Friday, October 10, 2014
Last night (actually this morning around 1 a.m.), I returned to Nashville after a delayed connection on my way back from an excellent conference at Seattle Pacific University. The conference was hosted by SPU's Center for Integrity in Business.
I was only in Seattle for about 48 hours, but the trip was well worth it. As I have mentioned before, there isn’t a good substitute for meeting people in person. Seattle Pacific University gathered an excellent, diverse group of practitioners and academics from various disciplines to discuss topics at the intersection of faith and social enterprise. I may write more about the conference later, but am pretty wiped out right now after limited sleep, catching up, and teaching today.
While I seem to always get at least one delayed flight when I travel, I do not mind traveling because I love the quiet time on the plane or the car. (With an 18-month old son at home "quiet" is relatively rare in my life.) Almost always, I can finish at least one full book on the airplane on a trip like this one. This time I read Paul Collier’s The Plundered Planet. I might write more on the book later, but for now I will just provide an excerpt from the opening pages:
Environmentalists and economists have been cat and dog. Environmentalists see economists as the mercenaries of a culture of greed, the cheerleaders of an affluence that is unsustainable. Economoists see environmentalists as romantic reactionaries, wanting to apply the brakes to an economic engine that is at last reducing global poverty.
The argument of this book is that environmentalists and economists need each other. They need each other because they are on the same side of a war that is being lost. The natural world is being depleted and natural liabilities accumulated in a manner that both environmentalists and economists would judge to be unethical. But the need for an alliance runs deeper than the practical necessities of preventing defeat. Environmentalists and economists need each other intellectually. (pg. 9)
Paul Collier is a good person to write a book about the intersection of economics and environmentalism; he is an economics professor at Oxford University and his wife is an environmental historian.
This conference at Seattle Pacific University not only brought together economists and environmentalists, but also professors in finance, marketing, management, accounting, political science, geography, psychology, theology, and law. A number of business and legal practitioners, including Bill Clark (the primary drafter of the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation) and multiple business owners, were also part of the group. The conversation was rich, in large part because we all brought different perspectives on the issue from our own areas.
Georgia State University has posted a legal studies professor opening in their Robinson College of Business. I graduated from law school at Georgia State University, was a VAP at the law school, and taught a few sections of business law in the business school. It is a wonderful school, right in the heart of Atlanta, with an excellent faculty.
The position posting is below:
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY:
Robinson College of Business, Department of Risk Management & Insurance
TENURE TRACK and/or NON-TENURE TRACK POSITIONS IN LEGAL STUDIES
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY invites applications for one or more tenure track and/or non-tenure track appointments in Legal Studies for openings effective fall 2015 in the Department of Risk Management and Insurance at the Robinson College of Business. Rank is open but we expect to hire at the level of Assistant Professor (tenure track) and/or Clinical Assistant Professor (non-tenure track).
Candidates for a non-tenure track position must have significant professional experience as a lawyer, the capability for publishing research in refereed professional or pedagogical journals, evidence of excellence in teaching preferably in an accredited AACSB business school, and an earned J.D. from an ABA accredited law school.
Candidates for a tenure track position must have an earned J.D. from an ABA accredited law school, have the capability of significant scholarship in law reviews as well as peer reviewed journals, and capability for high quality teaching. Candidates for more senior positions must have a significant and current scholarly research record consistent with appointment at the appropriate rank.
For all candidates we are particularly interested in those who study the relationship between law and risk. Applications from those with specific interests in the areas of life and disability insurance, employee benefits, and/or financial planning are especially welcome, but candidates in all areas of business law will be considered.
ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
The mission of the Department of Risk Management and Insurance at Georgia State University is to better understand how risks faced by individuals, institutions, and societies can be more accurately measured and more efficiently managed. Faculty members have risk-related research interests including behavioral economics, experimental methods, actuarial science, mathematical finance, econometrics, household finance, corporate decision making, legal risk, and insurance economics, among others.
The department is one of the oldest and most influential risk management programs in the U.S. and has a distinguished history of serving students, alumni, and the risk management profession for more than 60 years. We are currently rated #4 in the U.S. News and World Report ranking of RMI programs; we hold a Center of Actuarial Excellence designation from the Society of Actuaries; and we are an Accredited Risk Program according to the Professional Risk Management International Association (PRMIA).
