Saturday, December 5, 2020
This coming spring, I am on sabbatical.
Typically, I teach 4 courses per semester – each with 5 to 8 decent-sized assessments. Among other responsibilities, I am a pre-law advisor for our undergraduate students. So the school year tends to be a bit of blur.
Our fall semester ended just before Thanksgiving, and I already miss teaching. That said, I do feel fortunate to be on sabbatical during what will be another hybrid-teaching semester for us. While hybrid, masked teaching was O.K., it did not hold a candle to typical in-person teaching in my opinion.
In any event, I have my main writing project for the spring (somewhat) mapped out, but would love thoughts on sabbaticals in general for those who have taken them. Some of my plans are a bit uncertain, given the pandemic. In addition to research/writing, a few things I hope to do are – take another Open Yale Course, connect/reconnect with business lawyers/judges in Nashville, and give a few presentations (if COVID allows).
Anyway, feel free to e-mail me here or leave a comment below.
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
A job posting that may be of interest to some of our readers.
BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, a top-tier law school with an international reputation, is a community of leading legal scholars, teachers, students, and alumni, dedicated to providing one of the finest legal educations in the world. The breadth and depth of our curriculum, especially our clinical program, as well as our innovative spirit are distinctive in American legal education.
Boston University School of Law is seeking to hire a full-time attorney in its Startup Law Clinic (the “Clinic”). The Clinic is part of BU Law’s Entrepreneurship, Intellectual Property, and Cyberlaw Program, which is a unique collaboration between BU Law and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The School of Law believes that the cultural and social diversity of our faculty, staff, and students is vitally important to the distinction and excellence of our academic programs. To that end, we are especially eager to hear from applicants who support our institutional commitment to BU as an inclusive, equitable, and diverse community.
The Clinic represents current students at MIT and BU on matters related to a wide range of legal issues faced by early-stage business ventures. The attorney would be expected to help law students counsel clients and represent students in transactional settings. Clients often present questions of law involving for-profit and nonprofit entity formation, allocations of equity, startup financing, employment and independent contractor issues, ownership of intellectual property, privacy policies, terms of service and other third-party contractual relationships, and trademark and copyright matters. Experience representing startup ventures is considered a plus.
The attorney’s primary responsibility will be to supervise and assist students with direct client representation matters. The attorney will also assist the Clinic Director and Assistant Director in preparing and teaching a year-long seminar for students enrolled in the Clinic, including developing materials, performing research, and coordinating classroom activities and guest presentations. The position is a year-round position and the attorney also would work with student fellows hired to continue the work of the clinic during the summer. As time allows, the attorney would also work with the Clinic Director and Assistant Director to develop generalized legal resources and informational material to inform MIT and BU students on the legal aspects of forming and operating for-profit and nonprofit entities.
The ideal candidate is a member of the Massachusetts bar or is eligible for membership via admission by motion, with at least two years of experience advising clients in a transactional setting, and a willingness to support the work of creative and innovative young clients. Teaching experience or a strong interest in developing as a clinical faculty member is also considered a plus. Exceptional writing, editing, organizational, and managerial skills are required.
The attorney will be hired as a Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor to a two-year contract. The ideal start date is May 24, 2021.
Since we opened our doors in 1872, Boston University School of Law has been committed to admitting and building our classes without regard to race, gender, or religion. We are dedicated to building a just, inclusive, and engaged community of faculty and students. We have more work to do to make our environment more just. Boston University School of Law is committed not only to the ideals of faculty diversity and inclusion but also to the work of creating and implementing practices that combat exclusion and inequity by race, gender, gender identity, disability status, religion, or other identities subject to historical subordination. We strive to foster a more inclusive intellectual culture that represents and encourages a broad range of intellectual traditions and approaches to the law. We welcome expressions of interest from applicants of all identities, intellectual traditions, and perspectives.
DO NOT APPLY THROUGH THE BU WEBSITE:
Applicants should send a letter of interest and a resume to Jim Wheaton, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Startup Law Clinic. Email applications are encouraged and should be sent to email@example.com. Applications received on or before January 31, 2021 will be given full consideration.
