Academic Moneyball

by Henry on March 1, 2006

David Bernstein quotes from a National Review article on GMU law school:

“If the market discriminates against conservatives, then there should be good opportunities for hiring conservatives,” says [current Dean Daniel] Polsby. This is exactly the sort of observation one would expect a market-savvy law-and-economics scholar to make. Manne and his successors were able to act on this theory, and though Mason has in recent years expanded its recruitment of non-economics specialists [in part because law and economics scholars have gone from undervalued in the market when Manne was dean to a highly desired commodity], it has stuck by the core observation that law schools routinely overlook raw talent. Associate professor Craig Lerner, for instance, studied under the political theorist Allan Bloom at the University of Chicago and worked for Kenneth Starr on the Whitewater investigation. Listing either of these experiences on a résumé might easily turn off a hiring committee dominated by liberals, which is to say a hiring committee at just about every other law school. And so Lerner turns out to be exactly the type of candidate that attracts GMU. “Have you read Moneyball?” asks Todd Zywicki, another one of Mason’s bright young profs, in reference to the best-selling book by Michael Lewis on how the Oakland Athletics franchise assembled playoff-caliber teams on a limited budget. “We’re the Oakland A’s of the law-school world.”

I’ve sometimes wondered about the applicability of Moneyball type strategies to academic hiring. There surely are a lot of cascade phenomena in hiring, which don’t seem very rational or efficient, and which in principle could allow canny operators to exploit the irrationality of others. Each year, many departments try to outbid each other for the “hot” Ph.D. candidates, in part because they’re the “hot” candidates who everyone wants, and not necessarily because they are obviously better than others on the market. This should mean that there are low-lying fruit to be picked by going after other candidates, who are nearly as good or as good as the hot candidates, but who don’t get nearly as much attention. But it seems to me that the Moneyball analogy doesn’t really work, because a closer attention to candidates’ underlying form isn’t necessarily going to allow underranked departments to claw their way up the ratings. Unlike baseball, there isn’t any good independent way to measure performance, or a relatively uncomplicated relationship between innate merit, however you define it, and externally measured success. “Winning”as a department or school doesn’t depend on performing better in some absolute sense, so much as persuading your peers in other institutions that you are winning. The closest one gets to a neutral metric for success is publication in highly ranked journals, but this is far from independent, especially in the legal academy, where anonymous peer reviewed journals are mostly crowded out by law student edited journals, where the reviewers know the identity of a paper’s author. Student law journal editors are likely to pay attention to the reputation of an author’s school when they’re deciding whether to publish his or her article – I suspect that if you are an unknown from a highly ranked school, you have a much better chance of getting published than an unknown from a less prestigious school. Top schools have very smart people (in all probability, more talented on average than those in less well ranked schools) – but they probably do better in relative terms than any differences would merit. Furthermore, the ability to hire perceived stars is an important part of the reputational capital of these schools (even if these stars are over-valued). Ceteris paribus, departments that hire equally (or nearly as) talented people, who aren’t perceived as stars, are going to find it more difficult to improve their rankings than they should. To some extent, the “success” of top law schools is a self perpetuating phenomenon.

What this suggests to me is that GMU law school’s success in the rankings is only partly thanks to the ability of its Dean to exploit others’ irrationality by spotting underexploited talent elsewhere, and hiring it. It is also the product of a more Bourdieuvian class of an operation, which redefined the rules of the legal marketplace, by establishing a different kind of intellectual capital (that of conservative thought in the legal academy), and persuading others that this capital had value. I can understand why GMU law professors might like to represent their success as the triumph of rationality in the marketplace; it reinforces their own express understanding of how the world works. But canny recruitment of legal talent on its own seems to me to only be a part of the story (and perhaps not the most important part). An assiduous effort to create a certain reputational capital by implicitly or explicitly criticizing the perceived processes of hiring within the legal academy, setting up an institution which seemed at odds with these processes, and persuading others that this critique had merit seem to me to have been equally important, and probably more important, in getting GMU law school to where it is today.

{ 40 comments }

1

des von bladet 03.01.06 at 1:53 pm

These schools have very smart people (in all probability, more talented on average than those in poorly ranked schools) – but they probably do better in relative terms than any differences would merit.

