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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.

Obama bribed by the Koch brothers to destroy the Rule of Law

[ 15 ] May 6, 2015 |

viking raid

It’s the only reasonable explanation for the administration’s basically fascistic attempt to stop the federal government from shoveling tens of billions of dollars into the coffers of university administrators every year with no strings attached:

[To] be sure, Obama’s higher-education reforms are embryonic, and they are also not the only conceivable way to fulfill the ambition of imposing accountability onto tuition subsidies, but . . . the administration is creating ways to help prospective students compare the effectiveness of different colleges, and metrics to impose accountability on them.

Luckily, the defenders of Freedom are already on the ramparts:

Congressional Republicans actively oppose this agenda. Alec MacGillis has an excellent report today on the emerging alliance on Capitol Hill between the higher-education lobby and the majority party in Congress. The higher-education lobby wants to block the federal ratings system and increasingly opposes any steps the administration would take to ensure that tuition subsidies fulfill their intended purpose.

Most of the traditional higher education lobbying groups signed onto a recent letter to Congress stating their support for Republican legislation that would block the new restrictions on for-profit colleges, as well as undo or weaken other accountability rules for colleges. And a new report on higher education regulation commissioned by the Senate and overseen by the American Council on Education, the leading lobby group for traditional schools, slammed the rules on for-profit colleges as part of a broader critique of the administration’s approach.

But how can this be? Aren’t Republicans in favor of accountability and efficiency and The Market (blessed be its name) etc? Well yes, but there’s a more fundamental principle at stake here, which is that society’s most successful rent-seekers producers should be rewarded for their labors:

[T]he health-care fight has showed that, once a government role has become entrenched, it is easy for incumbent industries to frame no-strings-attached funding as a “conservative” position. That is the strange ideological alchemy that turned the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which empowers experts to limit wasteful Medicare spending, into “rationing” and end-of-life counseling into “death panels.” The new Republican idea is to keep the government’s hands off your tuition subsidies.

On a related note, I got an email from someone seeking advice, who has been offered a $150,000 “scholarship” (actually, a cross-subsidized tuition discount) to attend Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School, which is located in lower Manhattan. This person plans to fund their law school attendance with federal loans. I ran the numbers on Georgetown’s excellent law school debt calculator, and discovered that an $150,000 scholarship will leave a 2015 Cardozo matriculant with approximately $126,000 in debt at repayment, six months after graduation.

How can this be? Here’s how: Cardozo hasn’t published its cost of attendance for 2015 yet, but if we assume a 3.5% increase over this year (this is conservative), the school’s COA this fall will be just under $83,000. Once you add in COA increases for the second and third years, along with interest and origination fees on federal loans, you’re up to $126,000 of debt by the time you get your bar results (and this doesn’t include another nine months worth of summer expenses, which aren’t included in the school’s estimated COA).

Here we see another invidious effect of turning America’s greatest cities into playpens for the .1%: people who go to school in these places end up with six figures of debt, even when they’re going for “free.”

There’s no such thing as law school

[ 63 ] April 30, 2015 |

unemployment line

Updated below

Employment data for the law school graduating class of 2014 are out (These numbers reflect the status of graduates ten months after graduation. In previous years the measuring point was nine months after graduation, but some California schools complained this was unfair to them, as California bar results tend to come out a few weeks later than in most states, i.e., about six months after graduation rather than five, leaving newly-barred California grads with less time to find a job. The change seems to have made no real difference, as all but the very top California schools still had ghastly employment numbers).

Anyway, the employment picture for new law grads remains about the same that it’s been, although the percentage of grads who got full-time long-term bar-required jobs ticked up a couple of percentage points, from 56% to 58% (excluding putative solos). This percentage increase took place despite an actual decline in the total number of such jobs, because this year’s graduating class was about seven percent smaller than the previous year’s. (A big decline in total annual law graduates is going to take place over the next two to three years, and then we will see real improvement in overall employment outcomes, assuming the market for entry-level lawyers remains fairly stable over this time).

If you look at the numbers by school, they drive home just how unhelpful it is to talk about “the” American law school in generic terms, by for example trying to determine the economic value of “a” law degree. The top dozen schools in regard to graduates acquiring jobs as lawyers had percentages ranging from 90% to 96%. The graduates of the bottom unlucky thirteen — not including the three ABA schools in Puerto Rico, who are something of an island to themselves — got lawyer jobs at rates ranging from Santa Clara (35.6%) to Golden Gate (25.7%).

