Tuesday, February 28, 2006

End of Summers' Days

I'm late to the commenting game--but for those of you so inclined, as I have been, to scour some of the major moderately liberal newspapers, magazines,(most of the time, a slight bit to the right of me, but I'm not as far left as to consider Mother Jones, Z Magazine, and Utne as my sole source of information so they're pretty close to me if they were consistently pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, and New Deal and Great Society progressive) and blogs out there, here's a roundup of the Summers' coverage.

Summers resigned rather than face a second no-confidence vote by the faculty, and there's reason to believe that the Harvard Corporation, which during the first no-confidence vote fully backed Summers, had this time urged him to resign. There is silly talk on the right about him being forced out by ultra-liberals (for some reason, The Weekly Standard loves Summers, forgetting that he's a moderate liberal who was treasury secretary under Clinton), and silly talk on the left about him being the arch-conservative who "bullied" Harvard faculty. My take: the man is a tactless ogre, but he had some really good ideas (and some extremely, horribly bad ones)--it's sad to see these ideas unimplemented, but good to see him go:

Summers' Resignation Speech

I have reluctantly concluded that the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard's future. I believe, therefore, that it is best for the University to have new leadership.

NY Times:

President of Harvard Resigns, Ending Stormy 5-Year Tenure

Since its founding in 1636, Harvard has ceded unusually strong power to its faculties over their different budgets, endowments and perquisites; the presidency, in turn, is designed to be a relatively weak office.But Dr. Summers enthusiastically filled the bully pulpit. He inveighed against grade inflation and demanded more rigor in teaching, two issues that came up in his private conversation in 2001 with Cornel West, then a professor of African and African-American studies. Dr. West said afterward that he felt insulted by Dr. Summers, and he soon left for Princeton University.

So what kind of changes did Larry Summers want? Here are some quotes from a 2003 profile of Summers by the NY Times (link unavailable):

"Summers has announced that he will extend the tenure review process. Previously, the university president's power to review -- and perhaps veto -- tenure decisions applied to only the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and a few other schools. The law school, which has made a series of what Summers calls ''idiosyncratic choices'' in the awarding of tenure, has put up the most resistance to this extension of presidential power. Summers has already trampled on several proposed appointments to the college, which of course only increases apprehension elsewhere."

But a main source of tension between Summers and the Arts and Letters faculty, besides his pugnacious and intemperate attitude (and impolitic remarks) were his comments attributing the gender gap in science and math to inherent biological differences between men and women (i.e. women are intellectually ill-equipped by nature): (dated Jan. 14, 2005)

There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the-I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.

It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined.

If it was really the case that everybody was discriminating, there would be very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating, because of what it would mean for the pool that was available. 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. So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.

Of course we shouldn't let Summers off the hook for these ridiculous, and unwise remarks. Having rocked Employment Discrimination, I'm loathe to attribute any sort of "gap"--gender or racial in either direction--to a difference in intellectual capacity or mere self-selection that is not the result of socialization. If there is self-selection, e.g. women are more interested in the home furnishings department at Sears rather than the higher commission appliances department, then is that not a product of gendered socialization, employer expectations, and a (not unquiet) shuffling of the sexes by the HR department into one type of job over another? Are women even asked to apply for the appliances department or considered seriously when they do apply? There is in employment discrimination the idea of the "inexorable zero"--that when this figure occurs in employment statistics for a historically underrepresented group, there is no way to explain that figure other than by discrimination. There cannot be, in a given period of years, with a given number of women/minority applicants for a certain traditionally male/white job occupancy, zero women/minorities hired or promoted for that job without discrimination being a factor. There is no inexorable zero in science--but the figures are low enough to ask--why? There is plenty of research being done on this question in all academic fields--why is there a lower tenure rate for women? Why, when women or minorities enter academia, do they appear to be shuffled into the non-tenure track positions? Why are there fewer women bloggers? Why, why, why?! we shout at the indeterminate chasm of the gender/racial gap! I'm a critical race feminist--it is my scholarly inclination to question the tilted systems of privilege, faux-meritocracy, and white male hegemony rather than the individual applicant or the minority applicant pool. But whether you believe me or believe that blacks are just lazy, Mexicans are just dumb, women are too meek and Asians too passive, well, that's your choice. That's everyone's choice in an environment of academic freedom when such speech is generally addressed and made in a public fora. (which is why I support your right to give a race-baiting, race-hating speech against affirmative action or against the creation of a Palestinian state for "those terrorists" or an anti-Zionist speech against "those unlawful occupiers" but would feel differently if you said "I'm going to lynch you, n***er" to someone specifically) While I supported Summers' academic freedom to make his dumbass remarks, I didn't agree with him. They certainly demonstrated his lack of tact and political acumen--this in addition to his well-known reputation for being disdainful to faculty and just being an ogre in general. So I think I would have given him a no-confidence vote even though I believe he has the right (and were he just any academic, the responsibility) to make his crazy, stupid "provking" remarks--but as university president of one of the most prestigious universities in the world, he could be fired for all sorts of conduct that would normally be protected. For example, Deans and professors are often fired for having affairs with students--why? It's not like they're held to any higher moral standards in their human, private capacity--it's because in their professional capacity, we expect them to exercise greater care out of respect for their office. Out of respect for his office and the power he wields from that position, Summers should have exercised discretion--he's not just some "fringe academic"--he's the president of a university presiding over hundreds of academics, representing the institution to the world. You have your right to say many things, but while you can't be legally punished for controversial, impolitic remarks, you'll face some type of consequence some way or the other. That's what people don't understand about free speech--yes it's free, and yes, it's your right that can't be infringed upon by the government, but there are plenty, plenty of other consequences from speech--and every consequence brought by a private actor (community scorn, loss of position by a private employer) will have to be tolerated.

So a brief word about the Cornel West affair--I don't have the transcript, but the brouhaha started when Summers asked West, in a private interview, just what scholarship West was doing (besides the rap CD). Summers apparently wanted to 'personally review' West' scholarship on a periodic basis. Now, this sort of paternalism is really grating on any tenured faculty used to creating courses like "Literature and Decadence" (a real course, but it does sound weird, doesn't it?). But to a renowned professor of Afro-American studies, well, even I will say it exceeds the bounds of patronizing. That it was Afro-American studies didn't help either. I'm not disagreeing with Summers' desire to hold tenured faculty up to scholarship and teaching standards--but his treatment of West was extremely lacking in tact. I'm not saying "tiptoe 'round us colored people"--no, my argument is with respect to any academic, in any field. If we did a Bentham utility test for every course, scholarship, or "public intellectual" activity (op-ed, article, book, blog) every "experimental physics," every "liberal arts" course would be in trouble. Hell, this argument has led to the shut down of even long-standing disciplines and well-respected (but under-utilized) departments in subjects like linguistics.

I'm all for forcing students to have a solid general education--but let students go off the deep end too! In addition to my Bar courses, I took wonderful, "useless" seminar courses in Current Scholarship in Sexual Orientation and the Law , abstract theory courses like "Critical Race Theory" and "Advanced Critical Race Theory," and Asian American Jurisprudence. I would hope that my dean wouldn't question the faculty's desire to teach such courses that aren't Bar-applicable or even practice oriented (theory?! what's that?!) so long as the faculty kept up their committments to teach Bar courses. West is, however, a bit of a different case--I listen to him on Tavis Smiley, and I've read some of his work--let's just say I'm a bigger fan of John Hope Franklin, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Kwame Anthony Appiah. I admire West's politics and work on behalf of minorities, but as a philosopher (Princeton PhD, now teaching there) his work is remarkably shallow. Appiah is my pick for better scholarship.

Thus, while I support West and the discipline of Afro-American studies (and other interdisciplinary ethnic-studies concentrations), I wouldn't have begrudged Summers for any faculty's teaching committments--I just wouldn't act like an overseer. You can implement "standards" without "personally reviewing" someone's work like they're Uncle Tom, you know?

One clarification: I support inter-disciplinary studies in general--such as "literary journalism," "law and literature," "politics and society," etc.--but I'm unsure where I come out at the graduate level. Thus, while I support ethnic-studies departments, I'm a bit torn about whether I support the awarding of PhDs in such fields. I TA'd in Afro-American Studies and Chicano/a Studies, but was torn in my support for developing an entire graduate program for such studies. I mean, should you get a PhD in "law and literature"--or do you just get it in "literature" and do your coursework/dissertation in legal-themed works? I know the arguments for creating separate departments--the cognate fields never have the resources/institutional support, it is important to carve out a disciplinary niche in order to attain disciplinary credibility and respect. I have friends who are Ethnic Studies PhDs. But there is something in me that is unsure about creating an entire new discipline that's interdisciplinary, cobbled together from different departments. Granted, I am a critical race studies concentrator--but my degrees, law and post-law, are entirely located within the discipline of the law. Even as CRT borrowed some elements from critical theory, it was always legal in its focus. I know I should be arguing for the dismantling of departments, disciplines, and other forms of hierarchy and hegemony--but something old school in me still feels like there is a point to having rigorous programs in cognate disciplines. That Ethnic Studies students, like all sociologists, should take methods, for example. That law and lit people should take critical theory and be trained in textual analysis as well as constitutional law. See how weird it is being me? I'm a lefty, but there are some really strange, conservative impulses in me that I can't explain.