To learn more about the law school, visit our website at www.bu.edu/law, and to learn more about the Clinic, please visit https://sites.bu.edu/startuplaw/. If you have specific questions about the position, contact Jim Wheaton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. We are a VEVRAA Federal Contractor.
BOSTON, Massachusetts, United States
Monday, November 16, 2020
Despite a pretty busy and different semester, I managed to read a decent bit. Some of this is because of our neighborhood book club and some is from an emerging habit of reading a bit before bed.
Kwame Anthony Appiah - Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) (Philosophy). Author in philosophy professor at NYU. Mother is English; father from Ghana. Tolerance and plurality. “Citizens of the World.”
Compassion (&) Conviction - Chris Butler, Justin Giboney, and Michael Wear (2020) (Religion, Politics). Advocates for Christian engagement with politics that transcends party.
Gooseberries - Anton Chekhov (1898) (Fiction, Short Story). “Think of the people who go to the market for food: during the day they eat; at night they sleep, talk nonsense, marry, grow old, piously follow their dead to the cemetery; one never sees or hears those who suffer, and all the horror of life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. Everything is quiet, peaceful, and against it all there is only the silent protest of statistics; so many go mad, so many gallons are drunk, so many children die of starvation. . . . And such a state of things is obviously what we want; apparently a happy man only feels so because the unhappy bear their burden in silence, but for which happiness would be impossible. It is a general hypnosis. Every happy man should have some one with a little hammer at his door to knock and remind him that there are unhappy people, and that, however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show its claws, and some misfortune will befall him illness, poverty, loss, and then no one will see or hear him, just as he now neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer, and the happy go on living, just a little fluttered with the petty cares of every day, like an aspen tree in the wind and everything is all right.” Some thoughts on this story and conceptions of happiness by George Saunders. (Both recommended to me by my youngest sister.)
Your Money Made Simple - Russ Crosson (Finance) (2019). Financial planning from a Christian perspective. “Spend less than you make and do it for a long time” -- reminds me of the classic Steve Martin skit “Don’t Buy Stuff”. Liked the formula to work backwards to minimum income needs. ((Living Expenses+Debt)/(1-(Giving %+Effective Tax Rate)). Budgeting non-monthly expenses has always been tough for us, but there are some nice rules of thumb here, like 1.5-2% of home value per year for home repair and maintenance. The suggestion to make gifts is one I want to take up (though I need to develop talent first!). Challenges the retirement savings first mentality and emphasis on giving.
Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse (Novel) (1992). Journey to find true self. Metaphor of the river. Learn from vastly different circumstances. Poverty and wealth. Another of our book club books.
Living an Examined Life - James Hollis (Psychology/Self-Help) (2018). Weak book. Read for our book club; we alternate choosing books. My objections include: (1) his condescending tone throughout (“all thoughtful people think….”), (2) the odd genre of the book (it was a flawed mix of self-help and academic psychology. Hollis somehow managed to get the weaknesses of both forms without the strengths); (3) his stereotypes of religion (Christians as either fundamentalists or prosperity gospel peddlers. In reality, there are huge groups that are neither); (4) his incomplete suggestions (confronting your interior self is a fine thing to do, but to what end?); (5) his lack of discussion of community as important (the focus was on the individual and discovering who you are; seemed narcissistic).
All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy (Novel) (1992). Coming of age story. Beautifully rendered.
1984 - George Orwell (Novel) (1949). Dystopia. Big Brother is watching. Re-read for book club.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation - Parker Palmer (2000) (Psychology/Self-Help). Hits similar notes to Dr. Hollis above, but Palmer displays endearing humility. Also for book club.
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets - Michael Sandel (Moral Philosophy) (2012). Can’t buy friendship, love, virtue, rights. Markets actually degrade these things.
