Monday, August 29, 2005

 

Who's the ass here?

Where do I start with Adam Liptak's kinda stupid NYT story yesterday, entitled "If the Law Is an Ass, the Law Professor Is a Donkey"? (Doff of cap to Althouse.)

Liptak reports on a forthcoming Georgetown Law Journal "study" that
analyzes 11 years of records reflecting federal campaign contributions by professors at the top 21 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Almost a third of these law professors contribute to campaigns, but of them, the study finds, 81 percent who contributed $200 or more gave wholly or mostly to Democrats; 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans.
Whoa, there fella. The study wants us to assume that these 1/3 of professors who give money are a representative sample of the views of all law professors: 80% democrats, 15 % republicans, and 5% "other." (New flash: Law profs are more likely to hold nutty fringe views than Americans in general!) But there are all sorts of reasons to assume that this sample is skewed. Sample hypotheses: What if donors at this income level are more likely to be activists, who may be more likely than an average sample of American voters to be liberal (or fringe)? And what if Democratic fundraisers direct a higher proportion of their appeals to middle class intellectuals, while Republic grass roots fundraisers tend to ignore lawprof types and hit the evangelical Christians? Bad, baaad social science.

And let's put these numbers in context. Assume an average of 45-50 law professors on a law faculty (that number is probably high), we're talking about fewer than 1,000 law professors in the study. About 270 of these professors supposedly gave money to democrats, and about 50 gave money to Republicans. It is certainly conceivable that among the 650 "non-activists" on these faculties, there could be more Republicans than Democrats. The study doesn't sample them, of course, but if there were 400 Republicans among the non-activists, then you would get a very unremarkable 50-45 Democrat-Republican split, and you could just throw out the entire Georgetown study. If there is any doubt that these numbers can be extremely misleading, look no further than the fact that one of the most conservative faculties among the top 20 law schools, Chicago, came across as "liberal" in this study and "more liberal than Berkeley."

Really, the "study" is just a veneer of academic methodology to justify a publication revealing the shocking fact that law professors as a group are more liberal than Americans as a whole. Let's just forget the bogus sociology and just assume lawprofs are more liberal than your average bear -- as are university professors are said to be generally. So what? What's the game here?

Certainly, it is part of a broad conservative strategy to exaggerate how liberal the legal system is -- look at the far right's attack on the "liberal, activist judiciary" we supposedly have now -- and exaggerating the liberality of law schools fits neatly into this strategy.

The article apparently has a related axe to grind: academic, as opposed to judicial, appointments. The Georgetown study argues that while law schools pursue affirmative action plans to "promote diversity in the classroom," they discourage diversity in faculty hiring by creating a liberal orthodoxy among faculty. Aha.

The truth is that law schools pursue affirmative action plans primarily to compensate for historical and ongoing vestiges of race discrimination. Diversity of viewpoints is just a side benefit of racial diversity, but schools have to pretend they are primarily seeking viewpoint diversity only because the Supreme Court has said that redressing historical and societal discrimination is not a valid justification for affirmative action, while viewpoint diversity is. (Thanks, Justice O'Connor.) The Georgetown article is trying to play a manipulative game of "gotcha" with a glitch in the law created largely by conservative justices.

But let's take the argument through to it's conclusion. Again, so what? The Georgetown study author is talking about faculty hiring, not student admissions: but to suggest that qualified conservative applicants for law professor jobs are facing rampant discrimination from liberal professors based only on the fact that more professors are liberal than conservative is faulty inferential reasoning. Law professor applicants are a self-selected group, and you can't simply assume that conservatives seek academic jobs in proportion to their numbers among JDs.

Is the author of the Georgetown study proposing affirmative action for conservative applicants for law teaching? Talk about inconsistency -- (no affirmative action based on race, but yes based on conservative political views) -- and a terrible idea. While there is a tendency for academic departments to replicate their own orthodoxies in hiring, the implied affirmative action proposal in the Georgetown study would require hiring committees to make intrusive inquiries into the political views of job applicants -- something that doesn't happen now in law school hiring and that seems quite perverse if the goal is to promote diversity of political views.