Which is why it's weird that there were some things I liked about Summers:

From The New Republic:

First, Summers wanted tenured professors to teach. And not just that; he wanted them to teach large undergraduate survey courses. Summers noticed what people have been noticing for a long time: Students at Harvard--and at other prestigious universities--often graduate without the kind of core knowledge that you'd expect from a good high school student. Instead, they meet Harvard's curricular requirements with a hodgepodge of arbitrary, esoteric classes that cohere into nothing at all. Summers wanted to change that, perhaps by making students take overview courses that gave them a general introduction to different disciplines. The problem is that those are exactly the kinds of courses Harvard professors don't want to teach. Most professors are specialists. They want to delve ever more deeply into their particular research areas. The more their teaching tracks that research, the easier their lives are. So they offer classes on obscure micro-topics. The last thing they want is to bone up on introductory material they forgot in graduate school. Summers, who made a point of teaching a freshman seminar himself, thought perhaps they should. And, for that, he was accused of not respecting the faculty.

Finally, Summers thought it was a problem that roughly 90 percent of Harvard seniors were graduating with honors. The Ivy League considers itself a bastion of meritocracy. But, as Summers understood, Harvard's shameless grade inflation mocks that pretense. By giving almost everyone very high grades, Harvard promotes the fiction that virtually all of its graduates are academic superstars--and obscures those who actually are.

Maybe it's from my position of being years away from being on the market and miles away from the tenure track, but I support high faculty standards. Right now, I'm still a student. And I remember, as a student, of being screwed over by faculty who didn't care about teaching. I also support general education survey courses, being a fan of that "liberal humanist education" of ye olden days. I hated grade inflation at my undergrad institution, where it was impossible for a 3.88 GPA to get even a cum laude because everyone's GPA was so high. So I actually liked Summers' overhauling of the tenure system, which is often inexplicably denied to truly promising junior faculty and awarded blindly to others.

And finally, an article by The New Republic about what this all means for the future of education:

Overspecialization breeds self-indulgent scholasticism. Too many scholars write for an audience of dozens (if that--a good friend of mine says he writes for six people), and far too few write for thousands, fewer still for millions. In a bygone era, the best intellectuals wrote for educated people generally, not for a handful of specialists. American universities are chock full of brilliant minds that keep their brilliance locked up in a closet, talking only to people in their small corner of the intellectual world. Graduate education and academic promotion standards push scholars to fine-tune their disciplines' methodologies. Broadening one's field of vision tends to be a bad career move.

Problem is, university faculty don't want to talk back to their bosses; they don't want to have bosses. And their preferences matter. The past 40 years have seen faculty take near-total control of leading universities. These institutions are democracies of a peculiar sort: Only a part of one constituency gets to vote. Two kinds of people teach in universities: those who invest in some combination of teaching students and writing scholarship (the best people invest in both), and those who go through the motions. Which group do you suppose is more likely to attend the meetings and write the memos and vote on the motions of no confidence? The correlation isn't perfect: There are great teachers and scholars who do invest in institutional governance, and thank God for them. Over time, though, general tendencies swamp individual variations, and the general tendency here is disastrous.

What say you, fellow aspiring academics around the net? Do you agree with the programs Summers was trying to implement regarding tenure overhaul, grade inflation, freshman survey courses, and faculty accountability? Are you all about getting tenure and then slacking off your teaching or scholarship, damn the freshmen who need some real larnin'? Are you all about having no accountability to either your institution, your president, or the mission of higher education? Do you agree with his treatment of Cornel West? Did it smack of Uncle Tom's Cabin to you, or was it all just a big misunderstanding? Should there be PhDs awarded in interdisciplinary fields, or is it too ad-hoc and mish-mash to be truly rigorous enough for a doctorate degree? Is it symbolically important to create new credentialed fields of interdisciplinary study to recognize the intellectual history of subordinated groups? If that can be accomplished without splintering universities into hundreds of departments, is that enough? Do you think intellectual capacity explains the gaps? What do you want to shout into the chasm?

Comments are always open! You can use them to abuse me for not blogging anything of substance for a while and then subjecting you to the pain of reading this long thing!


Monday, February 27, 2006

Interim Post

That doesn't even deserve a cool picture.

What I did today, instead of blogging, thus betraying my promise to "Blog the Distance" and "Blog Like No One Has Blogged Before or Ever Will":
  1. Woke up late. As in, Morning Edition and Day to Day are already over on the radio and now I have to listen to Talk of the City. Guess I'm still tired.
  2. Got teeth cleaned by Dentist Sister. Another post-Bar purification ritual. Next up: Cleaning up/organizing desk and realphabetizing bookshelf.
  3. Found out via email that I got rejected by Liberal College Town's political science program, where there are 52 spots per 400 applications, but apparently not a spot for a cum laude in political science lawyer graduated from a highly respected law school with rockin' GRE scores and with research goals in federalism and civil rights. Go fig! Yet I got into Liberal College Town's much more difficult advanced legal studies law program, where of the 30 LLM spots, probably a handful are for aspiring American scholars (LLMS are often for foreign lawyers seeking an American credential to practice in the U.S. or teach back home). The lesson: don't take admissions decisions personally, and remember they often don't make sense. I got into a Top 5 and a Top 20 law school, but got waitlisted by a school ranked (then) 24 (now it's 25-6), and got flat out rejected by a school ranked 8th (US News figures, not that I put much stock into them). This is with a good GPA and LSAT. I also knew someone who got off the waitlist at #24 with a 141 LSAT--you get 120 for showing up pretty much. It really is a crap shoot, people. So to John B. and John B.'s wife--best of luck to you both, and I hope all the n ews you get is good news--and if you get a few disappointing letters, don't take it personally. It never makes sense! Don't stress over it!
  4. Watched "The Glenn Miller Story" on cable (very sweet film esp. if you love big band music)
  5. Made a freshwater pearl necklace for a friend--I am the craft goddess.
  6. Read "Narrowing the Nation's Power." Dug it mightily.
  7. Talked on the phone with people I haven't talked to in a month or so due to Bar hell
  8. Watched CSI: Miami (blah).
  9. Read Harper's Monthly article by the inventor of flash mobs. Enjoyed critical comments about author's own kind, i.e. hipsters. Determined that I cannot be called a hipster because 1) I am not blase enough about everything except what's au courrant (quite the opposite--I'm too enthusiastic about everything), 2) As a Trekker who also watches Masterpiece Theatre, I am definitely not au courrant, and 3) I don't look cool enough since my watch isn't digital, my sneakers are Keds, and I like pretty, sparkly jewelry.
  10. Realized that I didn't blog anything today because I was trying to work my way up to blogging something of substance. Gave up. Blogged about this instead.

Tomorrow, I promise, promise a roundup of media coverage of the Summers' resignation and what it means for academia in general. I am just so physically tired still, and I can't explain why. Maybe I should stop giving piggyback rides to 40 lb. children and carrying two babies at once to twirl them around. I think I've been out of school too long. I am used to 20+ lbs. on my back.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

So You Want To Be A Lawyer, Eh? (Part Deux)

Since I got some positive feedback on yesterday's post (thanks, by the way! is it pathetic to keep thanking people for reading me? 'cause I really appreciate it!), I decided to do a contextualizing follow up. Plus, I'm tired from changing diapers yet again today, and am a week behind in newspapers (I have a few articles on the Summers' resignation to catch up on before I write a commentary, because, you know, I'm all fair and balanced like that), so I really don't have much ability to talk about anything other than the law. (except for my elation over my loser younger sibling boy Drew winning Dancing With the Stars)

So you may wonder, do I regret going to law school? Am I bitter about any of my experiences there? If I had to do it all over again, would I, and would I do it the same way?

The answer to all, as to any question in life of course, is yes and no. Some of you know that I had the option and the incipient desire to go to graduate school in either English literature or political science, but being undecided and not very passionate about either choice back then, elected to choose the eminently "practical" avenue of law school. My rationale then was 1) I had chosen this path since the age of 16, and it seemed foolhardy to abandon something I've worked on for so long, and 2) everything was set up for me--the LSAT score, the admission to a good school--why not go? and 3) it's "practical" in the sense that even if I never ended up being a lawyer, I'd have a very practical degree that could, in theory, land me a job that paid the bills well until I figured out Plan B. You know, like getting a beautician's license.

These are extremely sad, passionless reasons to go to law school--I do not suggest that any future lawyer have these half-assed reasons for going, although most do. Many anthropology or psychology majors wake up one day during junior year and realize that they don't want to be anthroplogists or psychologists, and so they go to law school (one of the few grad schools that don't have any pre-requisite courses or major). I imagine the same is true of English majors, of whom I knew many. Political science majors very rarely grow up to be political scientists, most end up lawyers--I have no idea why, except that beyond a love for general politics and political news, maybe the students don't love the subject enough to do the actual political science work. Everyone loves Constitutional Law, but everyone hates political methodology. That was certainly true among my compatriots in poli sci during college, who seemed to really hate doing the senior thesis. So you have a lot of people going to law school without knowing exactly why, what it is about the law they like, what they want to do during and after, or why they want to be lawyers to begin with. Very sad. And I could have been one of them.