One World: The Ethics of Globalization - Peter Singer (Moral Philosophy) (2002). Moral considerations and obligations in a shrinking world. Spends significant time of climate change, foreign aid, trade, and human rights.
The Life You Can Save - Peter Singer (Moral Philosophy) (2009). Available for free at the link. “Most of us are absolutely certain that we wouldn’t hesitate to save a drowning child, and that we would do it at considerable cost to ourselves. Yet while thousands of children die each day, we spend money on things we take for granted and would hardly notice if they were not there.” (12) Reflection here. Survive v. thrive.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich - Leo Tolstoy (Short Story) (1886). A reflection on dying, and its implications for life. Materialism and self-centeredness. Emptiness in de-prioritizing selfless relationships.
Friday, October 9, 2020
How are you doing? I'm exhausted between teaching, grading, consulting, writing, and living through a pandemic. I actually wasn't planning to post today because I post every other Friday, as a way to maintain some balance. I may not post next Friday because I'll be participating in Connecting the Threads, IV, our business law professor blog annual conference. It's virtual and you may get up to 8 CLE credits, including an ethics credit. If you love our posts, you'll get to see us up close and personal, and you won't even need a mask.
I decided to do this short post today because it may help some of you, whether you're professors or practitioners. Several years ago, Haskell Murray wrote that he does a mid-semester survey. He asks his students what they like and don't like. I love this idea ... in theory. How many of us really want to know how we're doing? I've done it a couple of times when I knew that the class was going great, but I don't do it consistently. I decided to do it this year because we are piloting a new program modeled after Emory's Transactional Law Program. I used to teach one or two sections of transactional drafting every semester by myself, but now I do the lecture portion (asynchronously) and six adjuncts teach the skills portion in live classes via Zoom (for now). In some ways, it was easier to teach by myself. Five of the six adjuncts are teaching for the first time, and online at that. It's not easy. I also do pre-recorded videos with questions embedded via Feedback Fruits that students must answer. Each week, I review the answers for each of the classes, look for trends and gaps in knowledge, debrief with the adjuncts, hold office hours with the students, and try to find current events related to what we are doing. I also teach two sections of legal writing to 1Ls. My life is a constant stream of conferences and marking up drafts.
Students tell me they love the transactional drafting class, but what about those who don't say anything? So, I bit the bullet and sent out an anonymous survey to the seventy students enrolled. So far less than 1/3 have responded, but I've already gleaned valuable insight. I sent the survey out two days ago and I've already changed the structure of my videos and am holding a mid-semester review. The students validated my concerns about one of our books. Some students were just glad to be asked. Most important, I won't have to wait until the evaluations at the end of the semester.
Ironically, when I consult with companies on employee relations or corporate culture issues, I recommend that they do a Start, Stop, Continue or Do More, Do Not Change, Do Less exercise with the employees. I've even led focus groups on this, and employees love it because they feel engaged. As long as the company actually commits to making changes as appropriate, it's a powerful tool.
I challenge you to ask your students or your employees how you're doing, especially in these trying times. You may be surprised. If you have other novel recommendation for getting feedback from students or employees, let us know in the comments.
I hope to see you next week at the Connecting the Threads Conference.
Monday, October 5, 2020
The fourth annual Business Law Prof Blog symposium, Connecting the Threads, is happening, despite the pandemic. We are proceeding in a virtual format, hosted on Zoom on Friday, October 16. More information is available here.
The line-up includes an impressive majority of our bloggers speaking on a wide range of topics from shareholder proposals to social enterprise, opting out of partnership, and much more. Most papers will have a faculty and student discussant. My submission, “Business Law and Lawyering in the Wake of COVID-19,” is coauthored with two students and carries one hour of Tennessee ethics credit. While I wish we could host everyone in person in Knoxville, it always is an amazing day when we all get together. I look forward to learning more about what everyone is working on and hearing what everyone has to say.
Monday, August 10, 2020
Decent amount of reading for a summer than seemed quite chaotic. Fairly eclectic . Always open to suggestions.