An even more extreme spread applies to high-paying legal jobs. A dozen schools sent between 60% and 79% of their grads to large firms, or to federal clerkships (the latter are often, though not always, precursors to high-paid employment). Meanwhile, 77 of 201 ABA schools — again excluding Puerto Rico — placed 5% or less of their grads in such jobs (14 placed less than one percent).

Again, under these circumstances, asking whether it’s a good idea to go to law school is like asking if it’s a good idea to get married. The question needs to be a little more specific, or next thing you know you’re going to be hitched to Maureen Dowd, except she’s been fired from the NYT, and divorce has been outlawed.

Update: This probably deserves its own post, but Steve Diamond appears to be having some sort of mental breakdown. Here he is trying to warn Orin Kerr that such apparently mild-mannered figures as Deborah Jones Merritt and Brian Tamanaha have a Hidden Agenda, one that involves a conspiracy so vast that none dare call it by its true name:

It’s a “fact” that this crowd is out to destroy the American law school and higher education itself as an institution. That is the clear goal of the Koch Brothers backed Cato Institute. Anyone who tries to deny that is either collaborating in that effort or naive beyond belief. I have made this crystal clear from the earliest days in which I joined this debate. See LUN.

In the longer run I believe the intent [of law professors such as Merritt and Tamanaha] is to undermine the rule of law itself. As law faculty we have a responsibility to defend the rule of law and I have argued that means defending the American law school as an autonomous institution.

The slanderous treatment of (least of all) me but much more against many others by this crowd is aimed precisely at shutting us out of the debate and that of course is critical to the longer term strategy of destroying law schools themselves. Instead of worrying about my reputation – as much as I appreciate your concern (in all seriousness) – perhaps you should consider the agenda these people are attempting to carry out.

A subsequent commenter is interested in Diamond’s ideas and would like to subscribe to his newsletter:

Steve: who else are members of the conspiracy? Do we have secret handshakes? Do Campos, Merritt and Tamahana have secret meetings with Derek Tokaz and those you keep attacking? Are they also members of the Trilateral Commission? Is Campos’ left wing politics all a charade – his criticism of modern capitalism in the US? Why have they never been invited to the Bilderberg conference? Maybe they are all members of the Illuminatii? Are they conspiring with or against L. Ron Hubbard?

Please, we need to know more details. The future of democracy depends on ripping the veil away from these evil people – please, we need to know. Save us.

Dean of failing law school suggests critic of legal education should have tenure revoked

[ 73 ] April 27, 2015 |

pretenders

Richard Bales, who has been dean of Ohio Northern’s law school for the past two years, wonders just how bad a faculty member’s behavior has to become before tenure should be revoked:

[A]t what point is a tenured faculty member’s public pronouncements, professional misconduct, and/or research methodology, so outlandishly bad as to justify permanent removal of that faculty member from the university?

Academic freedom is rightly a powerful force; it protects the ability of academics to seek and speak Truth to Power. But what if a tenured astrophysicist insists — publicly and at every possible opportunity, that the earth is flat? What if a geneticist claims to find a genetic basis for arguing that members of a certain race are inherently less intelligent than members of another race, and the geneticist’s “findings” both are obviously methodologically flawed and completely ignore counter-evidence? What if a faculty member uses social media or the classroom to denigrate her university, or to make ad hominem attacks against fellow faculty members? At what point does a tenured faculty member become such an embarrassment to the institution, or become so disruptive to its educational mission, that the institution is justified in terminating the relationship?

The proximate cause of this question appears to have been yours truly, or more precisely an opinion piece I published in the New York Times earlier this month. It seems a bit odd that an opinion piece in a newspaper should cause a law school dean to suggest or imply that a faculty member at another school should have his tenure revoked. Now if I were in the mood to argue the merits of the issue, I would point out that no one has identified any factual errors in the piece, and that the objections to it are all based on its critics adopting inherently contestable and controversial positions regarding the article’s subject.

But all this is pretense: Bales’ wish to see me fired has, I suspect, nothing whatever to do with that article, and everything to do with other writing I’ve done. The latter work has, in various academic and popular venues, put forth the view that, given the employment prospects for their graduates, American law schools are far too numerous and expensive, that they should collectively graduate many fewer students, at a much lower price.

To Dean Bales, this theory is reminiscent of an astrophysicist insisting that the earth is flat. But you don’t need to be an astrophysicist to devise a theory explaining why Bales would consider my expression of my views on legal education a firing offense.