I would be frankly and openly astonished if academia was more disproportionate in this respect than professional sports. Is anyone in a position to do a comparison of Real Madrid vs. Grimsby Town with Harvard vs. Charmless Red-State U?

(This is only partly an excuse to gloat over wossname’s departure from Real “Shmalactaco” Madrid, honest it is.)

2

AnonymousCoward 03.01.06 at 1:56 pm

I actually have a friend who was hired by GMU law under this strategy. He’s very, very smart, very, very right wing, and absolutely as mad as a hatter (or at least he likes to give that impression, which amounts to much the same thing). My intelligence indicates that it was the eccentricity more than the politics that inclined other schools to pass on him. I’m not sure what this information adds to the question at hand, except perhaps that the reasons for the hottitude or lack thereof of academic job candidates are usually complex, and that correspondingly there’s unlikely to be a simple strategy for arbitraging of irrationalities in the market

3

Richard Bellamy 03.01.06 at 1:58 pm

Of course, even if Moneyball, the A’s never actually beat the Yankees. Similarly, GMU was never going to rank higher than Yale or Penn. That doesn’t mean they can’t leapfrog well over the Royals and Mariners, though.

Assumedly, after you get past the Top X schools, though, there is something of a “great flattening” where there’s really little difference between schools X+1 and X+50. If you hire “undervalued” scholars, compared to, say, the ten schools ranked higher than you in US News, then those scholars should get more Top Tier Law Review placements than comparable schools without Moneyball scholars. Eventually, you move to the top of that group of 10, and suddenly you’re in a new peer group.

Rinse and repeat.

4

Charles 03.01.06 at 2:39 pm

In a world of student-edited law reviews, getting top publications requires convincing students, not other faculties. Students are in the job as articles editors for only one year, making the process pretty random. As a result, there is less room for “redefining the rules of the marketplace” than you might think. So Henry is right in part, but Moneyball explains a lot.

5

P O'Neill 03.01.06 at 2:47 pm

Interesting post and comments. Another take on the GMU sales pitch would be that it represents another stage in the victimhood-seeking of conservatives — see, we suffer discrimination too! Also, one difference in the competition between Havard and CRSU compared to the Real Madrid-Grimsby town is that if, God forbid, Grimbsy played the galacticos, they can do things on the field to stifle them that I’m not sure CRSU can to do Harvard.

6

Christopher M 03.01.06 at 3:20 pm

The GMU phenomenon seems to reflect some very contingent facts about the world of legal academia, which are that there are lines of legal thought like law-and-economics, originalism, textualism, and constitutional libertarianism which (1) most legal academics, being a rather liberal lot by American standards, don’t tend to agree with, but (2) are widely understood as intellectually serious, often clever, and productive lines of thought, so that articles within these lines are taken seriously by law journals and even widely cited by scholars who basically reject their premises.

That partially also reflects the fact that legal scholars have a much closer relationship with non-academic bodies like courts & other government actors than do academics in many other fields. If the courts are taking a field of scholarship like law-and-econ seriously, then a school may gain prestige by hiring a good scholar in that field even if other academics are largely skeptical.

In academic fields where similar conditions don’t exist, you might not expect a strategy like GMU’s to pay off.

7

momoney 03.01.06 at 3:54 pm

“If the market discriminates against conservatives, then there should be good opportunities for hiring conservatives”

Do we have any evidence that high-quality conservatives come cheaper than high-quality liberals? Isn’t that the key issue? Scratching my head a bit, my guess would be that the high-quality conservatives demand a real premium. But, again, there might be a perceptual issue at work (perhaps high-quality conservatives are simply more visible?) The question could be answered in a defensible way, however, and could lay to rest a good bit of whining on the right. Good post!

8

Sebastian holsclaw 03.01.06 at 4:19 pm

“My intelligence indicates that it was the eccentricity more than the politics that inclined other schools to pass on him.”

This is of course a tricky area. How much “more than” are we talking about? Would an equally bright and eccentric leftist have as much trouble? I don’t know. I certainly experienced some rather eccentric leftist professors in law school but anecdote, data, etc.