The salary level and course load are competitive.
Positions are contingent on budget approval. Applications received prior to November1 may be given preference, but applications will be accepted until the position is filled. To apply, send a letter of application, curriculum vitae, three recommendation letters, teaching evaluations, if any, to ademicjobsonline.org (strongly preferred) or mailed to Ms. Carmen Brown, Department of Risk Management & Insurance, Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University, PO Box 4036, Atlanta. GA 30302. Be sure to indicate in the cover letter that you are applying for the legal studies position (tenure track) or the legal studies position (Non-tenure track).
Georgia State University is an equal opportunity educational institution and an affirmative action employer.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
The numbers are in on SEC Dodd-Frank conflict minerals filings. According to a Tulane study, the average company spent over half a million dollars to comply. A review by law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel shows how meaningless (in my view), some of those filings were. Meanwhile, Canada failed to pass another conflict minerals bill and NGOs are pressuring the EU to step up to the plate for more rigorous regulation. I continue to believe that there has to be a better way to resolve a deadly human rights crisis, and that disclosure and due diligence in the supply chain are important but are not the solutions.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Call for Papers
ITEM 6 – Lyon
Microfinance: Coaching, Counting, and Crowding
The Banque Populaire Chair in Microfinance of the Burgundy School of Business (France) organizes the 6th edition of the annual conference “Institutional and Technological Environments of Microfinance” (ITEM) in March 2015 (17, 18, 19) in Lyon, France. This conference was initially programmed in Tunis, Tunisia within the campus of l’École supérieure du commerce de Tunis.
The 6th edition brings together--but is not limited to--three major issues that are shaping the sector of microfinance: Coaching, Counting, and Crowding.
Coaching in microfinance provides training in business and soft skills (attributes enhancing an individual's interactions and self-performance) that the poor micro-entrepreneurs rarely have. Increasingly, microfinance academics and practitioners consider building the human capital of micro-entrepreneurs as a critical ingredient of moving out of poverty.
Counting and tracking the microfinance clients and prospects with information technologies not only lessen information asymmetry, but also lower the transaction cost of financial intermediation. Corollary: information technologies can open ways for offering financial services to the poor as a normal way of doing and extending normal business and accelerate their social integration.
Crowding, based on Web 2.0 technologies, enables direct interactions between millions of lending and borrowing people. Through crowdfunding, micro and small entrepreneurs can raise the crucial funds required for their projects by a large number of individuals via social networks on the Internet. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for alleviating poverty in both developed and developing countries.
In addition to the above topics, other microfinance-related topics (such as impact measures, social governance, innovation, and sustainable development) are welcomed.
The ITEM conference provides a forum for both researchers and practitioners to discuss and exchange on financial inclusion. The conference in March 2015 seeks quantitative, qualitative, and experience-based papers from industry and academia. Case studies and Ph.D. research-in-progress are also welcomed. It encourages reflections on the potential and use of technology in microfinance in developed and developing countries.
Papers presented at the conference will also be considered for publication in partnering journals.
Proposals: All contribution types require a proposal in the first instance, including: a short abstract between 300 and 500 words; up to five keywords; the full names (first name and surname, not initials) and email addresses of all authors; and a postal address and telephone number for at least one contact author.
Submission period for the proposals: Up to November 10, 2014.
Acceptance of proposals: By November 30, 2014. As abstract selection notifications will be sent out to relevant authors, please indicate clearly if the contact author is not the lead author.
Full paper: Only required after acceptance of abstract. Papers should not to be more than 5000 words including abstract, keywords and references.
Submission period for the full papers: Up to February 16, 2015.
- Djamchid ASSADI: Djamchid.Assadi@escdijon.eu
- Maaouia BEN NASR: Maouia.Ben-Nasr@escdijon.eu
Web site: http://item6.weebly.com
Fees: Author registration and payment must be completed by February 27, 2015.
There are special discounts available for early-bird registration, students and group bookings (3 registrations). Details will be available on the ITEM 6 website.
A while ago, I wrote a post decrying multitasking. Travis Bradberry at Forbes has an excellent post discussing some research of multitasking conducted at Stanford University. My favorite takeway: "They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time."