But at any rate, for better or worse, I had settled on law school. I had a 98th percentile LSAT score, so I couldn't not go, in a way, and I got into some very prestigious schools. However, like I did in college, I went to the school closest to home for family reasons, and not the most prestigious school I got into. Do I regret that? Yes and no. Somehow, I am fortunate enough to be able to say that things have worked out for me. Making the decision to give up your dream school is tough, but when you have elderly parents, a network of siblings and their children who need you, well, there isn't much you can do. I'm going to be moving pretty far away from them for the first time in 25 years in 5 months (aaaaahhhh!) and while I'm very excited to be young and free, I'm also very sad and feeling tremendous guilt. So it's only with hindsight that I am glad that I went to my law school. Just like my undergrad, it had the perfect concentration for me, and was very highly ranked for that concentration (BTW: fuck the US News and World Report). Just like in college, I made some of the best friends of my life.

So I made the decision to go to law school, and to go to that school, and to enroll in that program. I regret, in the end, none of that.

What I do regret, are the following:
  1. Taking on too much first year. I joined, out of interest and ethnic guilt (and hey, if you're any kind of minority, you'd feel guilt too) the Asian law students association, the Asan-American jurisprudence themed law journal, an Asian law clinic for victims of domestic violence, the Law Students Mentor program for undergrads, and an international law journal. TOO much. I know that guilt factored into this, which is weird because I had no such guilt in college. I identified more as a feminist, and did all the feminist orgs and activities, but felt no inclination to join the Vietnamese student orgs. Maybe because I went to a high-population Asian university, and didn't feel so isolated I sought the company of fellow minorities, or maybe because those orgs were so, so stupid. I do not, in general, favor "let's hang out because we're Asian" social orgs, nor do I favor orgs that do activities like "culture shows" to parade Asianness for spectators or raves. WTF?!, you know? But in law school, even though the affiliate university was very diverse, and we were one of the more diverse schools in the nation, it was a trip realizing I was one of 6 Vietnamese girls--no boys even, apparently they don't do well on the LSAT or something. So I joined all these activities to feel like I was a part of a community, and because the work was, for the most part, important and worthy. Of course, this is a minority's perspective, but if you are a woman, I bet you'll feel some pressure to join the Women's Law Union/Association, even as you number 50% in the total school population. You'll still feel isolated, and you'll see, even from your precocious position, that glass ceiling in firm life. Ask firms about their family leave policies or their partnership figures for women. Go ahead, ask. And then wonder if you really feel secure in an essential part of your identity. I know that there are those who will cry "death to identity politics!" and I totally respect that--I'm just sayin', it can be hard in an environment that throws all those identity politics into high, HIGH relief. So if I did it all over again, I'd do maybe the Asian-Am jurisprudence journal and the mentoring and very little involvement in the org. Like I said, one or none first year.
  2. Taking on too much my second year. Okay, so by second year I quit everything except the Asian-Am journal (fascinating, and my best friends from it) and became, stupidly, co-chair of the Asian student org. BIG mistake. Being a member of an org is one thing, being an officer, and the top officer at that, is very different. Don't do it unless you like group politics. I hate it, sucked at it, by the end I was ready to give up my post or be impeached for not being able to go to EVERY event. Groups will ignore the events you organize or go to on themes important to you--for instance, I organized a "teach-in" against Prop 54, the "Colorblind" proposition that prohibits the gathering of racial data (bad, bad, BAD for epidemiology, monitoring civil rights and fair housing, possibly unconstitutional). I also did a lot of other inter-org coalition building. Yet all my board members can remember is that I didn't go to bowling night or karaoke night. This is probably what I regret most about law school, and what triggered a mini-breakdown during the second year. I can handle school stress--it's the social pressures I never, ever learned to handle. I've been one of those kids who can operate pretty independently, never even being offered drugs or alcohol, and never really succumbing to any pressure to party, drink, etc. But I got it all in law school, and heaven help me, I failed. And that's my biggest regret--that I wasn't strong enough to say no even when it was in my best interest. What I hate is that it was my own fault, and whether by internalized guilt or peer pressure, I tried to do everything, and ended up doing everything very badly. If you go to law school, do only very few things (like I said, at most one journa/clinic and one org) and do them well. And make sure you care about them and know your reasons for doing them.
  3. Not knowing how to make friends. This seems incredibly stupid, but you need to make friends wisely. When I first came to school, I was new in town. So I made friends in my section with the first people who spoke to me. I said yes to everything--even though I am not a drinker or a bar hopper. Thus, after going to "Bar Review" (ha! get it?) four weeks in a row my first four weeks, spending a lot of money on drinks I didn't want to buy and throwing them up when I got sick (hello, I am 5'2" and 125, hardy but hardly a good drinker), I couldn't take it anymore. I abruptly withdrew from all the drinking games and the bar reviews. And I got my ass nailed for it. My bar buddies took it personally that I wasn't drinking and living it up with them. They asked me if it was because I was getting "into all my Asian things and not hanging out with white people anymore" (it is true, they said that). I hated them even more for it, and made new friends--yes, some Asians, but my best friends first year were across all races. The problem is, because in first year people think/act/perform in groups, that's all they can associate with you--your perceived "group"--you are not an individual, and you do not have individual friends. It's all about your "study group" and your "social group." This is why I fell flat on my face first year. I'm really great at making and keeping friends, when I am able to on my own terms and form individual relationships based on shared interests and values. It's forming groups of friends I suck at--how to navigate group politics, absorb new members, shake off members that turn out to be weird, realize that you are the weird one being shaken off. So watch for that. Be aware that your "groups" may change over the course of three years, and that your clique first year will slowly degrade into individual friendships, and that you will have different close friendships by third year than in first year.
  4. Not taking better courses. Again, I cannot stress the value of good teachers and classes. If you need an open book exam, don't take a closed exam class. If you need to have time to write, like 5-8 hours, take courses with take-home exams or seminar papers. Take classes that are uncurved, where there is a greater likelihood of an A and at worst, a B. Finally, if you are taking a course for your practice area or out of interest, go with the best professor possible. Ask 2Ls or 3Ls who to take Corporations, Evidence, etc. with. Don't take classes simply because you think they're useful, but not interesting. I took Health Care Law and Policy for my dentist siblings, which turned out to be useless--I may one day write an article on ERISA federal preemption, but it's not applicable to most dentists--torts and contracts are, and they are already covered first year. Definitely cool and useful classes I wish I had taken: Tax, Real Estate Finance, Mediation Clinic, Commercial Law, Secured Transactions. Classes I recommend for the Bar, in addition to first year courses: Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Corporations, Wills and Trusts, Professional Responsibility (actually req. since Watergate). Classes I personally loved and am so happy I took: Civil Rights, Employment Discrimination, Corporations, First Amendment Law, Sexual Orientation and the Law.
  5. Not joining the Public Interest Law Program (a 2 year concentration) in addition to my Critical Race Studies concentration. I don't know how I would have finished them both AND my bar courses, but I should have tried.

Things I don't regret:

  1. Not going to the Barrister's Ball, i.e. the law school prom. I could tell you stories about how people spend hundreds of dollars on dresses, limos, and hotel rooms and at the cash bar, but I think you can imagine what it's like--25-35 year old people acting like teenagers.
  2. Not going to Bar Review--most of the times, so lame, and just for the SBA crowd and their buddies. Save your money and drink at home or at any other bar with your mates.
  3. Spending at least $100 a year to support public interest work at the law school. I may not be one per se, but my friends are, and I support the provision of affordable legal services for indigent and underrepresented communities.
  4. Going to law school--you can't get these courses in civil rights, employment discrimination, tax, and corporations anywhere else. Truly fascinating areas of the law, and I will never tire of learning them. This is why I'm glad I went to law school instead of grad school.
  5. Going to my law school in particular--I went home every weekend, which severely constrained my social life and probably negatively impacted my school work and extracurriculars--but I was able to watch my kids grow up. You can't get back these years with the children. So I'm glad I was there for each and every birth, every bad essay that needed proof-reading, every birthday party and even every poopy diaper.

So there's Part Deux of "So You Want to Be a Lawyer, Eh?" It's not terribly useful or new, but it's intended to provide context and some personal experience. I promise the next posts will be less personal and more of the same legalesque commentary. Or maybe I'll do some kind of hilarious skit. Who knows! Thanks for reading!


Saturday, February 25, 2006

So, You Want To Be A Lawyer, Eh?

I vaguely remember owning the "American" version of this book, and am delighted to report that there's now a Canadian version for our neighbors to the north. I just love the title. So what, the German title would be "Wollen Sie Gehoren Der Jurist, Ja?" (don't take the German seriously, I just cobbled that together from a dictionary)

So I'm back. It feels good to be back. I'm sorry I didn't come back earlier, as promised, and am grateful beyond expression for all of you who have checked in throughout the week and on the day I promised to return. I appreciate all your well-wishes and the "positive energy" you were sending. In fact, all my friends who personally know me (not the lovely virtual ones I've found in Blogistan) have seen the effect that this blog has had on me--I am more centered, happy, and stimulated these past few weeks. Moving back home with my parents was incredibly intellectually isolating. Imagine having two parents who don't speak much English when you don't speak much Vietnamese to talk to most of the day. Imagine still that neither they, nor your siblings understand what you do or why you do it, and don't really care either about even the general pop version (e.g. politics, "the law"). You're away from all your friends from school (who don't really like talking about "the law" either because they're not academic track), and you can't get out much due to childcare duties, research obligations, and crazy puritan Asian strict parents who are kind of the same as they ever were back in high school. Kind of lonely, you know? So I've been dying a slow intellectual death since May, conversing with myself, writing research prospecti no one but maybe my advisor reads, and becoming a hermit clutcing my books to my hollow chest. So I am incredibly, incredibly grateful for this online community of academics (most of you not law) who I can talk to (if virtually). I really am so happy that there's a way for me to share what I'm interested in, thinking about, and researching, and that there are those who will read me. And I am glad that there are so many wonderful scholars to read. You are the wind beneath my wings. Also, I am particularly pleased to discover new visitors Blogmeridian and A Frolic of Her Own, two wonderful, insightful blogs after my own heart (law and literature?! hubba hubba!) and appreciate the linkage and blogrolling. I am your new fans. And so I apologize for not keeping my promise to return to you in good time. So why am I back so late?