God and Money - John Cortines and Gregory Baumer (2016) (Personal Finance). Two recent Harvard Business School graduates discuss thoughts on faith, finances, and giving. Less than 3% of American adults give away 10% or more of their income. Advocates for setting a floor of giving away at least 10% of gross income. In addition, the authors suggest setting an income and net worth cap and giving away the remainder. Reflection here (near the end of the post).
How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - Mohsin Hamid (2013) (Novel). Family, love, business, morality, and violence. Novel claims to be written in a self-help style (though it didn’t really capture the self-help voice, in my opinion). I greatly preferred Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2008) to this one, but still think Hamid is talented and worth reading. As a father and a son, I liked this quote near the end - “You feel a love [toward your son] you know you will never be able to adequately explain or express to him, a love that flows one way, down the generations, not in reverse, and is understood and reciprocated only when time has made a younger generation of an older one.” (222).
When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi (2016) (Memoir). Dr. Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer as a 35-year old nonsmoker. Paul’s diagnosis came just as he was finishing his training as a neurosurgeon at Stanford. Faith, family (including a newborn daughter), and work all provide purpose. Reflection here.
The Coddling of the American Mind - Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (2018) (Social Psychology and Culture). Argues that privileged, upper/middle class children and students are overprotected. Children need more free play. Students need more exposure to differing viewpoints, learning civil discourse, and building well-supported arguments.
Let Your Mind Run - Deena Kastor (2018) (Memoir). History of a top professional runner and the role of positive thinking.
Love in the Ruins - Walker Percy (1999) (Novel). Satire, politics, religion, relationships, and the end of the world.
Amusing Ourselves to Death - Neil Postman (1985) (Cultural Commentary). Thesis - “Orewell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” (Preface).
Saturday, August 8, 2020
Some information for legal studies in 2019 and 2020. Please feel free to e-mail me with more information
New Hires (from the ALSB Newcomer List)
Michael Bell (New Jersey City)
Emma Best (Wake Forest)
Ilisabeth Bornstein (Bryant)
Amy Criddle (NAU)
Rustin Diehl (Weber State)
Terrence Dwyer (Western Connecticut State)
Sam Ehrlich (Boise State)
Mark Feigenbaum (Ryerson)
Valerie Flugge Goyer (California State-Northridge)
Laura Grow (Indiana)
Lindsay Jones (UGA)
Jeff Lingwall (Boise State)
Goldburn Maynard (Indiana)
Sharlene McEvoy (Fairfield)
Thomas Miller (Western Connecticut State)
Eric Sader (Indiana)
Sejal Singh (St. John's)
Christina Skinner (Penn)
Justin Pace from Western Michigan to Western Carolina (2020)
Jennifer Pacella from CUNY/Baruch to Indiana University/Kelley (2019)
Mike Schuster from Oklahoma State to University of Georgia (2020)
Charlotte Alexander - appointed Connie D. and Ken McDaniel WomenLead Associate Professor of Law and Analytics
Gerlinde Berger-Walliser (UConn) - promoted to Associate Professor (with tenure)
Cristen Dutcher (Kennesaw) - promoted to Clinical Associate Professor
Kelly Eskew (Indiana) - promoted from Associate Clinical Professor to Clinical Professor
Todd Haugh (Indiana) - appointed Weimer Faculty Fellow and promoted from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor with tenure
Jessica Magaldi (Pace) - appointed Ivan Fox Scholar and Professor of Business Law
Victor Lopez (Hofstra) - appointed Cypres Family Distinguished Professor in Legal Studies in Business
Josh Perry (Indiana) - appointed Graf Family Professor and Department Chair
Angie Raymond (Indiana) - appointed Weimer Faculty Fellow
April Sellers (Indiana) - promoted from Associate Clinical Professor to Clinical Professor
Sunday, August 2, 2020
(A bit of the harvest picked from my parent's garden in north Georgia yesterday)
Last Thursday my neighborhood book club discussed work by poet David Whyte. This book club has been especially life-giving during the pandemic. I have deep admiration for every member of the group and always learn from our meetings. In March and April, we briefly moved to Zoom, but were unable to capture the same energy. We then decided to meet in person, bringing chairs to a member’s spacious driveway that backs up to common green space.