Alibaba dominated the September business press coverage with its record-breaking IPO last month, and news of its stock price, trading at a 30% premium, continues to dominate coverage. I have been using the headline-hogging IPO in my corporations class to discuss raising capital, which I am sure many of you are doing as well. Here are a few creative uses for the class-friendly headlines:
- I used coverage of the IPO and its short-lived halo effect on other tech IPO's as a companion to the E-bay stock spinning case (taught under director fiduciary duties).
As we move into securities next week,
- Students will examine Alibaba's registration statement as we look at section 11 liability.
- Students will review portions of a 2012 10b(5) lawsuit against Yahoo alleging that Yahoo! made materially false and misleading statements regarding its holdings in Alibaba.
Please add to the list of uses in the comments section if you have any new ideas or suggestions.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Georgetown University Law Center invites applicants interested in establishing and teaching in a transactional clinic. This position is tenure track. The successful applicant will begin on July 1, 2015. Georgetown seeks to add to its spectrum of business related clinics. Currently we offer clinics that teach business formation in the field of social entrepreneurship, community development and strategic planning, and that assist low income residents in the acquisition, renovation, and operation of their buildings as long-term affordable housing.
At Georgetown Law, professors dedicated to clinical teaching are fully integrated into the faculty. Both entry level and lateral hires are urged to apply. The person selected for this position would join our large clinical community, develop the clinic, be assisted by a clinical fellow and teach the clinic each semester.
The successful applicant will have a strong commitment to promoting access to justice and a demonstrated interest in nurturing student development. Candidates must demonstrate intellectual engagement including scholarly promise (for entry-level candidates) or be a proven scholar (for lateral candidates). Successful applicants will also have subject-matter expertise and a positive reputation in the field, the communication, organizational and collaborative skills necessary to direct and manage a clinic and a commitment to teaching clinically over the long term. Georgetown values excellent teaching and a successful applicant will have pedagogical skills, creativity, and enthusiasm for the academic endeavor. This law school is committed to diversity, and candidates of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.
Please send a resume, including the names of references and a statement of interest to Hope Babcock, the Chair of the Clinical Subcommittee of the Appointments Committee. Her email is Babcock@law.georgetown.edu.
[Posted at the request of Haskell Murray, who is traveling today.]
Maryland State Senator and American University Washington College of Law professor Jamie B. Raskin recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post, A shareholder solution to ‘Citizens United’. In the piece, he explains that
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United essentially invites a shareholder solution. The premise of the decision was that government cannot block corporate political spending because a corporation is simply an association of citizens with free-speech rights, “an association that has taken on the corporate form,” as Kennedy put it. But if that is true, it follows that corporate managers should not spend citizen-shareholders’ money on political campaigns without their consent.
Senator Raskin further notes that the Congress doesn't appear interested in moving forward with the Disclose Act, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has not pursued requiring campaign spending disclosures. In response, the senator has a proposal:
Our best hope for change is with the state governments that regulate corporate entities throughout the year and receive regular filings from them. I am introducing legislation in January that will require managers of Maryland-registered corporations who wish to engage in political spending for their shareholders to post all political expenditures on company Web sites within 48 hours and confirm that any political spending fairly reflects the explicit preference of shareholders owning a majority interest in the company.
Further, if no “majority will” of the shareholders can form to spend money for political candidates — because most shares are owned by institutions forbidden to participate in partisan campaigns — then the corporation will be prohibited from using its resources on political campaigns.
Back in early 2010, as a guest blogger here, I wrote a post, Citizens United: States, where I noted my reaction to the case, which was that I wondered how states would react and that the case made the issue "an internal governance issue, which is a state-level issue." (Please click below to read more.)
Monday, October 6, 2014
As on-campus interviews slow down, a lot of students now are coming to me looking for cover letter advice. Since co-blogger Haskell Murray more-or-less asked me to write on this topic in response to a comment on his super post on resumes and interviews, I thought I would take the bait. My principal thoughts on the subject are set forth below the fold. Some of my observations and elements of my advice are conservative and anally compulsive, I know. But consider the source: I worked in Big Law for fifteen years before I started teaching law and served on a number of office hiring committees over that time.
Thee are many good websites out there on cover letter drafting. Most of the advice they give is good, but it is somewhat varied. There are some things common and traditional in law job cover letters that may help students sift through the Internet prattle and settle on specific approaches. That's the overlay I hope to offer here.