Bales was named Ohio Northern’s new dean in the spring of 2013. It’s fair to say he took on a difficult job: the state of Ohio has no less than nine law schools — five of them public — and a far from flourishing legal market. (This NYT piece discusses Ohio State law professor Deborah Jones Merritt’s new study detailing in great empirical detail just how bad that market has been for recent law graduates).

In addition, Ohio Northern is a small university of modest reputation, located in rural Ohio, far from the bright lights of Columbus and Toledo. The law school’s applicant pool was in sharp decline when Bales took over, having shrunk from 1,291 in 2010 to 843 in 2012. Bales, though, had an idea: the school could increase demand by cutting its price. Thus one of his first acts as dean was to announce at the beginning of the 2013-14 admissions cycle that ONU was cutting tuition by 25%, from $33,100 to $24,800.

Unfortunately for ONU, Econ 101 models don’t work very well in the esoteric world of the market for higher education, distorted as it is by its traffic in positional goods, Veblen effects, and heavy subsidization via government loans. Thus despite radically slashing prices relative to its competition, demand for what ONU’s law school is selling has, it’s also fair to say, collapsed: only 466 people applied to the school during the 2013-14 cycle, and, if Dean Bales’ bloggy fit of pique is any indication, applications aren’t looking too good this year either.

A glance at the law school’s parent institution’s tax filings reveals that it too is emitting far from a healthy fiscal glow: the university’s overall expenditures exceeded its revenues for the last two combined fiscal years. As for the law school, the combination of tuition cuts and shrinking class size — enrollment has fallen by a third over the past three years — means the school must be bleeding red ink at a rate that the university’s central administrators consider at the very least alarming. (A back of the envelope calculation suggests that the law school’s current net tuition revenues aren’t even covering faculty compensation. At law schools like ONU faculty compensation usually accounts for about 50% of operating expenses, while tuition represents around 80% to 90% of all revenues).

Anyway, I’m not taking any of this too personally,* as Bales has no ability to affect my employment. The members of Bales’ faculty, of course, should take it personally, since he is making it perfectly clear that taking a critical perspective on the economic structure of their institution is something he considers a firing offense.

*If forced to defend his position, I imagine Bales would cite the passive-aggressive “just asking questions” structure of his post, which doesn’t come right out and say I should have my tenure revoked. I asked Bales via email several days ago what, specifically, he was advocating in regard to my “case,” but he is apparently too cowardly busy to offer any reply.

No depression

[ 106 ] April 23, 2015 |

clintons

Over the years, Bill and Hillary Clinton have been subjected to accusations regarding so many fake “scandals” that it’s easy to dismiss further claims of impropriety and corruption as just more of the same. But as Jon Chait points out, it’s becoming evident that some of the things the Clintons have been doing over the past few years actually smell pretty bad:

The news today about the Clintons all fleshes out, in one way or another, their lack of interest in policing serious conflict-of-interest problems that arise in their overlapping roles:

The New York Times has a report about the State Department’s decision to approve the sale of Uranium mines to a Russian company that donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, and that a Russian investment bank promoting the deal paid Bill $500,000 for a speech in Moscow.

The Washington Post reports that Bill Clinton has received $26 million in speaking fees from entities that also donated to the Clinton Global Initiative.

The Washington Examiner reports, “Twenty-two of the 37 corporations nominated for a prestigious State Department award — and six of the eight ultimate winners — while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State were also donors to the Clinton family foundation.”

And Reuters reports, “Hillary Clinton’s family’s charities are refiling at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments, and said they may audit other Clinton Foundation returns in case of other errors.”

The Clinton campaign is batting down the darkest and most conspiratorial interpretation of these stories, and where this all leads remains to be seen. But the most positive interpretation is not exactly good.

Chait notes the most positive interpretation is that, in the post-Clinton presidency years, and especially in the years when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the Clintons were sloppy about details, greedy about money, and remarkably cavalier about potential conflicts of interest. And you don’t have to be the RNC’s media apparatus, i.e., FOX News et. al., to find more dire interpretations plausible.

For progressives, all this is, to put it mildly, depressing. Working to get someone with Hillary Clinton’s political views elected would require a certain amount of nose-holding even if she and her husband were above reproach, ethically speaking.

Under the circumstances, a race between Clinton and, say, Scott Walker is going to be akin to trying to acquire a sprained ankle instead of a major heart attack.

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