The work we discussed last week was not actually a book, but rather a few hours of David Whyte’s musings, only available in audio form. Much of the talk involves Whyte reading poetry – primarily his own, Rainer Maria Rilke’s and Mary Oliver’s – and relating that poetry to questions many of us ponder in midlife.
While I can’t locate the exact quote in the long recording, Whyte used a harvesting metaphor effectively. Whyte suggests that if we don’t slow down to be present for the harvest times in our lives, the fruit will rot on the vine. He reminds us, for example, that our child will only be five years old for a relatively short season. By being present for the harvest, I think Whyte means celebrate (among other things).
The practice of law, at least as it appears to be carried out by most major firms, leaves precious little time for celebration. In fact, during my handful of years at two major law firms, I can only recall a single occasion of truly pausing to celebrate the harvest.
This occasion involved a closing dinner. A celebratory dinner after closing a deal to buy or sell a company is relatively common in M&A practice. In my somewhat limited experience, however, law firms often organized these dinners to impress clients and tee up future deals. Networking, not savoring, is the focus. Often only the partners and clients attend closing dinners. The associates (or at least the junior associates) are usually back in the office working on the next matter.
This dinner was different. King & Spalding partner Russ Richards had just closed two relatively large deals in the same week with the assistance of same four associate attorneys. While the hours had been grueling, even by BigLaw standards, I didn’t expect to be invited to a closing dinner. Surprisingly, Russ not only invited the other three associates and me, but also encouraged us to bring a dates. Moreover, this was not a dinner to impress the clients; no clients were invited. We did not spend much time, if any, setting up future deals. We just celebrated work well done with wonderful wine, food, and company.
If there were more of this sort of unadulterated celebration of the harvest in BigLaw, I imagine the turnover would be much lower. And maybe one of the reasons Russ Richards excelled in a 45+ year career with the same firm is because he created moments of celebration and reflection like these. As I have argued before, I think one of the ways to make BigLaw more humane is to work in some time for celebration and rejuvenation, perhaps in the form of sabbaticals. A formal promotion to “senior associate” around the four-year mark, followed by a brief sabbatical (even as short as one month) would do wonders for the profession. Even longer sabbaticals, perhaps tied to a project improving the community, could be worthwhile as well.
Of course life is not, and probably should not be, constant celebration. To stretch Whyte’s metaphor further—as anyone who has tried their hand at farming knows—fruit that is the product of a season of sweat tastes sweeter than fruit obtained from a grocery deliver service. The gritty, difficult, back-spasm-inducing times are an important part of the process. That said, especially for those of us bent more in the direction of overwork, making some space to celebrate the harvest is essential.
Finally, and importantly, we should make a point to notice and celebrate the achievements of others. Whyte seems to focus on being present for the fruition of our own work, but I am convinced that pausing to celebrate the accomplishments of others can be even more worthwhile.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Earlier today (July 14), Fordham University hosted a webinar entitled Reopening Justly or Just Reopening: Catholic Social Teaching, Universities & COVID-19.
Speakers on the topic of the ethics of reopening schools include the following theology professors:
- Christine Firer Hinze (Fordham)
- Gerald Beyer (Villanova)
- Craig Ford (St. Norbert)
- Kate Ward (Marquette)
Christine Firer Hinze discussed Catholic Social Thought, human dignity, and solidarity. She reminded us that reopening universities is literally a question of life and death, but is also a question of livelihood. Gerald Beyer stressed looking to the the latest science and considering the common good (the flourishing of all). Craig Ford commented on the reality that some universities may be facing financial collapse, that the pandemic is likely to be with us for a long while, and that there are no perfect solutions. Ford also suggested a focus on protecting those who are most vulnerable. Kate Ward talked about moral injury, lamentation, and redemption. A question and answer period --- including on the topics of racial justice, transparency, shared sacrifices and mental health --- followed opening remarks.