There has been much discussion recently about the SEC’s use of administrative proceedings, rather than court proceedings, for enforcement purposes. Both Peter Henning and Gretchen Morgenson have addressed the issue in the New York Times. And Jay Brown at Race to the Bottom has devoted several posts to the issue. See here, here, here, and here. (This final post claims to be part 5, but I believe this was a numbering error.) .
I do not want to rehash that discussion, but I do want to bring your attention to an excellent new book I have been reading, Is Administrative Law Unlawful?, by Philip Hamburger. Hamburger is a Columbia Law School professor who specializes in constitutional law and history. The book is an extensive examination of the history of administrative legislation and adjudication in England and America, going back to the Magna Carta. He constructs a convincing argument that current administrative practice is inconsistent with both English and American history and practice.
This is not beach reading. The book is well-written, but the arguments and the history are complex and require serious thought. It is, however, worth the effort. The book is fascinating. It has given me an entirely new perspective on issues of administrative law, and that includes a great deal of what a securities law professor like me teaches and writes about. If you have some time and are willing to make the effort, I strongly recommend this book.
My colleague Mark Phillips recently published a short article in the Nashville Bar Journal entitled Can Entrepreneurial Education Restore Faith in Legal Education? (pgs. 6-7). Mark primarily teaches entreprenuership classes in the undergraduate and graduate business schools at Belmont University, but has a JD from NYU Law, in addition to his MBA from NYU (Stern) and his PHD from George Washington University.
For local readers, Mark will be speaking at a Nashville Bar Association breakfast on Nov 11th (at 8 am at Noshville restaurant at 1918 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203). Mark has also started a website (www.eEsquire.net), which may be of interest to readers.
A portion of Mark's recent Nashville Bar Journal article is below:
A great deal was lost in legal industry during the recent recession, but perhaps the most lasting damage was inflicted upon the reputation of law schools. When news broke in 2011 that a significant number of law schools had distorted their placement figures to increase enrollment and rankings, both current and prospective law students were shocked. After a stretch of bad publicity, coupled with some inevitable lawsuits, law schools worked to erase their new-found stigma through greater disclosure and transparency. Yet despite these acts of contrition, the relationship between students and law schools remains fractured.
One method for repairing this relationship that has not been widely discussed may take the unlikely form of enhancing students’ awareness and preparedness for entrepreneurship within the legal industry—namely, by preparing them for solo practice. Shining a brighter light on solo practice as a viable post-graduate career option would not, as many may fear, be a concession that students cannot get high-paying jobs, but rather a reflection of a longstanding reality. Consider for a moment the fact that solo practice is the most consistent and largest sector of legal employment in the United States. Luz Herrera, Assistant Professor of Law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, drew upon historical employment data to conclude that approximately three-fourths of attorneys work in private practice, and of those, over half identify as solo practitioners while another 14% work in offices with five or less attorneys. So rather than treating the pursuit of solo practice as a second-tier career choice, schools could elevate the discussion of solo practice to better align it with the reality of the legal employment market.
The entire article is here.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
"whether the 'fiduciary duty' element of securities fraud is to be defined by...state law or...federal common law" http://t.co/5x5O0QJtsf— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) September 30, 2014
[Todd Zywicki] Israel Kirzner for the Nobel Prize in Economics?: So predicts Thomson Reuters in its annual pre... http://t.co/bxbdPc45UW— Volokh Conspiracy (@VolokhC) September 29, 2014
"Perhaps ... the interests of capital and labour coincide. All would benefit from higher wages." http://t.co/YW4NFfohGy— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) October 4, 2014
Saturday, October 4, 2014
As I previously posted, this semester I’m co-teaching a seminar with an old law school friend, Tanya Marsh (well, seminar-ish – we ended up with 17 students) on the financial crisis.
A couple of weeks ago, I dedicated a class to the concept of “regulation by deal” – inspired Steven Davidoff Solomon and David Zaring’s article with that title. We talked about how Treasury and the Fed used dealmaking approaches to save individual firms, and thus the economy as a whole, and the corporate law issues that the government’s approach raised (lots of great inspiration also came from Marcel Kahan and Edward Rock’s When the Government is the Controlling Shareholder). I assigned excerpts of the Regulation by Deal article, as well excerpts from the complaint filed by Fannie & Freddie shareholders, the AIG complaint, and the SIGTARP report on AIG’s payments to counterparties. We also talked about the mergers between JP Morgan and Bear Stearns, and between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.