I think Henry is probably right about the reputational effect–hiring equally deserving (intellectually) people who have not yet procured a stellar reputation isn’t going to help when the stakes are measured on reputation. As a short term game that won’t work. In a long term sense it might work out if further work leads to long term reputation effects. It might also be good for intellectual development of the society as a whole if these undervalued people get a place to contribute.

9

Matt Weiner 03.01.06 at 4:47 pm

It seems to me that there’s another potential issue here, which I can put in baseball terms: It may be that the market overvalues left-handed relievers and undervalues right-handed relievers, and so a team can get a lot of good right-handed relievers at a bargain price. But that doesn’t mean that it would be good for them to build their whole free agency strategy around that, because it might not be to their advantage to have only right-handed relievers in the bullpen. (“But all the other teams have only left-handed relievers and they do OK!” Don’t know enough about law to say whether they don’t have even a few northpaws, sorry.)

In philosophy I do think that you could apply the Moneyball principle to junior hiring; people who’ve been in visiting positions for a couple-few years are not only undervalued on the market, I think, it’s also easier to get a bead on their true productivity than with new PhDs. But I’ve only served on one year’s worth of hiring committees so far, and all I can say about that is that none of our hires have been out of grad school for more than a year or so, and I’m very happy with all of them.

10

AnonymousCoward 03.01.06 at 4:52 pm

“This is of course a tricky area.” It certainly is, and the trickiness runs pretty deep. In this case, for example, and I suspect in not a few others as well, the right-wing views may well be secondary to the eccentricity, adopted in large part “pour epater les bourgeois.” The same may, of course, have been true of some of your eccentric left-wing professors, since Back In the Day (before 1965, say), far-left views could be at least mildly shocking in academia. Any given act of political positioning is likely to be performative as well as, or even rather than, principled.

11

Tad Brennan 03.01.06 at 5:46 pm

Oh god, more of the hiring-discrimination nonsense, subtitled “how underqualified conservatives learned to embrace their victimhood and reverse their opposition to hiring quotas”.

Look, I have been involved in five different academic searches in two different departments this winter, looking over hundreds of dossiers with some degree of care, dozens with huge amounts of care, and meeting more than a dozen people for extended face to face talks.

About *none* of them do I have the *faintest* idea whether they are for or against busing, abortion, the war in Iraq, warrantless wire-taps, raising taxes or lowering taxes, states rights or broader federal power, the unitary executive or a stronger legislature, and so on and so on. I have not the faintest idea, in any one of their cases, whether they are liberal, conservative, or neither.

None of this stuff comes up in interviews or conversations. We talk about their writing, about their teaching, about their knowledge of the literature. We grill them about problems with their written work. But it would no more occur to me to talk about contemporary politics with a candidate than it would occur to me to talk contemporary politics in my classroom: it is completely unrelated to the subjects that I teach and hire in, and so it has no business there. I don’t bring it up, and I’m pretty sure that if any person in a hiring situation were to volunteer their views on the Supreme Court’s flouting of precedent in Bush v. Gore, or ask the candidate for their views on it, then the rest of the people in the room would frown and tell them to get back on task. It would be slightly less of a faux pas than asking a candidate for a monetary bribe, but not much.

“Oh, but it doesn’t have to be that unsubtle,” say the right-wing whiners, “you already *know* that your applicants are liberals because of the topics they work on.” Yeah right. Tribunate-lists under the Roman empire: liberal or conservative? The export-market in Attic vase-painting: liberal or conservative? The role of conscious thought in logical intuition: liberal or conservative? The connection between critical reflection and originality in Kant’s epistemology: liberal or conservative? And on and on. *You* have no idea how the authors of those dissertations voted last election, and *I* have no idea, either.

You know, maybe off in law schools, where there are good reasons to talk about politics, things are different (though Brian Leiter says they are quite politically diverse for their own reasons). Maybe in political science departments there is rampant discrimination by political orientation (ask Harvey Mansfield how he assesses candidates; I don’t know). But in Philosophy and Classics, in which I have been hiring for a hell of a long time now, there is not only no discrimination by political orientation, there is not even the *possibility* of it. You can’t discriminate when you simply *have no idea* what the people’s political orientations are. And you never do. Maybe years later if you hire them and you get to know them as a colleague it might come up in non-work-related conversation. But in the hiring process? Never.