I was very tired. More than I admitted to myself. I slept fitfully for only a few hours each night of the exam, and then ran on adrenaline and sneaked in contraband chocolate covered expresso beans. Then I came back home, slept 11 hours, and had to take care of babies (whom I missed very much) yesterday and today. They finally went home, all 6 babies/children and 2 preteen/teen. It has not been terribly restful here either, actually, especially since I've taken up the idea that cleaning my room thoroughly (we're talking a little Asian girl lifting up two queen-sized mattresses to vacuum underneath the bed) will purge myself of the past few months. You know what? It's working. Tomorrow I'm cutting off long sexy hair into a chic bob just to feel like I'm letting go of something old and cumbersome.

So the exam was bad of course, but not too bad. Despite not feeling terribly prepared or having sufficiently memorized the material (at least compared to all the crazy mo-fos out there), I was pretty calm throughout, not too freaked out or scared shitless. Took care of myself. Ate well, didn't overly stress, managed to have a little fun at least going out to dinner (again, unlike the crazy mo-fos who order bad, expensive room service so that they can cram each night a tiny bit more). I at least tried to sleep well. Sometimes I think the best thing to have is your health and a healthy attitude. Some people truly freak out and start puking and/or crying. Some are truly annoying and dissect their answers very loudly, very publicly with their friends. My rule is: don't talk about it. It's annoying. Give it up.

So, despite being tired and chilling out to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks (You don't own it? It's going to be okay. There is hope for you yet.) , I'm going to take this opportunity to do a public service type blog for everyone who ever thought about being a lawyer, whose parents wanted them to be one, who are going to enter the profession now. This is the USEFUL stuff. Let me break it down to ya:

Things You May Not Know About Law Schoool:

It is like junior high, but worse.
  1. There are lockers and hallways, so you can't avoid seeing/saying hi to people you don't like, unlike a large college campus.
  2. There are mandatory classes and "sections" first year, so you definitely can't avoid forming/being rejected from cliques, study groups, group think.
  3. There are great classes and professors to be had. Don't just go after the Bar classes. Do 5-6 bar classes (on top of first year classes, which are all bar classes), but choose the best professors based on the student evaluations. Teaching style is all-important, as is exam format (in-class, closed book, take-home). Your grade is based on one final exam, so put all your effort to that (unless of course, you value "learning"). Take classes for their intellectual value as well as usefulness, but don't be afraid of "scary subjects"--I wish I had taken Tax, for example, and am glad I took Remedies and Corporations. I am a civil rights scholar, and my favorite class was Corporations (surprisingly, there is such a thing as "progressive corporate law" and "progressive tax law.") I also studied bankruptcy law, which is informing one of my future projects on race and administrative law. Challenge yourself.
  4. There are "organizations," e.g. student-run journals, legal clinics, and many student organizations (many ethnic-affiliated) which often make you feel that if you don't join, you're left out
  5. There is a lot of peer pressure to go out to these stupid things, for the sake of "networking," being perceived as social, friendly, cool, a drinker.
  6. There are kegs in the courtyard (I am not kidding) and other SBA organized social events, which again make you feel like a loser if you don't go.
  7. By the way, SBA stands for "Student Bar Association," which is really similar to the "Associated Student Body" back in high school, which is again, a popularity contest with election slogans like "better vending machines" and "increased printer page allotments." The class president is the same jock you would have hated back in high school.
  8. There are still the jocks, the homecoming queens, and the geeks social enclaves like in high school. The most annoying thing is, everyone has money or is used to the idea of money. Lots of pretension. Learn to identify cheeses by region and talk about rinds. Say that you eat at expensive celebrity chef restaurants. Flaunt expensive leather goods and designer shoes/jeans. Eat organic. Become an oenophile. Learn to hate yourself and question your roots.
  9. Married people have it better in navigating the social waters, simply because they already have someone to be friends with in a new city, and because they can play the marriage card "I can't go to every stupid club/social event because I need to spend time with the spouse."
  10. You shouldn't join every club, journal, clinic, or ethnic org out of guilt or resume building. Stick to one or none first year, two maybe second year, and continue with one or two third year--AT most. So that means one journal and one clinic (like HALSA/AIDS) and minimal involvement in a social/ethnic org. Do something because you're interested in the work or the work is worthy of your 10-20 hours a week, not because it's resume padding or because you feel guilt from going from 0 to whitewashed. (Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to sound bitter.)
Things to Know About the Bar Exam

It is like every horrible exam you've taken, but it's three days of it

  1. Subjects for CA Exam: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Corporations, Community Property, Evidence, Remedies, Wills, Trusts, Torts, Property, Professional Responsibility (Legal Ethics). Subjects for the Multistate Bar Exam: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Evidence, Torts, Property.
  2. Day One: Morning Session: Three Essays, Three Hours. One hour break for lunch. Afternoon Session: 3 hours to write a legal brief based on a provided set of facts, client file, and library of cases/statutory material.
  3. Day Two: Morning Session: 100 multiple choice questions in 3 hours. One hour break for lunch. Afternoon Session: 100 multiple choice questions in 3 hours.
  4. Day Three: Morning Session: Three Essays, Three Hours. One hour break for lunch. Afternoon Session: 3 hours to write a legal brief based on a provided set of facts, client file, and library of cases/statutory material.
  5. Evening of Day Three: get drunk.

This is pretty much the most exhausting, horrible exam ever created. It's all closed book, no notes, all rote memorization. I cannot, for some reason, read or write very fast despite being a whiz when I was in college (hey, I was an English major and could write an essay on Hamlet in an hour). For some reason, I just can't do it anymore. The Socratic method favors blurting out the first thing that comes and sounding confident and persuasive when you do it (but not necessarily right or on point, a lot of professors have to go "I think what you're saying is..."). So if I can't write an essay in an hour or pretend to know what I don't maybe it shows that I'm the dissertating type, not the dissembling type. I remember in law school working incredibly hard in Criminal Procedure, attending each class, doing EVERY asssigned reading, going to office hours, preparing an elaborate outline--and I got a C+. Trust me, doing all the work and going to class are not givens in law school, where in the first year, they have to tell you to stay home if you're sick, and by second/third year, they have to remind you that AALS rules compell your attendance subject to disciplinary action. So I can work hard, and do pretty badly. I can also do jack and do well--for instance, reading the "cliff notes" version of First Amendment Law and getting a B+, taking a Criminal Law exam with only 2 days of studying someone else's outline and relying on knowledge from "Law and Order" after not having read or attended the class for 8 weeks and getting a B. It's a crap shoot. Keep that in mind in law school, and on the Bar exam. The best attitude is a calm one--because preparation doesn't ensure anything.

That slightly bitter, cynical "public service" spiel over, I have to confess that I'm going back to law school. On the second night of the exam, via email, I found out I got into the LLM (Master of Laws) program at a presgitious Liberal College Town Law School! I am very happy. It's been a dream of mine to go there since 17 (and in case you think you know where that is, there are plenty of Liberal College Towns with prestigious affiliate law schools). I'm accepting and sending in a deposit, but I'm still waiting for a response from WASPy Privilege Law School and Elite Secret Society Law School before I start apartment hunting. I doubt the prospects for the latter two, since I got rejected by Elite Secret Society for the graduate program in political science, and got rejected by Prestigious Policy Wonk Law School for its LLM program. But since I have about 15 schools/programs left to hear from, I'm going to keep some fingers crossed for more yesses and more options. I'm extremely happy and content to go to the program I was accepted to, since it's one of my top choices, and am already picking out couches.

So what to take from these varied and conflicting statements? You should go to law school if you really want to. I wanted to go because I really love the study of law, and you can't get taught these courses in any other program (not political science, not urban planning, not history, not public policy...) in the same deeply analytical way. I also went because I want to be a legal academic specifically, with some cognate training in political scientist--but I'm not the best political scientist. I read cases and write analytical articles--I don't conduct regression analyses (very well) or write quantitative articles on political behavior (yet). You should really prepare yourself for a different grade curve. My law school finally changed their pretty harsh one to a kindler, gentler one, but still expect that Cs are given, and that As and Bs are not the default the way they are in graduate school. Work is often unrewarded, since work doesn't matter--the one-shot final exam does. Prepare yourself for peer pressure the likes of which you have not seen since high school. Prepare yourself for a lot less anonymity and freedom from observation. You're not just another blip in a tens-of-thousand state university--you're in a class of 300, in a schoool of 1000, and everyone is watching and gossiping.