Monday, July 13, 2020
As law school classes move online, it is imperative that law faculty understand not only how to teach online, but how to teach well online. This article therefore is designed to help law faculty do their best teaching online. It walks faculty through key choices they must make when designing online courses, and concrete ways that they can prepare themselves and their students to succeed. The article explains why live online teaching should be the default option for most faculty, but also shows how faculty can enhance student learning by incorporating asynchronous lessons into their online classes. It then shows how faculty can set up their virtual teaching space and employ diverse teaching techniques to foster an engaging and rigorous online learning environment. The article concludes by discussing how the move to online education in response to COVID-19 could improve the overall quality of law school teaching.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
A few months ago, I mentioned taking the free Yale University online course The Science of Well Being taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
Before jumping into the substance of the course, I wanted to talk a bit about the format. The course was likely filmed with better equipment than most of us will have in the fall. The videos were mostly under 15 minutes each, and the videos usually had quiz questions to keep you engaged. Then there were longer quizzes at the end of sections and discussion boards.
Even though this was a Yale course, on an interesting subject, with a gifted professor, I probably would not have paid even $1 for this course. The material was surely worth more than $1, but there is simply too much good free information online, in this format, for me to pay anything for it. This fact is sobering to me as a professor, given that at least some of my students will be online-only this fall. The real value, I think, springs from interaction – between professor and student, and between the students themselves. As such, I need to plan my courses with a fair bit of this interaction.
Moving to the substance, Professor Santos noted eight things that the science shows improves well-being:
- Social Interaction
- Meaningful Goals
Professor Santos' ReWi application helps you track these things.
Think all of us know that those eight things are good for us, even if we do not always prioritize them.
Most helpful for me was the discussion of savoring. Previously, I simply had not paused long enough to dwell on the many good things in life. In The Plague, Dr. Rieux and his friend Tarrou savor nature before swimming during a brief break fighting disease. Camus describes it as follows:
Once they were on the pier they saw the sea spread out before them, a gently heaving expanse of deep-piled velvet, supple and sleek as a creature of the wild. They sat down on a boulder facing the open. Slowly the waters rose and sank, and with their tranquil breathing sudden oily glints formed and flickered over the surface in a haze of broken lights. Before them the darkness stretched out into infinity. Rieux could feel under his hand the gnarled, weather-worn visage of the rocks, and a strange happiness possessed him. (256)
Pausing long enough to watch the sea and feel the rocks on his hand is what Professor Santos is talking about when she describes savoring. Think we could all benefit by stopping, noticing, and savoring more I am committed to doing so
(Photo taken savoring the scene at Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, North Carolina)
Monday, July 6, 2020
What remains when the intoxicating distractions of life are removed?
I read both of these books on vacation at Ocean Isle, NC late last month; this was not exactly light, uplifting beach reading.
Before the plague engulfed the Algerian coastal town of Oran, Camus’ narrator notes that:
Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.” Naturally they don’t eschew such simpler pleasure as love-making, sea bathing, going to the pictures. But, very sensibly they reserve these past times for Saturday afternoons and Sundays and employ the rest of the week in making money, as much as possible . . . . Nevertheless there still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives. Still they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern.
In sharp contrast to the citizens of Oran, Ben Ellis had steadier footing in advance of tragedy. Ben Ellis was a teacher at the private school connected to our church in Nashville (CPA). Our current pandemic has been clarifying for me in many ways, and it has convinced me that Saint Paul was correct when he wrote that faith, hope, and love are the things that remain. Ben Ellis was already building his life on those three things prior to his cancer diagnosis. As his condition worsened in September of 2016, over 400 students gathered outside of his home to sing worship songs with him. Ben Ellis died about 10 days later. Difficulties can clarify, and Ben’s death clarified that he spent his time focused on meaningful things outside of himself. Watch the clip below to see clear evidence of a man who loved God, his students, and his family well. (His daughter is so poised and thoughtful, and the headmaster obviously valued him).