12

Functional 03.01.06 at 6:08 pm

Well, Brian Leiter’s idea of “diversity” is when a law school has one traditionalist conservative, one libertarian, and then 48 liberals/leftists who have varying degrees of leftiness.

13

Functional 03.01.06 at 6:21 pm

Tad — I grant your point that ideological discrimination in hiring is impossible or unlikely in most cases. But mightn’t the effective discrimination arise earlier in the process? Imagine, for example, that you were just entering the academy as a graduate student, and you found out that your options were to study with Mansfield, Glenn Reynolds, or John Yoo. Even if you thought that they would supervise your non-ideological work without any prejudices — that they would always treat you fairly — still, can you not imagine being uncomfortable at the prospect? Now imagine that this is what some conservatives may justifiably feel towards many professors.

14

y81 03.01.06 at 6:52 pm

For a law school, there is another good independent way to measure performance, which is by attracting top quality students. If we presume, plausibly, that law professors generally are far to the left of the average American, and prospective law students are pretty average, then a considerable number of prospective law students may be attracted to school thought to be more conservative. This will produce an immediate boost to the school’s U.S. News rankings, because the LSAT scores of the student body will rise, and also a longer term benefit, because better students will achieve, on average, greater professional success, which will enhance the reputation of their alma mater.

Also, conservative law professors probably have more useful professional connections (John Yoo can work for the Bush Administration, but even John Kerry wouldn’t hire Brian Leiter or Catherine MacKinnon). This also may attract a higher quality of student.

15

Z 03.01.06 at 7:50 pm

I believe your analysis is in fact not Bourdieusian enough, Henry. Academia as a whole is a rather autonomous field, pretty much as autonomous as can be in the direction of hard sciences, but also very much autonomous in “softer” department, as tad brennan in 11 describes beautifully. As such, it is a menace to other fields so there is a constant temptation for other fields to try and influence it. GMU is a paradigmatic example of an heteronomous institution. Now, as I understand it, the mystery is that GMU is well ranked. Well, considering the enormous power of the political and financial fields in the US, I am not surprised.

Take what 6 said The GMU phenomenon seems to reflect some very contingent facts about the world of legal academia, which are that there are lines of legal thought [wich] are widely understood as intellectually serious, often clever, and productive lines of thought, so that articles within these lines are taken seriously by law journals and even widely cited by scholars who basically reject their premises.

Well, to a foreigner like me, those ligns of thoughts seems rather peculiar and I don’t see how they could strive in academia without their constant backing within the rest of the society by various social groups (whose interests it is not necessary to explain, I believe). So I would correct 6 in The GMU phenomenon seems to reflect some very non-contingent facts about American society

So I doubt that the success of GMU is a success of redifinition within a field, as you implied. It seems to be more the story of an extern field succesfully influencing another one and a sign of the heteronomous nature of legal studies in the US.

16

Barry 03.01.06 at 7:59 pm

z, if I may condense your words, you’re basically saying that conservative/right-wing law professors are much more useful to the powers-that-be in our society, than left-wing professors.

y81: “Also, conservative law professors probably have more useful professional connections (John Yoo can work for the Bush Administration, but even John Kerry wouldn’t hire Brian Leiter or Catherine MacKinnon). This also may attract a higher quality of student.”

I’d just make the change from ‘conservative’ to ‘right-wingers, even to the point of lunacy’. Which says something about society, that a radical right-wing (not conservative) law professor probably has a greater in than a merely liberal law professor.

17

Matt Weiner 03.01.06 at 8:08 pm

to functional in 13 (6:21 pm): But if the process works as you describe, with conservatives selecting themselves at the beginning because they don’t want to study with liberal professors, then there won’t be any bargains to pick up by chasing conservative academic hires. There will be many fewer conservatives to hire, and (arguendo) they won’t be any less likely to be hired by other departments. So the Moneyball strategy won’t work unless there’s actual discrimination in hiring.