Finally, don't let any of this deter you from something you want. If you truly want to be a lawyer then go out and be one. If you don't want it, and are just doing it for the money, the prestige, or because your family wants you to, give it up--it's not worth it. The social pressures, the firm life, the bar exam, the job-search, the mandatory grade curves--it's not worth it unless you like the subject well enough to study it for 3 years and put some of the best years of your life into it well after you've taken the bar exam.

I'm going back, and I'm going to be taking some really standard law school courses like Federal Courts, Administrative Law, Tax and Tax Policy--but just two years ago, I was ready to drop out. I had lost the passion. It took a year to realize that I didn't lose it, I just misplaced it--the passion wasn't for firm life or bourgie wine and cheese parties--it was in the study of law. If you can't find it there, don't be a lawyer.

End of Public Service Announcement.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

They Don't Know My Rock and Roll

I was going to title this post "So Long, Suckas!" until I realized that I was the sucka and so it didn't really make sense. I'm leaving tomorrow to take the CA Bar. which makes me the herb/nerd/loser/sucka/fool. Thus, I won't be blogging for a few days. I don't feel totally prepared, but you never can when you have so much to remember for a thirteen subject, three- day, six subject essays, two performance tests, 300 multiple choice questions type of exam. I don't have everything I need to know memorized, but no one ever does. I didn't practice enough multiple choice or essays, but no one can. So in thinking about it, it's not so much skill or practice as nerves and a serious inclination to throw up that usually messes me up on exams. I used to be a good test taker (usually taking them cold) before law school, where I discovered that I could work incredibly hard (read everything/attend each class and office hours/create elaborate outline) and get a C+, or fuck up (not read/go to class for the semester/ rely on someone else's outline) and get a solid B. It's arbitrary. Effort helps, but it's no guarantee. Extraordinary effort doesn't yield extraordinary results--so whatever I've put in, I just hope it's good enough for the median, and good enough to pass. So though I'm not feeling extremely confident, I'm feeling calm. So I'm hoping that the lack of nerves and the "I don't really care anymore" attitude will be what helps me get through this and pass. Seems like "getting pumped" and "geared up," for this Type-A person in an entire profession of Type-A persons doesn't really work, so maybe being relaxed, not jumpy, not nervous, not hyper, not hyperventilating (i.e., not me) will serve me better. That said, I do have some pump-me-up music to help. On my iPod "Rock This!" play list:

1. Believe It Or Not - Theme from "The Greatest American Hero"
2. Eye of the Tiger - Theme from "Rocky"
3. Take On Me - A Ha
4. Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Tears for Fears
5. Changes - David Bowie
6. Heroes - David Bowie
7. Golden Years - David Bowie
8. Baba O'Riley - The Who
9. We Are the Champions - Queen
10. Spaceship - Kanye West
11. Mama Said Knock You Out - LL Cool J
12. Jump! Jump! - Kriss Kross
13. Jesus Walks - Kanye West
14. I'll Fly Away - Kanye West
15. Chariots of Fire Theme - John Williams
16. Superman Theme - John Williams
17. Going the Distance - From "Rocky"
18. Extreme Ways - Moby
19. Ready Steady Go - Paul Oakenfold
20. Absurd - Fluke
21. I'm Not Worried At All - Moby

Disqualified for being sung by a pedophile self-exiled to Vietnam where he is preying on the local girls and settling with their families for a measly $2500: Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part II (Hey!)"

I usually don't like techno, but I find that it's pretty good for getting me me feeling like I can kick the Bar bitch's ass. It's the basis for a lot of recent spy/thriller soundtracks, so I guess there's a certain violence associated with it, even though Moby is just a weird, kind of wussy guy. The only drawback is that Queen is so overused for sporting events (another strike against Glitter) that I feel like I should be throwing something after listening to it--a football, a baseball, my laptop....

So the blogfast will end Thursday night, but no promises to post until Friday morning. When I come back, I'll post on things I really wish I could blog about today--the "death" of multiculturalism," introverts and people who love them, low/middle/high brow culture and whether this hierarchy has fluid boundaries, federalism and minority rights, and gender and the academe.

So thanks for reading (especially those of you in Irvine, Los Angeles, West Covina, Warwick, RI, Nashville, TN, Columbia, SC, and Melbourne, Australia who keep coming back for some reason), and I'll see you in a few days. It's because there's a potential that I'll be read (by a lot more than the 6 friends I let in on this, who never seem to read this blog--so much for the ones who love you most for being interested in what you think) that I try to write every night, and try to write interesting, thoughtful posts. I don't always succeed, but I'm sure even Glenn Reynolds and Atrios have their "eh, what the heck" days. But when I come back, I will blog harder/faster/better. I will Blog the Distance. I will Blog Like No One Has Blogged Before or Will Again. Or, you know, just resume the regular blogging schedule and hope to maintain the same level of mediocrity/quality. Whichever. Posted by Picasa


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Racial Stereotypes and Voting Politics in "Dancing With the Stars"

Over at BlackProf, Devon Carbado writes about the racial stereotypes shaken off in Dancing With The Stars:

For several weeks, my siblings having be pressing me to watch "Dancing With the Stars." Yesterday I did. And what really stood out was Jerry Rice's bad dancing--I mean really bad dancing. This three time Super Bowl Champ can't seem to move his legs, let alone his upper body; he is, as my mom would say, as stiff as a broom stick. But perhaps his presence on this very popular show is performing anti-stereotypical work, disabusing people of the idea that all Black people can dance. I understand that Master P's performances (he is picture below) was even worse. One of Master P's reasons for being on the show was to send a message to "people in the hood" that ballroom dancing is something that they, too, can do (even, I suppose, if he wasn't quite up to the task).

I generally hate "Reality" Television (besides, I'm waiting for Umberto Eco to write a book on it called Travels in Hyporeality), but I LOVE Dancing With The Stars. Unlike other reality shows, the emotions exploited here for entertainment value are not the image insecurities of homely people, or the bizarre belief of some that they can sing despite all evidence to the contrary, but rather the fierce desire of B-Level celebrities to make a coming (they ain't coming back) to fame. Besides, Dancing With the Stars is a fascinating lens with which to view racial stereotypes (not every Black man can dance like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson) and voting politics.

In Season One, of the five B-Level celebrities, only one was Black--Evander Hollyfield, champion heavyweight boxer. He was clumsy on his feet, but by God he tried-at the jive no less--and he wasn't the first to be eliminated either, despite being the worst. He was eliminated the second week, but the first to go was the Bachelorette Trista Sutter. It's always the least popular to go first, not the worst (although that factors in more heavily as the weeks go by and voting for them becomes less defensible as both talent and popularity combine at the top). In Season Two, of the ten B-Level Celebrities, two are black--Master P and Jerry Rice. It would appear that the larger the sample size, the greater the chance for diversity--although it's still a 1/5 proportion in both seasons. It just looked like there were more black people dancing for once. Again, Master P and Jerry have demonstrated staying power, despite sucking on the floor. Master P was notable for his invocations to his "hood," how he was "representing," and how he was "here for his hood and because of his hood." It got to the point where after weeks of this (he was the fourth to leave, after Kenny Mayne, Tatum O'Neal, and Gisele Fernandez, long after it became ludicrous for him to stay while decent dancers were booted off), George Hamilton would also exhort "his hood" in Bel Air and Beverly Hills to drive out the vote for him, even taking the cameras to document his public plea to a retirement home. Master P was even worse than Jerry or Evander--he didn't even try to dance well, and would not take off his Pumas. This week, despite wooden, awkward performances (although, to his credit, Jerry seems to really try hard, he just lacks the fluidity and talent), Jerry made it to the Semi-Finals, and it was another white woman who was sent home--this time, Lisa Rinna, a superior dancer.

Now, you know I support affirmative action, and I do not compare the above examples to argue "reverse racism" and undesirable outcomes that result when you destroy "meritocracy" for more populist forms of admission/retention. As in any admissions decision, there are a multitude of factors that weigh in--effort, personality, background, creativeness--in addition to pure dancing chops. For DWTS, it's 50% meritocratic determination--Judge's scores, and 50% audience voting--a proxy for "background", "popularity," and "personality"Just as "socioeconomic background" and "obstacles overcome" would weigh into admitting that farm boy from Iowa or that kid from the projects over WASPy privilege, so too do Master P's and Jerry's "this isn't what I normally do, but I'm trying really hard and I'm representin" figure into why they stayed so long. In fact, "representing" is really central to "Dancing With the Stars." Representational identity politics are probably a driving factor into how Master P and Jerry had such staying power. People voted for them because 1) they just liked them and were fans, 2) they identified with them as being part of their "hood," or 3) they wanted to vote for the earnest effort against the sea of natural and privileged talent (Stacy Keibler is a trained ballet/tap dancer for example). Plus, Tatum O'neal was so annoying (I'm an Osar-winning actor! I will mention that I use my acting in my dancing every chance I get, despite the fact that the last time I acted, Reagan was president, and my Oscar win was at age 10 and is no longer relevant!), that I was glad to see her go despite her decent dancing. Master P and Jerry may not be great dancers, and I am sorry to see Lisa Rinna go (because I sympathize with her "I'm over 40, a mother of two, and I can do anything and you can to! representational ideology), but this is what happens when you see democracy in action--the people speak, and despite having some elitist restraints (the 50% judges scoring, the electoral college).