Well, it was lucky timing, because that class – by sheer happenstance – was scheduled just before the AIG trial began, and then earlier this week, the Fannie & Freddie complaint was dismissed. So now I have even more to talk about with the students.
One point I see in a lot of the commentary on the AIG trial is that the shareholders’ claims are pretty weak, but at least the trial itself will shed some light on one of the unanswered questions about the crisis, namely, why did Geithner and the NY Fed agree to pay AIG’s CDS counterparties 100 cents on the dollar, instead of demanding that they take a haircut? I.e., one of AIG's major problems was that it had sold credit default swaps (CDS) on mortgage-backed assets held by a number of banks - it had sold insurance, essentially, against a drop in value of those assets. AIG promised to pay out if those assets failed. And when asset values began falling, the counterparties demanded that AIG post collateral - and those demands contributed to AIG's liquidity crisis. To solve that problem, the NY Fed bought the assets underlying the CDS contracts - allowing the counterparties (banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc) to collect 100 cents on the dollar for assets that were, at the time, pretty toxic.
This is, of course, the subject of the SIGTARP report, which concluded that the decision was not particularly well thought out, but was essentially foreordained by the NY Fed’s own self-imposed restrictions on its behavior, which limited its ability to apply any leverage in negotiations.
Among other things, the NY Fed was uncomfortable using its status as regulator to extract concessions on the CDS contracts when it was acting as a creditor of AIG, a more “private” sort of role.
(Also, the phrase phrase “sanctity of contracts” appears so many times in the SIGTARP report that I wondered if I was going to start seeing graven idols. But that’s me.)
The problem, of course, was that the NY Fed refused to use its regulatory power while wearing its "private creditor" hat, but at the same time, it also refused to truly behave as a private creditor - making it neither fish nor fowl. For example, a private actor might have threatened bankruptcy – which the NY Fed was unwilling to do because, in its role as regulator, it could not allow AIG to declare bankruptcy. A private actor would have been fine with striking different deals with different counterparties – which again, the NY Fed as regulator was unwilling to do, allowing any one counterparty to veto deals with the others.
And perhaps even more strikingly to me as a former litigator, the NY Fed also agreed not to sue any of the counterparties for fraud/misrepresentation. That doesn’t strike me as anything like what a private actor would have done – which we know for a fact, given lawsuits filed by entitles like MBIA and Syncora. A private actor could have at least demanded concessions in exchange for not filing a lawsuit – claiming, say, that the counterparties misrepresented the quality of the mortgages backing the assets – and dragging the matter out in court for years. But the last thing the NY Fed as regulator wanted was that kind of publicity.
Anyway, however it shakes out, it'll make for a fun follow-up class.
Friday, October 3, 2014
Elizabeth Pollman (Loyola, Los Angeles) notified us that Loyola Law School, Los Angeles is hiring for an Associate Clinical Professor of Law/Director of the Business Law Practicum.
The details are below the break.
Earlier, I posted a list of legal studies positions in business schools.
Today, I decided to go through the helpful PrawfsBlawg spreadsheet on hiring committees to draw out the law schools that listed at least one business law area of interest. The PrawfsBlawg spreadsheet is a few months old, so it is possible that the schools' needs have changed somewhat in the interim. Also, many schools did not list any specific areas of interest, but hopefully this list is still helpful to our readers.
If readers know of any other law schools that have an interest in hiring in one or more business law areas, please leave the school name in the comments (with a link to the posting, if possible) or send me an email. Updated positions (that are not on the PrawfsBlawg list) will include a link to the posting, if possible.
Florida A&M (business law)
Fordham (international economic law)
Maryland (business law)
North Carolina (corporate finance, international business transactions)
West Virginia (entrepreneurship clinic)
I am back teaching law students again this semester, in addition to teaching business school students. Last class, I did my "mid-course" teaching evaluations in the law school, which I do voluntarily each semester to gauge how the courses are going for the students. Almost always, I pick up on some important trends from the responses. One somewhat frustrating thing, however, is that students often want contradicting things. (e.g., "the previous class review is extremely helpful" and "the previous class review is a complete waste of time.")