I have my doubts about whether conservatives are being driven away from law by the politics of law school professors, by the way. There seems to me no shortage of conservative lawyers. But then I may have a low standard for “too few conservative lawyers.”

18

Tyler Cowen 03.01.06 at 8:28 pm

I have but one vote in GMU Econ., but we have our own Moneyball strategy: look for economists who work with ideas.

19

Seth Finkelstein 03.01.06 at 8:41 pm

Hmmm … as someone else put it so famously

“And there’s a real question as to how plausible it is to believe that there is anything like half as many people who are qualified to be [law professors] at top ten schools and who are now not at top ten schools, and that’s the argument that one has to make in thinking about this as a national problem rather than an individual institutional problem.”

“And there are certainly examples of institutions that have focused on increasing their diversity to their substantial benefit, but if there was really a pervasive pattern of discrimination that was leaving an extraordinary number of high-quality potential candidates behind, one suspects that in the highly competitive academic marketplace, there would be more examples of institutions that succeeded substantially by working to fill the gap. And I think one sees relatively little evidence of that.”

20

rea 03.01.06 at 9:08 pm

“I have been involved in five different academic searches in two different departments this winter . . . About none of [the job candidates] do I have the faintest idea whether they are for or against busing, abortion, the war in Iraq, warrantless wire-taps, raising taxes or lowering taxes, states rights or broader federal power, the unitary executive or a stronger legislature . . .”

Well, but respectfully, I don’t think you teach at a law school. All those topics you list involve major legal issues. Just as, say, a physics search committee would be interested in a candidates views on string theory, so a law school search committee would be interested in a candidate’s views on constitutional law issues . . .

21

Z 03.01.06 at 9:24 pm

Barry,
You may condense my words of course, but I would contend that your summary is really a betrayal. The thing is that words like “powers-that-be” or “useful in our society” or even “left-wing” tend to be ill-defined. Sociologists strive to find clear concepts. I tried to use them. To someone familiar with Bourdieu’s sociology, what I wrote (hopefully) has a precise meaning, and this meaning is very notably different than those of your summary.

That said, I tend to agree with (what I take to be) your opinion: conservative/right-wing law professors are much more useful to the powers-that-be in our society, than left-wing professors. But this was not my point.

22

Tad Brennan 03.01.06 at 9:34 pm

#20–

respectfully, I agree. My comments are not directly germane to the situation in law schools. But notice what Henry’s original post said, after the quote:

“I’ve sometimes wondered about the applicability of Moneyball type strategies to academic hiring….Each year, many departments try to outbid each other for the “hot” Ph.D. candidates….”

I took those, in context, to be claims about “academic hiring” in general, and “PhD candidates” in general (and I take it that Law Schools still do not require the PhD as a credential for teaching, as the University at large does). So it seemed to me that the overall topic of this post was hiring in the academy at large.

Perhaps Henry will tell me I’m wrong about that.

23

BigMacAttack 03.01.06 at 11:05 pm

For physics and appearently classical studies your politics don’t show.

But I would think, that to varying degrees, basic political assumptions will show in these fields – economics, law, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and literature.

Right? I mean can you discuss or write a paper on an American Tragedy and not have some of your basic political assumptions show? The Virginian? Billy Bud? The Scarlet Letter? The Grapes of Wrath?

And what is a good idea?

Is this a good idea?

http://maxspeak.org/mt/archives/001689.html

And how do your basic political assumptions influence your preception of ideas that directly or indirectly reveal basic political/human assumptions?

And it seems to me that there is a large qualified pool of applicants separated by small differneces.

A liberal professor is someone who can wax eloquently and persuasively about institutions and power and the culture/sociology of racism and it’s often subtle, insidious, and yet powerful impact.

Ask the same guy about liberal univeristities and the hiring of conservatives and you will here about meritocracy, and how the good ones don’t really want to be here, and boy those people sure do whine alot.

How many smart high scoring LSAT applicants apply to GMU precisely because it is conservative?