It's not as though ABC disregards the popular vote or attempts to obstruct it--in this way, they're giving the imprimatur of approval to representational politics. If more people identify with Master P and Jerry and vote for them because of that, well, fine. In the same way, Republican-controlled state election officers could say "we know that Blacks tend to vote more heavily Democratic, so we won't impede that." No, instead they enact racially discriminating gerrymandering, voter intimidation at the polls and HAVA (Help Americans Vote Act) violations. It's no secret that the felon-restriction codes in Florida disparately impact African Americans. Or that those "Voter ID" requirements are intended to restrict minority voting, not promote the "One person, one vote" maxim (which the newest Justice Alito inexplicably was against). I'm not saying that representational politics is good, desirable, or even perfect. For example, the NAACP supported Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court, and gave Condolezza Rice the President's Award. I'm not making any proscriptive argument for one type of voting behavior over another--rather, my argument is a descriptive one, my point being that for one reason or another, representational politics will come into play for any kind of choice. That's the whole point of targeting demographics, "courting" certain constituencies, and professing certain bona fides with respect to any group--be they "soccer moms," "security moms," or Black people. The entire field of political psychology is devoted to understanding why people vote the way they do, as if any sense can be made. Clinton was thought of as the first "Black" president, Bush was elected twice, for some reason people wanted Master P to keep dancing--if there's a reason, I'd like to know why. I'm just not sure there is any one reason. Sometimes, people just like who they like (Master P), sometimes, there is racial crossover voting (Clinton), and sometimes, elections are handed over to the wrong person thanks to a corrupt system (Bush II). Voting outcomes are hard enough to explain, let alone the personal motivations underlying each vote.

My vote? It's for the white boy Drew Lachey, he of background member of a mediocre boyband demi-fame. Stacy Keibler is female, and is my age, but unfortunately I don't identify with her much (also, no Vietnamese dancers on DWTS). She's about a foot talller than me, extremely hot, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and a female professional wrestler. I hurt myself thumb wrestling, and my entire body is only 20 inches longer than her legs. Not much I can relate to, although I admire her greatly. I know it'll be a showdown between her and Drew, and I support Drew because 1) he's consistently the more imaginative and passionate (and thus better, e.g. a paso doble set to "Thriller") dancer, and 2) he's the shorter, less accomplished younger sibling who has always lived in the shadow of his elder, and is only beginning to achieve recognition on his own merits. And I identify with that.


Friday, February 17, 2006

The Silent Treatment

I've blogged previously about why free speech rights absolutely protect the publication of the Danish cartoons, but real politik principles, common sense and decency would argue against it.

Justice Brennan would say "I may disagree violently with what you say--but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I'm sure he would also say "And I would use my own free speech rights to argue vehemently against you and point out what an idiot you are for saying such things."

So here's an Op-Ed by the New York Times saying all that I said, but more elegantly and coherently:

Even many Americans who condemn the cartoon's publication accept the premise that the now-famous Danish newspaper editor set out to demonstrate: in the West we don't generally let interest groups intimidate us into what he called "self-censorship."

What nonsense. Editors at mainstream American media outlets delete lots of words, sentences and images to avoid offending interest groups, especially ethnic and religious ones. It's hard to cite examples since, by definition, they don't appear. But use your imagination.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative blogger and evangelical Christian, came up with an apt comparison to the Muhammad cartoon: "a cartoon of Christ's crown of thorns transformed into sticks of TNT after an abortion clinic bombing." As Mr. Hewitt noted, that cartoon would offend many American Christians. That's one reason you haven't seen its like in a mainstream American newspaper.

Or, apparently, in many mainstream Danish newspapers. The paper that published the Muhammad cartoon, it turns out, had earlier rejected cartoons of Christ because, as the Sunday editor explained in an e-mail to the cartoonist who submitted them, they would provoke an outcry.

So why not take the model that has worked in America and apply it globally? Namely: Yes, you are legally free to publish just about anything, but if you publish things that gratuitously offend ethnic or religious groups, you will earn the scorn of enlightened people everywhere. With freedom comes responsibility.

Of course, it's a two-way street. As Westerners try to attune themselves to the sensitivities of Muslims, Muslims need to respect the sensitivities of, for example, Jews. But it's going to be hard for Westerners to sell Muslims on this symmetrical principle while flagrantly violating it themselves. That Danish newspaper editor,along with his American defenders, is complicating the fight against anti-Semitism.

Peace prevails in America, and one thing that keeps it is strict self-censorship.
And not just by media outlets. Most Americans tread lightly in discussing ethnicity and religion, and we do it so habitually that it's nearly unconscious. Some might call this dishonest, and maybe it is, but it also holds moral truth: until you've walked inn the shoes of other people, you can't really grasp their frustrations and resentments, and you can't really know what would and wouldn't offend you if you were part of their crowd.

The Danish editor's confusion was to conflate censorship and self-censorship. Not only are they not the same thing — the latter is what allows us to live in a spectacularly diverse society without the former; to keep censorship out of the legal realm, we practice it in the moral realm. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable, but worse things are imaginable.


In Brief

A rundown of a few headlines of the Blogistan Daily Times, with little commentary from me (for once)

An argument by David Bernstein against the ABA's new Standard 211, which is designed to promote “Equal Opportunity and Diversity” in law school admissions and faculty hiring.

A sympathetic follow up by Christine Hurt, who has served on the admissions committee of a relatively small, mid-ranked law school about the potential financial/resource difficulty of complying with Standard 211 given the limited pool of minority applicants.

An argument in favor of Affirmative Action and Standard 211, by Christopher Bracy at BlackProf

You can probably figure out where my sympathies lie, and what I would say if I had time to say it. (Hint: I don't blogroll The Volokh Conspiracy)

In other news, Marina Angel at Feminist Law Profs issues a Call to Action to address the paucity of women and minorities in tenure track positions. The data indicate that when women and minorities are hired, over half are sidelined into the lower status, low-paying, for-contract or at-will employment but have titles (associate professor, professor, associate dean) that belie this trend.

One comment: There's an overall trend across universities to hire more non-tenure track professors, lecturers, adjuncts to save on costs (also why they exploit grad students to teach freshman courses). There's very little room to grow on the salary rolls, even if the student population swells. If this is a general hiring practice due to state budgetary cutbacks, even separately funded, higher tuition charging law schools could argue that it's just a business practice--but with a disparate impact on gender and race. I don't like it either way, but that could be one argument/reason. Of course, disparate impact is not enough after Washington v. Davis, intent to discriminate is required--and the figures are not yet near enough the "inexorable zero" to impute intentional discrimination. But we can draw attention to the low figures, agitate for change, and raise our voices high until they are heard.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Defamer

Legal issue of the day: When are publicized complaints defamatory?

From the New York Times:

Manny from Miami is not quite the sensitive single man he says he is. He is married with a kid, no less, and "he sleeps with women everywhere," according to his anonymous former girlfriend in a posting on DontDateHimGirl.com.

As for Vincent of Jacksonville, his ex said she answered a knock at her door one day only to find his wife and his mistress had come calling. The two, having found out about each other, "don't mind teaming up to get rid of the next girl," the ex-girlfriend said in her posting. "Whatever you do, don't date him, don't speak, just move on."

And Michael, the 23-year-old from England? "He only cares about himself and how many notches there are on his bedpost," reported one of the women he counted as a notch. "Ultimately, he'll end up sad and lonely. Probably with a hefty bout of gonorrhea."

Unearthing a potential mate's cheating, thieving, maybe even psychotic ways during the early stages of courtship has always been tricky business. But it is particularly difficult today, when millions are searching for dates online and finding it far easier to lie to a computer than to someone's face.

But the Internet is now offering up an antidote. Web sites like DontDateHimGirl.com, ManHaters.com and TrueDater.com are dedicated to outing bad apples or just identifying people who may not be rotten but whose dating profiles are rife with fiction.

Framed in pink, the DontDateHimGirl.com site allows a woman to post the name and photograph of a man she says has wronged her, along with a short but often pungent synopsis of how precisely she was aggrieved. The suspicious or merely curious can hunt for a cheater by typing a name into the search engine. Women can also send e-mail messages through the site if they want to ask more pointed questions about a particular cad. In a slight nod to fairness, men who disagree with the characterization can write a rebuttal to be posted alongside their names.

But Mr. Tracy cautioned that truth-in-dating Web sites may also be guilty of publicizing falsehoods, and the resulting harm to a man's reputation can be complicated to undo. Writing a rebuttal is effective only if the man knows that his face and name are listed on the Web site. He may not.

