a village cricket match. The captain of one side was the local squire who, besides being exceedingly rich, was a vain, childish man to whom the winning of this match seemed extremely important. Those playing on his side were all or nearly all his own tenants.

The squire’s side were batting, and he himself was out and was sitting in the pavilion. One of the batsmen accidentally hit his own wicket at about the same moment as the ball entered the wicketkeeper’s hands. ‘That’s not out,’ said the squire promptly, and went on talking to the person beside him. The umpire, however, gave a verdict of ‘out’, and the batsman was half-way back to the pavilion before the squire realized what was happening. Suddenly he caught sight of the returning batsman, and his face turned several shades redder.

‘What!’ he cried, ‘he’s given him out? Nonsense! Of course he’s not out!’ And then, standing up, he cupped his hands and shouted to the umpire: ‘Hi, what did you give that man out for? He wasn’t out at all!’

The batsman had halted. The umpire hesitated, then recalled the batsman to the wicket and the game went on.

I was only a boy at the time, and this incident seemed to me about the most shocking thing I had ever seen. Now, so much do we coarsen with the passage of time, my reaction would merely be to inquire whether the umpire was the squire’s tenant as well.

See also.

Haggling over price

[ 32 ] April 1, 2015 |

borat

One of the disappointments of my professional life is that no one has yet tried to bribe me. Around the time The Obesity Myth came out I did dozens of interviews, and to the best of my recollection I was only asked once if I had accepted money from any interested parties in the course of researching and publishing my views. I had to report regretfully that no one had thought it worthwhile to attempt to purchase my good opinion.

Happily, it appears that Michael Simkovic, a young and energetic Seton Hall law professor, has already avoided at least this species of disappointment. Simkovic co-published a study last year, purporting to show that the average present value of a generic “law degree” is just shy of one million dollars, and he and his co-author have just published a draft of another paper, claiming that this impressive figure is hardly affected by business cycle fluctuations, and that therefore “the best time to go to law school is the earliest point possible after which you make the decision that you’d eventually like to go. By waiting, you’re spending more of your limited working life working for lower wages.”

It goes without saying that these conclusions are exactly what the legal academic establishment would like to hear. So great is their enthusiasm for these findings that they are, as the intrepid scamblogger Dybbuk reveals, generously funding their further propagation:

Simkovic is a junior law professor at a second-tier law school, and therefore a finding that a law degree is an extremely risky proposition would be adverse to his employer’s interests, and his own — it doesn’t take an econometrics study to deduce a causal connection between the decline in tuition-paying lemmings and the decline in cushy lawprof jobs. But perhaps even more saliently, Simkovic has received grants totaling $220,000 from the Access Group and Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) to fund his ongoing studies of the great value of a law degree. Simkovic collected $120,000 from the Access Group and $100,000 from the LSAC. . .

The Access Group is a nonprofit membership organization comprised of 196 ABA-approved law schools. It touts itself, on its website, as a “leading provider” of student loans for aspiring professionals. As such, it has served as a national originator, holder and servicer of federally guaranteed and private, credit-based loans, funding more than $18 billion of education loans since 2001. On its IRS Form 990, Access Group lists its “primary activity” as being to “support. . . the organization’s student loan borrowers in facilitating timely repayment.” It also seeks to “promote access to higher education through lending programs offered.” . . .

The Law School Admissions Council is the nonprofit that administers the LSAT and facilitates the law school application process on behalf of its 200+ member law schools. According to its Form 990, LSAC exists to “provide services” to member law schools. These services include staging “national forums” to acquaint students with their “legal education alternatives” and holding training and educational programs for law school admissions professionals. LSAC’s gross receipts in fiscal 2013 totaled about 49 million dollars.

One of the many complaints made about legal academic scholarship is that, unlike most research in the social sciences, nobody is interested in paying for it via grants. It’s nice to see Prof. Simkovic demolishing this myth as well.