24

maidhc 03.01.06 at 11:44 pm

This discussion is a long way from reality. Only a very small number of highly-rated and well-funded universities “try to outbid each other for the hot PhD candidates”.

Outside of the elite universities, there are no bidding wars for candidates. In most disciplines you would be likely to get at least 100 applicants for any opening. In the sciences, you couldn’t possibly get hired with only a PhD–a post doc is essential.

The “invisible hand” naturally depresses faculty salaries. Over all disciplines, faculty salaries are reportedly 30% lower than comparably educated people working in the private sector. Many state universities are not able to bid at all–salaries are set by the state.

Another increasing trend is to cut back the number of tenure-track positions and replace them with part-time faculty who don’t have to be given benefits.

The most likely reason that you don’t find many conservatives in academia is that they have a superior understanding of the workings of market forces, and therefore move into professions where they can make more money.

Only the poor deluded lefties are left on campus, stubbornly refusing to believe that they could make more money installing appliances or teaching kindergarten.

25

Tad Brennan 03.02.06 at 12:01 am

“A liberal professor is someone who can wax eloquently and persuasively about institutions and power and the culture/sociology of racism and it’s often subtle, insidious, and yet powerful impact.”

Uh, no. A liberal professor is someone like me, who has various liberal views, maybe spends some time outside of class blogging about various issues, and then goes into the classroom and sticks to the syllabus for the course.

So, the liberal professors over in the Math department go into the classroom and prove theorems, and the liberal professors in the Classics department teach you the irregular verbs, and so on. And the political views that we express in our own free time, outside of the class room, do not have any effect on the content of our teaching. I don’t wax eloquent about the sociology of racism in my classroom because I’m not, you know, a sociologist. That’s how it is with most liberal professors: we have worked hard to learn a lot about our subjects, and we don’t admire amateurism.

I know that doesn’t agree with your favorite strawman image of the horrible liberal professor. And maybe you had some jerk in your own college experience who didn’t know how to act professionally–or maybe you just heard about one, via hearsay, the way that Horowitz has managed to convert a couple of hearsay anecdotes into an epidemic of liberal indoctrination. But it really doesn’t match my own experience.

Anyhow, you want to accuse liberal professors of hypocrisy for talking about the subtle impact of culture but denying its impact in the context of academic hiring. Fine–that’s the charge I am making about conservatives who denied any need for concern for the tender sensibilities of others, denied the legitimacy of ‘disparate impact’ studies, fought tooth and nail against affirmative action of any kind, and now want to embrace all of that stuff so they can undermine the autonomy of the academy.

26

chris uggen 03.02.06 at 12:09 am

great post! i think the moneyball strategy of searching for the “fat catcher with a good on-base-percentage” can work in academia, but only in a limited sense. as long as nrc rankings are reputation-driven, it doesn’t matter if “we’re actually better than we look,” because reputation equals winning. that said, we can be creative about seeking undervalued assets. if senior female scholars, for example, are undervalued relative to senior male scholars, the savvy department would pursue the former. similarly, if one’s department can add value to the undervalued work of an individual scholar (e.g., through publicity or institutional connections), then ferreting out the undervalued could be a great strategy.

27

rea 03.02.06 at 7:00 am

“Law Schools still do not require the PhD as a credential for teaching”

Well, they generally require a JD degree, and the “D” in “JD” stands for “doctor,” although in practice we don’t usually call ourselves “doctors” unless we’re trying to get restaurant reservations. See several posts down . . .

28

y81 03.02.06 at 9:00 am

tad brennan, learning irregular verbs is for freshmen. Based on my own college experience, I would be amazed if any classics (or physics, or econ) major didn’t know the political leanings of the senior professors in the department. These are the people who teach most of the high level seminars that majors take. Although most classes don’t feature extensive political discussion, in most seminars that I took: (i) the professor, over the course of the semester, let his political views be known and (ii) the students, being good little suckups, didn’t argue. (E.g., the ancient history professor who joked that B.C.E. stands for “Before the Common Error.” I certainly didn’t challenge him.) I don’t say that this is an outrage, but it is certainly a fact.