I complain about my ex-boyfriend a lot, but not in a defamatory way (as I outlined: opinion about ex-bf's music taste: constitutionally protected. Saying falsehoods that injure ex-bf's reputation: defamatory). Still, I am troubled by this. While I support my single sisters' access to the truth, this is likely to be challenged as unprotected speech on a number of grounds:

  1. Libel. Libel consists of the publication of defamatory matter by written or printed words. A defamatory statement is "of or concerning the plaintiff" where it holds him up to scorn or ridicule in the eyes of asubstantial number of respectable people in the community. If the statements are false, one who falsely publishes matter defamatory of another in such a manner as to make the publication a libel is subject to liability to the other even if no special harm results from the publication (e.g., no dates, break-up, divorce). In such cases, damage to reputation is presumed. Slander per se: No special harm needs to be proven if the false statements impute 1) a criminal offense, 2) a loathsome disease, 3) reputation regarding his business, profession, office, etc., 4) serious sexual misconduct. If the statements are true: one who publishes a statement of fact is not subject to liability for defamation if the statement is true. However, there's still:
  2. Invasion of the Right to Privacy. ONe who gives publicity to a matter concerning the private life of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the matter publicized is of a kind that 1) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and 2) is not of legitimate concern to the public. Liability may attach even if the statement or publication is true.
  3. Publicity placing person in False Light: liability if 1) false light in which other was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and 2) there is publicity

This article seems to be saying that women are outing guys as married and thus philanderers (if true, not defamatory, since marriage is a public record). But what I'm concerned about is outing people with sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV-AIDS. That would be an incredible invasion of privacy. That's the responsibility of your local Health and Human Services to contact past/present partners--not some internet message board that broadcasts such information for all to see. And if you think there's a public interest argument for broadcasting STD information (although constitutionally, I don't think they win the balancing test with privacy), there are other private facts that can be broadcast. Non-communicable diseases, say, like cancer, mental illness (especially non-threatening versions, as in not violent schizo, but just a little crazy). If you don't want other people to broadcast such stuff about you, don't broadcast it about others. I know a lot of my analysis eventually breaks down to "do unto others as you would have done to yourself," but seriously, and I say this as a Buddhist--haven't y'all learned that by now?

Also, some of these outings/complaints have to deal with the man's parsimony--saying he's cheap, in other words. Parsimony is relative, and it may be construed as a matter of opinion--but it could impact reputation to be thought of as cheap, stingy, etc. I don't know if actual harm can be proved, other than that it reflects on income and status. I mean, I could be thought of as parsimonious. I won't spend more than $60 on shoes, but I've spent $500 on books in a four-month period. I'll also buy insanely expensive "reading tools" from Levenger. I'll buy makeup from the department store, but I get $10 haircuts. And I eat out only twice a month (and only socially), just because I think if you can make it, you shouldn't buy it . So given my cheap shoes, my tendency to shop at Old Navy and The Gap with "upscale" being Banana Republic, and my "I know what braised veal cheeks wrapped in panchetta in truffle sauce are but I'm not paying for it" attitude, I guess you could call me cheap, or (let's call it what it is) "broke-ass." And if I were a real lawyer person, it doesn't sound too good with the martini crowd. So if I cared about that, I'd take offense at being called publicly what I admit privately to being--a cheap bastard. Also, statements of opinion about one's profession may be defamatory. "He's an unscrupulous doctor/lawyer/businessman," for example, without proof of truth, is slander per se. And people do this all the time, making ad hominems about the other's quality of work, work ethic, academic pedigree, qualifications, performance, etc. It's one thing if you're the HR director--quite the other if you're the ex making statements that might impact the other's employment.

So while I support finding out the truth about the men you date or meet online, and perform Google checks myself to make sure the boy who said he graduated from School X didn't actually graduate from Prison Y, I'm not so sure I'd support this kind of disgruntled free-for-all. I'm not saying that the women are probably catty, bitchy liars. I hate people who think that most rape complaints are "false" and "vindictive," for example, which is the same accusation you could make of this message board. I'm saying that for principled legal reasons, I think this is a bad idea, and may fall under unprotected speech. If such statements are false, publish private facts about a person, or impute disease/criminality/professional irresponsibility to the person, I don't think they should be made.

You still think that there's absolute free speech rights? Go ahead and say so.


The Bloods and the Crits

(Look Closer at the Toe Tag)

A great way to make yourself feel even more stupid, or a I call it, stupider than you already feel after having two months of bar exam study push out every other bit of knowledge and insight is to read what Actually Smart People have to say. A second way is to write really long, confusing, meandering sentences like the above.

I'm not just talkin' about real-life law professors, although I bow to their brilliance. But most of the time I can follow their arguments and analysis. Even in a complex area of the law like ERISA preemption, I can get what they're saying, extract the meta-principle of it all. Statutory interpretation is complicated, but the arguments, if they're good, should be clear and simple. "Based on line X of the statute and related case precedent Y, we conclude that...." Not too bad, right? Sure, interpretive methodologies will differ, but they all make sense at least--do you rely on only a strict textual reading or consider it in conjunction with the legislative history and purpose? Again, I can still follow this. Most of the time, what's blocking comprehension is boredom. After 20 pages of legislative history, code citation and case precedent analysis, anyone can feel like life has passed them by. But in terms of reading diffculty, I don't think cases and law review articles are that bad. There's usually a long, explanatory set up of history, background, facts. Nice! Then there's an analysis, which are (supposed to be) a series of logical arguments that build upon one another. Cool! In law review articles, the introduction is supposed to be the 5-7 page run down of the entire (40) page article, so you pretty much know all the author's arguments and conclusion before you begin the actual paper. Footnotes are incredibly long, taking up almost half the paper, but they are supposed to add complexity and nuance to the argument (but compare my conclusion with the conclusions of five other authors; see also five other articles making similar but different argumetns) without making the reader deal with it in the body paragraph (which makes said body paragraph clearer and easier to digest). The footnotes themselves are quite explanatory, turning a 100 page opinion or article into a two-line sumary. Not too bad, right?

So I read these things, and I think to myself that I'm not as brilliant (by comparison) or as accomplished (yet) as the authors, but at least I can get this stuff. They may be brilliant analysts of the law and very clear, cogent writers--but there's nothing to say that with some time and practice, I couldn't write an article that's at least half as good. The hardest part is coming up with a novel, useful argument--the actual reading/writing/analysis part is, I think, trainable.

So, feelin' pretty okay with my reading/writing skills, I hop on over to The Valve, at S.E.K.'s suggestion. I can hardly understand a word these Smart People are saying. This is really ego-crushing. Four years ago, if you had asked me, I would have said that I was a better English Lit scholar than a political scientist. This had mostly to do with the fact that I actually enjoyed reading novels and writing essays, but could get bored with regression analysis and area studies. Four years later, I think the difference could have been resolved by picking better classes in my poli sci major, but whatever. The point was, English lit came naturally to me. I could think of thesis arguments/paper topics on the fly. I could write essays and term papers really quickly and still get really high grades. I was the only person who actually enjoyed Criticism 100A and 100B. If I had gone to grad school in English with my quite respectable GRE English Subject test score, I think I could have done well. If I had gone, I would have probably specialized in 20th modernist American Lit, analyzing the racial themes in Southern literature, with an emphasis in Critical Theory.

I know now, that I would have failed and been the stupid one in the department.

Me, known as "theory head" back in law school! I concentrated in Critical Race Studies in law school, which is a two-year program emphasizing Critical Race Theory and anti-discrimination law. What is CRT?:

The historical origins of Critical Race Theory provides a contextual understanding to contemporary legal debates concerning the effectiveness of past civil rights strategies in current political climate. Derrick Bell is arguably the most influential source of thought critical of traditional civil rights discourse. Bell’s critique represented a challenge on the dominant liberal and conservative position on civil rights, race and the law. Derrick Bell employed three major arguments in his analyses of racial patterns in American law: Constitutional contradiction, the interest convergence principle, and the price of racial remedies.

Other significant contributors to the Critical Race Theory discourse in the 1980s to the present are Richard Delgado, and Kimberle Crenshaw. Delgado in defense of Bell’s story telling or narrative style argues that persons of color speak from an experience framed by racism. Delgado (as cited by Tate, 1996) argues that the stories of persons of color come from a different frame of reference, and therefore give them a voice that is different from the dominant culture and deserves to be heard. Critical race theorists believe that in order to appreciate their perspective, the voice of a particular contributor must be understood.

Crenshaw argued that little difference existed between conservative and liberal discourse on race-related law and policy (Crenshaw et. al, 1995). Crenshaw (1988) identifies two distinct properties in anti-discrimination law: expansive and restrictive properties. The former stresses equality as outcome relying on the courts to eliminate effects of racism. The latter treats equality as a process. Its focus is to prevent any future wrongdoing. Crenshaw argues that both the expansive and restrictive properties coexist in the anti-discrimination law. The implication of Crenshaw argument is that the failure of the restrictive property to address or correct the racial injustices of the past simply perpetuates the status quo.