Unemployed Northeastern, indefatigable chronicler of the griftier aspects of contemporary higher ed, has some choice words about a particularly grotesque aspect of all this:

Michael Simkovic himself has gone on the warpath multiple times about how funding from the Lumina Foundation, which Sallie Mae cofounded and gave $700 million in funding, drives think tanks like Brookings and New America Foundation to create neoliberal studies that recommend federal lending be curtailed, PSLF be repealed, and PAYE be jettisoned in favor of old IBR. See, for instance:

1. ““It’s hard to make sense of a lot of what Lumina is advocating on student loans unless you think of how it would benefit Sallie Mae,” says Michael Simkovic, an associate professor at Seton Hall.” http://www.buzzfeed.com/mollyhensleyclancy/how-a-private-foundation-with-deep-ties-to-the-student-loan#.oqnVbMa1nn [the linked article relates how Lumina, which was cofounded and solely funded by Sallie Mae, gave New America $3 million and now NA rails against PSLF and federal student lending]

2. “Michael Simkovic, a visiting associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on lending issues, said that if Brookings’s reports on student debt were to dictate policy, they would “boost the profits of the student lenders like Sallie Mae.”” http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/at-fast-growing-brookings-donors-help-set-agenda/2014/10/30/a4ba4e8e-48ef-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html [article relates how Lumina gave Brookings $1.9 million and now Brookings claims there is no student loan crisis]

And here he is, taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with direct stakes in the law school revenue game and writing studies that claim that law school graduates are immune to the laws of supply and demand, wage suppression, bear markets, elitism, etc. As if. To spell it out really clearly for anyone still confused about Access Group, it was a student lender. Back in the dark ages before GradPLUS (2006, I think), a law student could only borrow about $60,000 in federal loans for law school. Access Group competed with Sallie Mae, Nelnet, Citibank, etc. for the ability to extend $80,000 or $100,000 in private student loans to make up the difference. They would bundle those loans into Student Loan Asset-Backed Securities and sell them on Wall Street, of course. Yes, the law schools jointly own a student lending company, albeit a non-profit one (that sits on about $300 million in cash, if I am reading their 990s correctly). As far as I can tell, they haven’t lent money in years, have outsourced their loan administration to third parties, and seem to exist only to provide salaries for their executives.

April Fools!

pause

pause

pause

(Not)

Arizona Summit, Charlotte and Florida Coastal downsize their full-time faculties by 39%

[ 16 ] March 26, 2015 |

oliver twist

Earlier this week I was told that in January the Charlotte School of Law had bought out the contracts of a dozen faculty and 15 staff members, and that last month Arizona Summit had bought out an unspecified number of faculty. I was also told students at Charlotte were upset about the sudden faculty departures.

I contacted Jay Conison and Shirley Mays, the deans at Charlotte and Arizona Summit, and they responded as follows: Read more…

Confederacy of dunces

[ 48 ] March 25, 2015 |

american stars and bars

I have a piece on the Confederate flag license plate case:

What’s most objectionable about confederate flag specialty plates isn’t that some people might mistakenly think that the Texas state government is endorsing the political views of people who display confederate flags (they will likely not commit this error). Rather, it’s conceivable that people will conclude that the state is willing to do just about anything to make a buck, including turning its license plates into a free-fire advertising zone, where anybody can sell anything as long as they’re willing to give a cut of the proceeds to the Lone Star State.

There’s a perfectly constitutional way for Texas not to allow people to feature confederate flags on the state’s license plates, which is not to sell the right to advertise their political beliefs on those plates to anyone to begin with. But that would require ever-so slightly raising some tax rate or another to make up for the lost revenue, so the state would rather try to violate the First Amendment.

Grift American style

[ 134 ] March 24, 2015 |

elmer gantry

Salon has an interview with Rick Perlstein, in which Perlstein explains how Mike Huckabee’s hawking of some magic beans that purportedly cure diabetes is all of a piece with the intersection of New Right politics and good old fashioned American hucksterism:

[O]nline publications like Human Events and Newsmax— which is files and files of their horrible con games— would rent out their good name and their lists. You’d see something in your email like, Dear Human Events reader… and something about a 99-cent cancer cure. You never could tell where the grift begins and the politics end because there would always be rhetoric about how there’s a liberal conspiracy to hide this knowledge from the public; that this particular cancer cure was used by Ronald Reagan, et cetera, et cetera. . .

I believe that in the 1990s, The New Republic did an exposé of how Pat Buchanan had turned running for President into a business, so it didn’t start with Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee.

One of the many things I admire about Perlstein’s work is that he’s not contemptuous toward the people who are getting conned by this sort of thing, but rather understands the worldly success of the likes of Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck as a product of structural social and cultural factors, rather than evidence of individual stupidity and/or culpable naivete on the part of their marks:

A lot of this stuff comes from Evangelical culture, which is a culture of witness, so the hawking of miracles is absolutely baked into the cake. Someone like Pat Robertson was followed by a figure like Pat Buchanan or any number of candidates in the last two or three Republican primary seasons, who make a lot of noise by doing decently well in early polls but then fade out once the seasoned pros take over and the money becomes preeminent.