29

Doug T 03.02.06 at 9:08 am

This is a very interesting post. I think it could apply in other fields, just using different criteria than political orientation. Take physics–you could argue that, for a while, there was too large of a premium placed on high energy physics. So ignore that, and focus on, say, solid state physics. And, contra the “all lefthanded relievers” point above, in science there is real value in becoming seen as a top school in a specific area. And that can then be a seed to build the rest of the department around.

A few contrary points. The big one is raised in the initial post–that perception of departments is in large part built on reputation and status, so in a sense it’s impossible for anything to be over or undervalued. The value of a faculty memeber is what people think it is. This isn’t 100% true, but is partially.

Also, stretching the baseball analogy, free agency tends to maintain the status of the top schools. If an opportunity presents itself, most top physicists will take tha chance to jump from, say, Nebraska to MIT or Caltech. So even if Nebraska is successful in finding value at the initial hire, the best faculty will leave once they’ve established their reputation to the point that other offers are available.

30

david 03.02.06 at 9:14 am

I think here’s how it went: “hmmm, let’s see, studied under Bloom, worked with Kenneth Starr, yep,this poor baby is one of us, and he has been persecuted.” More of this sort of hiring goes on at GMU because GMU believes that the poor little babies have been persecuted elsewhere.

It’s also what Chis Uggen said — beauty contest rankings aren’t very effective at identifying what we think we mean when we talk about research potential, but they do mean a lot for departments looking to improve in the ratings. Which leads to the PR game of announcing “look at the overlooked value we’ve found!, followed by the internalization of the ideas underwriting the PR, followed by the necessary justification of law and economics as good, solid, persecuted work. I guess that is Bordieu, without a rueful shrug to gallicize.

31

paul 03.02.06 at 10:44 am

I was struck by the notion that the best students (as measured by LSAT, ahem) would naturally gravitate toward schools with professors who had administration connections and could get them into line for power jobs. This seems wrong to me for a number of reasons — the two main ones are that it makes unwarranted assumptions about the kind of “power jobs” that these ostensibly best students will want (especially since you’re not going to make as much money as in the private sector), and it underestimates the arrogance of the best law-school candidates. The “best” students will believe that they can get a job they want based on personal star quality; it will be the second-best students who understand that their way to the top involves hitching their wagon to a partisan hack.

32

Bill Korner 03.02.06 at 1:12 pm

This whole thread is WAY to kind to a clever but utterly uninformatiuve analogy between baseball and law schools.

The discussion is a lot like the current Becker-Posner discussion of how universities are and are not (should/should not be) analogous to corporations. The original analogy is shameless rhetoric, the discussants tearing it apart is revealing, but ultimately the whole conversation lends too much intellectual legitimacy to unimpressive rhetoric.

How’s that for stating an opinion without argument!?

33

BigMacAttack 03.02.06 at 2:16 pm

Tad Brennan,

LMAO? Classroom? It never even entered my mind. I meant in general. And I meant it as a compliment.

But if you were a sociologist or history or anthropology or law or economics or literature professor basic political assumptions might very well be part of the discussion and it is easy to see how having the wrong set of assumptions might impact students.

Jerky? No. I really didn’t care. Personally I liked Professor Markowitz. He didn’t seem that dangerous to me. More short and maybe not in the best shape and this was years ago. But what do I know? Maybe he is dangerous. Well he never hurt me or was jerky. I guess I was lucky. Whew!

I thought Leiter’s essay on the topic was very well done and right on target. Suck it up whiny conservatives, pull your selves up by your boot straps and overcome. But it really cuts both ways.

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Matt Weiner 03.02.06 at 2:19 pm

miadhc seems to me wrong about one thing and right about another. There can be over 100 candidates for a job at non-elite schools, true, but that doesn’t mean that there are never bidding wars; at least, it doesn’t mean that there is no incentive to try to get good candidates that won’t get offers from other schools. It costs time and money to give a candidate a close look; if your most favored candidates take other jobs, you can be up the creek even though there are other applicants who are almost as good, because you can’t go back and interview those other candidates. So the “Moneyball” approach could still make sense, if you could pull it off (as per the second paragraph of my 9).