The Lon Fuller quote below, from his article On Teaching Law, 3 Stan. L. Rev. 35, 42-43 (1950), helped me realize that some of the contradition, even within the same individual, is natural and expected.
Herein lies a dilemma for student and teacher. The good student really wants contradictory things from his legal education. He wants the thrill of exploring a wilderness and he wants to know where he stands every foot of the way. He wants a subject matter sufficiently malleable so that he can feel that he himself may help to shape it, so that he can have a sense of creative participation in defining and formulating it. At the same time he wants that subject so staked off and nailed down that he will feel no uneasiness in its presence and experience no fear that it may suddenly assume unfamiliar forms before his eyes.
No teacher is skillful enough to satisfy these incompatible demands. I don't think he should try. Rather he should help the student to understand himself, should help him to see that he wants (and very naturally and properly wants) inconsistent things of his legal education. Much frustration will be avoided if the student realizes that an unresolved antinomy runs through his education, and that this antinomy cannot be resolved so long as men want of life, as they do of the preparation for life called education, both security and adventure.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
For the second time, I have assigned my BA students to write their own shareholder proposals so that they can better understand the mechanics and the substance behind Rule 14-a8. As samples, I provided a link to over 500 proposals for the 2014 proxy season. We also went through the Apple Proxy Statement as a way to review corporate governance, the roles of the committees, and some other concepts we had discussed. As I reviewed the proposals this morning, I noticed that the student proposals varied widely with most relating to human rights, genetically modified food, environmental protection, online privacy, and other social factors. A few related to cumulative voting, split of the chair and CEO, poison pills, political spending, pay ratio, equity plans, and other executive compensation factors.
After they take their midterm next week, I will show them how well these proposals tend to do in the real world. Environmental, social, and governance factors (political spending and lobbying are included) constituted almost 42% of proposals, up from 36% in 2013, according to Equilar. Of note, 45% of proposals calling for a declassified board passed, with an average of 89% support, while only two proposals for the separation of chair and CEO passed. Astonishingly, Proxy Monitor, which looked at the 250 largest publicly-traded American companies, reports that just three people and their family members filed one third of all proposals. Only 4% of shareholder proposals were supported by a majority of voting shareholders. Only one of the 136 proposals related to social policy concerns in the Proxy Monitor data set passed, and that was an animal welfare proposal that the company actually supported.
I plan to use two of the student proposals verbatim on the final exam to test their ability to assess whether a company would be successful in an SEC No-Action letter process. Many of the students thought the exercise was helpful, although one of the students who was most meticulous with the assignment is now even more adamant that she does not want to do transactional law. Too bad, because she would make a great corporate lawyer. I have 7 weeks to convince her to change her mind.
October 2, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Yesterday, I shared with my faculty during our teaching conversations* my research and thinking on gender equality in the classroom. How do we handle gender in the classroom? My guess is that most of us teaching honestly strive to achieve and believe that we create a gender-neutral, or more accurately an equally-facilitative classroom environment. You can image the horror I felt when I received voluntary, anonymous student feedback last spring that said “you may not mean to or know you are doing this, but you treat men and women differently in class.” From whose perspective was this coming? How differently? And who gets the better treatment? I was baffled. As a female law professor, I was hoping that I got a pass on thinking critically about gender because I am female, right? Wrong.
This feedback launched my research into the area and a self-audit of the ways in which I may be explicitly treating students differently, implicitly reinforcing gender norms, and unintentionally creating a classroom environment that is different from my ideal.
Below are some observations and discoveries about my own behavior and a summary of some relevant research.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
There is a growing drumbeat for banning laptops in the classroom, as a recent New Yorker article explained. The current case for banning laptops appeared on a Washington Post blog (among other places), in a piece written by Clay Shirky, who is a professor of media studies at New York University, and holds a joint appointment as an arts professor at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts, and as a Distinguished Writer in Residence in the journalism institute.
The piece makes a compelling case for banning laptops, and I agree there are a number of good reasons to do so. I’ll not recount the whole piece here (I recommend reading it), but here’s a key passage:
Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion but creates a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class.