Don't you think that's relatively straightforward? The articles may be a bit more complicated, but by their structure they're easy enough to follow even if you don't know what "post-structuralism" is, or how to do a semiotic analysis of a legal opinion. I mean, even though Critical Race Theory draws on a lot of critical theory from other disciplines to make its arguments, it applies them to cases and examples so you can see what they're saying. They're not arguments in the abstract about "let us consider the letter 'A'."Among CRT's arguments:

  1. The scholar brings a certain perspective to the material, hence minority scholars will necessarily bring their identity politics and perspectives in their analysis, making 'storytelling' and narrative a valuable part of scholarship--without which, there is a shallower context in which to understand how personal experience with discrimination affects the outcome of a legal argument;
  2. There is no such thing as neutrality in the law, thus judge-authored opinions are examples of personally influenced value-based arguments rather than "objective" interpretations of "neutral" legal principles;
  3. CRS scholors should endeavor to bring the "voices from the bottom"--the minority, oppressed, marginalized--to the fore in legal analysis, so as to deconstruct the idea that laws interpreted "objectively"can have "race-neutral" and "just" results--because the law is infected by racism, any interpretation of the law that is not anti-discrimination outcome oriented will result in the maintenance of the status quo racial hegemony of white privilege.
I'm over-simplyfing here, but the point is, while CRT draws on critical theory, and principles of deconstruction, narrativity, authorial voice/agency, audience reception, etc., it does so in a kind of "let me break it down for you easy-like" way. Most CRT scholars are not trained critical theorists. Like me, maybe they had one quarter/semester of it, if at all. Most are relying on interdisciplinary secondary texts to make their argument--in other words, they're reading someone else's(a sociologist, ethnic studies professor) interpretation of Derrida, Althusser, Lacan, Spivak and building on that comparison/argument to apply it to the law. I'm not saying this isn't great--but in terms of actually being real ground breaking theory, well, it isn't. It's mostly derivative. Some of the best work in CRT is historical analysis--situating an opinion in the historical context, how it rose through the lower and appellate courts, the backgrounds of the justices, etc. But that's kind of old as critical methodology goes.

I'm not saying there's a death of theory. I'm just saying that compared to other cognate disciplines, CRT is not as groundbreaking anymore, and the texts/methodologies it relies on are kind of old. Reading The Valve, I'm struck by how little I know, how dated what I know is, and how much more complex the arguments/theories are than what I get in CRT. I mean, I really don't understand a word these smart people are saying. It's as if that "A" in Criticism didn't matter (it didn't).

CRT, believe it or not, lacks a coherent theory. It has a general project of anti-subordination, but no one unifying theory: it is a series of methodologies with which to apply to the analysis of the law. The problem is, CRT is at a crossroads right now because one theory does not fit all--it's trying to absorb queer issues, transgender issues, inter/intra group conflicts (particularly among immigrant groups of the same pan-ethnicity), how to integrate theory and praxis when they can be in tension (we are lawyers after all), and globalization issues. Lawyers are bound to represent their clients. What if you're a lawyer, representing Asian-American clients arguing that the ceiling quotas for Asian-American admissions are racially discriminatory--even where they are intended to improve the admissions changes for Blacks, Latinos, and other underrepresented minorities? (See Ho v. SFUSD) A theory of anti-discrimination could argue that there is a hierarchy of oppression--but which group is less historically oppressed? Should we argue that a certain theory of fairness/anti-discrimination would block such a suit? How do you do coalition building? See how praxis (lawsuits, legislation, the practice of enforcing civil rights and anti-discirmination) can conflict with the theoretical imperatives behind such praxis? Think of segregation--the path to de-segregation was bit by bit--first, challenge separate-but-equal, and by doing so prove that separate can never be equal--setting up a law school for blacks in the basement (true story) can never be equal to the reputational and academic quality of the whites-only institution. The same pragmatic approach is being used for gay marriage--first go for gay partnership, work your way up to marriage. But in both desegregation and gay marriage, there are thos who say "we should not fight piecemeal, be "pragmatic"--we should argue for the complete victory, take a stand on principle." See the tension between theory (big idea) and praxis (little by little)?

I'm still really proud of my training and my committment to anti-discrimination theory and practice--I'm just not sure that I learned enough, and that what I did learn is insufficient to cope with the challenges of dealing with the often conflicting interests of various subordinated groups. Stanley Fish says that critical theory isn't the answer, but some part of me wonders whether its the theory part of critical race theory that's failing to provide direction for the future. Maybe theory is useless, and the dead-in-the-water growth of CRT should just be abandoned for a more pragmatic, praxis-oriented approach. You know, the whole "if the ideas are broke, just go for what works" thing.

What most troubles me, other than the fact that I'm too dumb to understand what real critical theorists are talking about, and the fact that my own field seems stifled and comatose, is whether my future research project is totally useless and without value. Civil rights litigators are of more use than a silly theory-head.

Maybe this is why I've shifted gears in the last six months and revisited my political science training/original research interest (my senior thesis was on the Rehnquist Court). Maybe I'm just now articulating what I've know all along: while I can use CRT principles to inform my analysis, the most valuable part of my work won't be "theoretical," but rather practical and empirical. Has theory failed me? If I focus solely on theory, will I fail my committment to anti-discrimination? If I focus on only "the usual suspects" area of anti-discrimination law, am I dooming myself to contribute in less significant ways to the understanding of how race infects the law? Is this why I'm going in the direction of federalism?

In other words, am I selling out, or just being smarter and more pragmatic? Is theory dead? Should we focus on praxis and empiricism to the exclusion of theory?

I don't know whether theory failed me or I failed theory. Or maybe I'm just too stupid to understand it, and it's the fault of neither.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Short-changing Undergrads, Grad Students, and Professors

Ancrene has a post about how Universities screw over undergrads, grads, and professors are alike:

"At institutions granting doctoral degrees, the bulk of the cheap labor was sucked out of graduate students -- 44.6% of the teaching staff in English departments and 47.9% in Foreign Language departments were grad student TAs."

Like she says, "this is a real crisis. This is not the way it's supposed to be: It's exploitative and just flat wrong."

I wholeheartedly concur.

I love teaching, and am grateful for any opportunity to hone my pedagogical skills. But I still know the difference between myself and a more established professor. S/he has greater expertise in the field, more scholarship under his/her belt, and more experience teaching. At this point, I'm still trying to figure out how to teach material. How to write a syllabus. How to write lectures. How to give lectures. How to grade. How to give constructive feedback. How to navigate the classroom and its dynamics. You only learn by doing, of course, so it's good for young academics to get as much classroom time as possible. I'm one of those believers that academics are not just researchers and paper-writers--they are teachers, above all. I hate those who disdain teaching as an unfortunate distraction from their "real" work back at the lab or in the office or wherever. But is it a good thing to put so much of the teaching load on the shoulders of young, inexperienced academics? It's not just the lack of teaching experience. There's also less familiarity with the material. Having TAs teach English Composition is one thing. But can you conscionably rely on grad students to teach more substantive courses? Even if grad students aren't teaching classes on "Biomedical Ethics and the Law," adjuncts and lecturers are--which is not too comforting either. I know there are business costs to running a university--but must they be run like businesses?

It's a horrible trend at universities, particularly at the big research ones like I attended. I was a double major in English Literature and Political Science. My English Lit education: wonderful. I avoided the freshman lit/composition writing series and elected to take the comparative lit alternative, taught by real tenured faculty. At the time, I don't think I had any principled reason for this choice other than the fact that I believed then (and still do) in a broad and varied reading list. Over the course of four years, I took the same faculty over and over, just because they were good, and not just because they taught the books I wanted to read. I took a lot of Medieval and Early English lit just because I liked the professor. I too her as a freshman, where my first paper received a C+ (I saw her eraser marks downgrading it from a B-). By senior year, when I took my second class with her, I got an A--and she remembered me, and told me I had come a long way. You don't get that kind of deep interaction, relationship-building and mentoring with the more transient TAs and adjuncts--who may be here one year, and gone the next. I know. In my other major, many of the survey courses were taught by the Tenureds. Many classes in the "hot" disciplines of International Relations and Political Methodology were taught by Tenure-Track/Tenureds. But my concentration of Constitutional Law and Politics? Mostly staffed by adjuncts hired from the lesser state school system. No tenured faculty was teaching Con Law. It is no wonder that I was turned off from poli sci grad school four years ago. I'm not complaining that much--I was taught well. But when it came down to letter of rec time, I was at a disadvantage. Most of my mentoring relationships were with adjuncts who weren't even affliated with my home institition. In the end, I grew really bitter about how the labor was allocated in my department.

This is particularly important (as students don't know till it's too late) for letters of recommendation. There's a hierarchy in academia: Tenured, Tenure-Track, Non-Tenure Track, Adjunct, Lecturer. About the first two, the university appears to be saying: "these are our people. You can trust them." The last three are hired guns, "independent contractors." About them, the university seems to be saying: "we use them as needed, and keep them as long as they're useful." I'm not endorsing this system of hierarchy. I'm just saying what it is. Notice how TAs aren't even listed in this hierarchy. That's because the University exploits them for labor, there's not even a usefulness contract about it. The university seems to be saying "We use you because you're, there, you're willing, you're grateful for the work/money, and if you don't want to do this necessary vitae building work then there are plenty of others who will." This is why TAs need unions. Without them, that 20 hr/week job can turn into a 30-40 hr/week job--and there's no one to complain to, no one to enforce the wages and hours of the original governing contract. It's remarkable that universities don't think of TAs as employees like any other. Even in the pursuit of learning and experience there can be exploitation, the difference is that the exploitation is called "greater opportunity."

So what should students do? Well, grad students need to support their unions and the unions/labor demands of other university workers (janitors, food service workers, research assistants, readers, etc.) and remember to do so once they hit that tenure-track jackpot. Undergrads need to be savvier about choosing their classes. Grad students, adjuncts, and lecturers can teach you plenty--but form mentoring relationships with the more established. It's the game, you have to play it. (this is that annoying Real Politik side of me that clashes with Idealist me) And the University has to stop acting like a business and go back to the business of teaching.

I'm not holding my breath for that last one though.