But it seems to me correct that conservatives have moved into professions where they can make more money. I don’t think this is because academics are deluded lefties — I think most damn well we could make more money as lawyers — but because we value other things besides money. And do you know what that means? That means that there’s a plausible hypothesis for why academia is liberal even if there’s no discrimination against conservatives. So those who are tempted to kick about that awful liberal bias in hiring, provide some evidence please.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 03.02.06 at 6:03 pm

“But it seems to me correct that blacks have moved into professions where they can make more money. I don’t think this is because academics are deluded lefties—I think most damn well we could make more money as lawyers—but because we value other things besides money.”

I think this variation might be true too. My prescription for affirmative action hiring in either case is the same.

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Matt Weiner 03.02.06 at 7:30 pm

Well, black people have faced a lot of discrimation historically and still face it throughout their lives (conscious or unconscious) today; much more so than conservatives obviously do in academia. And black people don’t have political beliefs that privilege monetary success in quite the same way as conservatives do; for instance, one would be surprised to see a major black political group put out a chart defining “Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples” as those making over $200,000. Otherwise, it’s an exact analogy.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 03.03.06 at 1:07 am

“And black people don’t have political beliefs that privilege monetary success in quite the same way as conservatives do”

Not in the same way, but quite possibly to the same intensity.

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razor 03.04.06 at 11:42 am

Uh,
As to law school
it is vocational. Three years and out.
The best talent starts at six figures
and expects to soon do better, which is why it went to a trade school.

For the would be teachers,
the annointed clerked for a
Supreme Court Justice. (The Post Doc.)
The less talented can be annointed by working, for, say Ken Starr, which, position, like that of working for the Iraq provisional authority, requires a political partisanship test, does it not? (Remember how the most recent Supreme Court Justice lied about his beliefs by saying that when he said he was a conservative, to get a job in the Republican administration, he was just lying to get the job and did not really mean what he said? He will be hiring clerks who will be getting plum law school jobs. Think political bias might effect who he hires as clerks?)

Those of whatever bizarre political biases are preferred by Supreme Court members have a huge advantage in all legal job markets completely out of proportion to their relative merit as measured in either the academic legal community or in the professional legal community. In this field, if one’s biases are shared by a majority of judges, then one is on the frontier of the emerging Truth, and so a hot commodity. It is as if the student’s dissertation advisor himself will write the laws that retroactively establish as a matter of law that the student’s dissertation is right. Every school wants professors with that type of The Fix Is In brilliance.

So getting back to the GMU/Oakland A nonsense, John Yoo, that worthless crazy whore, works at famously conservative Berkley, does he not? http://www.law.berkeley.edu/faculty/profiles/facultyProfile.php?facID=235

Why does Berkley want Yoo? Because Yoo’s politics matched those of people with power, which he used to make connections, so that he got the positions where his politics made him useful, which gave him the credentials that that made him desirable to Berkley’s frugal search for conservative intellectual excellence. After all – Oakland is Berkley’s neighbor.

In short, what a load.

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Joe S. 03.04.06 at 7:35 pm

There is a lot in law that is completely apolitical: somewhere between plumbing and engineering. I once worked with a fellow for about six years. We got along well, but I thought he was a bit too solicitous of consumers in ways that gummed up the integrity of the legal rules we were working on. He died; I went to his funeral. Justice Scalia gave the eulogy; they were apparently ideological soulmates. I put myself to the left of Atrios, FWIW. And this is not the only case I know of.

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razor 03.05.06 at 11:40 am

Certainly most in law is completely apolitical and more akin to fixing a backed up toilet than to Judicial Philosophy (whatever that is). And certainly Gore v. Bush could have been decided in an apolitical way but absolutely positively was not. The precedent is unequivocal. No matter how many the anectdotes of Scalia’s regular guy integrity.

But the prestige in law is always in the areas where politics rule. It has been long observed that the higher the court, the greater the opportunity to make political decisions and the less the ability (and inclination) to make a plumbing decision. In high courts now the cutting edge politics is that of the Federalist Society, and those so connected are in high demand. In contrast, members of a similiarly marginal fringe group, the National Lawyers Guild, remain in zero demand.

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