If this historical pattern holds, Mike Huckabee, if he does well early, will flame out before the second or third inning but I see no impediment whatsoever for him to be disqualified by the conservative rank-and-file, simply because this stuff has been going on without much complaint since the 1970s. This is part of the hustle, right? If Huckabee can claim to have been victimized because of his activities, he can always claim it’s the conspiracy of the liberal elites… and then it’s off to the races. . . .

Glenn Beck is a Mormon and this stuff is baked into Mormon culture even more than Evangelical culture. There’s the whole culture of multilevel marketing— or pyramid schemes, as they’re more derisively known— which is basically a system where you buy a franchise for some kind of product but you really only make money by selling a chunk of the franchise to your neighbor. The further down the line you are, the less likely you are to realize any profits, and most people lose lots of money on this stuff. MLM, some people joke in Utah, stands for “Mormons losing money” and so these guys are masters of the stuff. There’s also a culture of Evangelical or Mormon witnessing; being able to cry on cue when telling the story of your victimization is very important. This goes back to Elmer Gantry as portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the film of the same name.

There is or was a right-wing talk radio station in Denver, and awhile back I listened in rapt fascination to the Michael Savage show while stuck in a traffic jam. I was particularly struck by how between all the frothing at the mouth, Savage would pitch every kind of snake oil imaginable — miracle medical cures of course, but also financial miracles via no money down real estate pyramid schemes, gold bug propaganda, survivalist kits, you name it.

Anyway, all this makes me think of (what else?) law schools, but really you can apply a grifter-style frame to a huge number of social institutions, from the most disreputable to the most respectable. (For instance climate change denialism lends itself very well to this typology.)

I propose the following typology, using the current crisis in legal education as an exemplar. Any successful sustained grift (the term of art is a “long con”) will feature three sorts of promotional characters. These character types have fuzzy boundaries, and indeed a single person may at any one time exhibit traits of two or all three of them, as well as moving between types over time.

The Wise Guy

This guy (or gal) is on the grift and knows it. He therefore has a certain purity to him. Example: The people running Sterling Partners, the Chicago private equity firm that figured out how to gorge itself on federal loans by opening up for-profit open-enrollment law schools. Sterling Partners knows exactly what it’s about, which is profit-maximization courtesy the American taxpayer.

The Bullshitter

These are the classic sales types. Asking them if they believe their own pitches is like asking an actor if he really is the character he’s playing. In other words the question itself involves a category mistake. Examples: Basically every law school dean when he’s playing the role of a law school dean.

The Zealot

This person really believes. It’s of course extremely tempting to believe things that one wants to believe are true, and plenty of people give in to that temptation, even if doing so requires performing certain unnatural intellectual acts (Flaubert: “To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.”).

I could add plenty of illustrative links but reading Perlstein makes me feel a certain sympathy for the devils, so readers can come up with their own favorites.

I do wonder where Erwin Chemerinsky fits into this maze however.

Billy Joel and the law

[ 61 ] March 23, 2015 |

glass houses

This is real.

The possibilities for “interdisciplinary legal scholarship” grow ever-more exciting.

Is there a law review article yet on Barry Manilow and the Sherman Act? There will be.

Infinite number of monkeys etc. (Good album name)

Touro currently charges $44,520 per year.

Half the 2013 graduating class didn’t get any kind of legal job, and nearly 30% were either unemployed, working retail, or in part-time short-term “jobs.”

The invention of the $250,000 law degree

[ 40 ] March 18, 2015 |

This is a followup to an earlier post about the exploding cost of legal education over the past few decades.

I’m employing the University of California Hastings law school to illustrate both how much that cost has gone up, and why. The latter question is the focus of this post.

Hastings’ total tuition revenue plus its state appropriation is a good rough proxy for the school’s annual operating budget over time. (Until the 1980s the school had essentially no other sources of revenue. Since then, it has gradually developed significant sources of auxiliary income, from endowment and annual gift income — the school didn’t even have a development program until the 1970s!– and from renting housing to students, which it began to do in the 1980s. The income from these sources largely offset lost revenue from tuition discounting, which essentially didn’t exist prior to the 1990s).

This graph thus illustrates, in constant dollars, the growth in the cost of operating the school: Read more…

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