I am sympathetic to this line of thinking, and I am even more sympathetic to another point made in the article: that the laptop distractions can leak from one student engaging in social media or other non-classroom activities to those around them. That is a serious concern.
Still, I don’t ban laptops in my classes, though I have thought about it. I let students use them in my larger-enrollment classes: Business Organizations, which usually is near the cap of 70, and Energy Law, which is usually in the 34-55 range. There is no doubt the risk of distraction in those courses is higher than in others. Interestingly, in my last two seminar-style classes, I did not have a ban, either, but students rarely used laptops. They opted-in for the discussions (self-selection for certain topics can certainly help on that front).
I continue to think about how I want to proceed, but for now, I see value in allowing my students the option to choose how they wish to engage. There have been some other defenses of the idea of keeping laptops in the classroom (see, e.g., here), but my views are an amalgam of different styles and rationales.
First, part of learning, especially in becoming a life-long learner (which is what lawyers need to be), one must choose to engage. Law students are grown ups, and they must learn how they learn. They must decide. I won’t be there when they get to their job and they have to use the computer to actually do the work of a lawyer. They will, at some point, have to decide when to focus and when to play.
Second, I value diversity of styles in the classroom. That is, if most other professors are using open-book exams or take home exams, mine will probably be closed book, and closed note. I have taught using quizzes, blog posts, midterms, short papers, etc., to add some variety to the experience. Now that more classes, at least at my school, are without laptops, it actually gives me a reason to consider keeping them.
Finally, at least so far, allowing laptops is part of my deal with students. It’s part of how I connect and model for them my view and expectation that they are grown ups. I give them power, and I expect them to act appropriately. As my friend, former colleague, and teaching mentor Patti Alleva (recognized as one of the nation's best law teachers) explained in a recent National Law Journal piece, teaching is ultimately about respect and what she calls “intentionality.” She explains:
The simple fact is that teaching does not always produce learning, even if thoughtfully done. Creating that causal link between the two can be a mystifying challenge, especially given the infinite number of unknowable factors and forces that may reduce a teacher's effectiveness or a student's willingness or ability to learn.
. . . .
Teachers, as fiduciaries of their students' educational experience, owe them compassionate deference, based on a benefit of the doubt, coupled with high but reasonable expectations for a meaningful learning collaboration.
. . . .
Ultimately, the best professors are themselves students who learn as much as they teach. And they seek, not to impose ideas on students, but to help equip them with the metacognitive tools to test those ideas and use them in service of problem-solving. Hopefully, students will develop their own senses of respect — for the legal profession, for themselves as aspiring lawyers and for the learning partnership we share. So, if years ago, in that tense seminar room, each of us left with respect for our disagreements and for the pedagogic processes that allowed us to critically and creatively examine, and grow from, those differences, then invaluable learning did take place that day with respect providing a bridge between teaching and learning when other things may have temporarily obscured the connection.
I hope that as teachers we can all appreciate that we, like our students, have different views on the best way to teach and to learn. Just because we choose different paths, it doesn't make any path wrong. As long as the path is thoughtfully chosen, with a purpose and a goal, there’s a good chance it’s right for that teacher, in that moment, for that class. And if it’s not, the key is not about dwelling on the mistake. It’s about learning, adjusting, and doing a better job next time, because the best teachers really are the ones who are trying to “learn as much as they teach.”
Monday, September 29, 2014
Today, the Supreme Court DIG'd (dismissed as improvidently granted) the cert petition in the Section 11 case of IndyMac, which means we will not, at least for now, get resolution on the issue of whether American Pipe tolling applies to statutes of repose.
To be honest, I'm really not surprised. The DIG was apparently in response to an announcement of a settlement of most of the IndyMac claims, but that's a bit odd, since the parties all agreed that the settlement left alive enough claims to render the case not moot (specifically, the plaintiffs' claims against Goldman Sachs would proceed if the plaintiffs prevailed before the Supreme Court).
But as I previously posted, I think IndyMac was in an awkward procedural posture to begin with. Not because the split wasn't real, but because the entire issue regarding the statute of repose was necessarily intertwined with prior unsettled issues regarding class action standing and the scope of Rule 15c. Frankly, I can't help but wonder if the Justices saw the settlement as an excuse to get rid of a bad grant, and they grabbed it.