So why exactly should measures be taken to "correct" the "liberal bias" of law schools?

Is it to protect students from "liberal indoctrination"? Anyone who thinks that law professors are able to "indoctrinate" their students should, well, talk to a few law students. Attempts at liberal indoctrination are met with cold stares and invective-filled course evaluations. Law students are just not looking to have their minds molded like impressionable clay. As Posner nicely put it in the Liptak article, students view law school as "career preparation, not Sunday chapel."

Is it because conservative ideas are simply shouted down or crowded out by the overwhelming liberal orthodoxy of our public discourse? Hmm, maybe that's it.

There's a certain strand of conservative whining within law schools that I've heard for years, since my own law school days. "We control all three branches of the federal government, but, boo hoo, we don't control the law schools and we feel so ... so alienated here." Some social scientist should do a study of why conservatives feel it grounds for complaint unless they control every institution in society.

The Georgetown study should be nominated for some type of award for in-depth analysis of a big societal not-a-problem. And Liptak should win a journalism award for breaking the story that law professors are more liberal than other Americans as a whole -- an anecdotal impression that may or may not be accurate.

Comments:
I hate it when people complain about crap like that. I happen to know a couple of conservative law students at UW right now. If you actually have reasons behind the political views you hold, you're not going to suddenly switch sides because all of your profs are on the other. Are they afraid they're going to lose their non-committal support? Just plain silliness if you ask me.
 
a recent issue of harper's had a fascinating dialogue among lani guinier, david gelernter, stnaley fish et al, with four scenarios about possible hiring bias due to the presence of liberal faculty. interestingly, guinier was the strongest defender of affirmative action for conservatives and the very religious, on the theory that they are needed as mentors and advisors for those students most like them.

as for the ny times article, i must confess that my first reaction when i read it was dismay, not at the bias, but at the relatively low rate of political donations at most of these schools. c'mon folks! you make careers out of carping about the laws we have in america, so how about putting some money into changing them?
 
Remember that 75% of all studies are crap. Or something like that.
 
Howdy!

I am out spreading the word
to all true supporters of evangelical lutheran synod

I believe that readers of this blog
would be fascinated to read about
the great new book at

evangelical lutheran synod
 
I’ve been blog surfing today looking for information on goal setting for kids, and sometimes just a word or phrase is all it takes to spark my imagination and enable
me to add more free stuff to my website.

Thanks, I found a little nugget one on your blog that got me “sparkly”.

There’s a ton of information on goal setting on just “normal” bloggers blogs that is very useful in my research and I hope to add more free information to my web site with the tidbits I find in blogs, and am writing another eBook with input from bloggers based on the research I’m doing just by blog surfing.

You’d be surprised at the depth of information out there from people who are not selling or marketing anything remotely regarding goal setting for kids and goal setting.

Have a great day! And thanks again for the "nugget"!
 
I’ve been blog surfing today looking for information on effective goal setting, and sometimes just a word or phrase is all it takes to spark my imagination and enable
me to add more free stuff to my website.

Thanks, I found a little nugget one on your blog that got me “sparkly”.

There’s a ton of information on goal setting on just “normal” bloggers blogs that is very useful in my research and I hope to add more free information to my web site with the tidbits I find in blogs, and am writing another eBook with input from bloggers based on the research I’m doing just by blog surfing.

You’d be surprised at the depth of information out there from people who are not selling or marketing anything remotely regarding effective goal setting and goal setting.

Have a great day! And thanks again for the "nugget"!
 
**HYDROPONICS**
 
Help Mommy, there are Liberals! underneath my bed!!! (No, seriously, that's the name of the book...) Don't believe me? The dang thing's on Amazon, not some hippie-press bullcrap ;) Anyway, thought you might enjoy, pinko ;)
 
A
 
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]





<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]