But for many of the citizens of Oran, and many of us in the individualistic, materialistic United States, difficulties can also show that we rest on a shaky foundation. If we are focused primarily on financial success and personal status, something like a pandemic or cancer can destroy the entire endeavor in short order.
In terms of “success,” as it is typically defined in the United States, few could be said to surpass Doctor Paul Kalanithi. He followed an undergraduate and masters degree at Stanford University with medical school at Yale. At the time of his cancer diagnosis, he was in his last year of neurosurgical training as the chief resident back at Stanford University. But even with just a few months left to live, Paul went back to work. The purpose of work does not have to be centered on finances and status. In Paul’s case, he returned to work, I think, primarily because he was doing meaningful work with people he cared about. Impending death clarified that status was of little importance, and he turned down a prestigious and lucrative job offer far from family. I do wonder if he would have taken that job in Wisconsin, but for his diagnosis. From his writing, it sounds like he probably would and that may have been a mistake given his underlying priorities. We often lean toward finances and status, even if our highest priorities lie elsewhere. Hopefully, this pandemic can give us all some time for reflection and help us make decisions that elevate those things that are most important.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Tomorrow (6/25/20) at 9am EST, Colin Mayer (Oxford) will debate Lucian Bebchuk (Harvard) on the topic of stakeholder v. shareholder capitalism.
Oxford is streaming the debate for free here.
Monday, June 15, 2020
Recently, I listened to the NPR Hidden Brain’s podcast titled “Playing Favorites: When Kindness Toward Some Means Callousness Toward Others.”
This podcast hit on topics that I have been thinking about a good bit lately---namely selfishness, giving, poverty, family, favoritism, and a culture of “us against them.” This post only has the slightest connection to business, so I will include the rest of the post under the break.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
would train runners from all the schools in the region over the summer, then relentlessly compete against them in the fall, then bring them back together to train in the winter. His world was the runner’s world, in which your rival is your greatest friend.
At the time, I did not really care much for training; I just liked winning. Van was easily the most knowledgeable coach in our region, and I remember being somewhat frustrated that he would share his expertise with our competitors.
With winning races as my ultimate goal, any assistance to other runners was counterproductive. For me, competition was zero-sum; if someone else won, I lost. Van saw competition differently. Van saw competition not as the end, but as a means to the greater ends of self-discipline, community, and true excellence.
Cormac McCarthy, in his 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road, explores these competing views of competition. In this post-apocalyptic novel, an unnamed man and his son travel south over an ash-covered road, trying to outrun the harsh winter. Resources are scarce and many of the survivors have resorted to cannibalism.
The man reassures his son that they are two of the “good guys” because they do not eat fellow humans. Nevertheless, the man resists most of his son’s pleas to help others they encounter on the road, embracing a scarcity view of competition. The man admirably protects and shares with his son, but the man treats nearly everyone else with suspicion and violence. The father reminds his son to “always be on the lookout” and even after finding a cellar full of provisions, the father quickly turns his attention to trying to find another gun. His gun is down to its final bullet, so his power to fight off others is tenuous.
The man clearly loves his son, and the man appears well-intentioned in his attempts to do what is best for his son. But by trying to protect his son through selfishness, the man contributes to the cruel world that his son will inherit. The man tends to assume the worst of those they encounter on the road and, as a result, none of his compassion for his son spills over into the world at large. Selfishness, ruthless competition, and distrust leaves the world bleak and drains life of its meaning.
At the end of the novel, shortly after the boy’s father dies, the boy encounters another man. Following his father’s example, the boy points his pistol at the stranger. After a bit of conversation, the boy begins to let down his guard. But the boy remains a bit unsure, asking: “How do I know you are one of the good guys?” The stranger admits “You don’t. You’ll have to take your shot.” Unlike his father, the boy does not continue in distrust, and the boy does not resort to violence. The boy goes with the stranger.
The stranger rewards the boy’s trust by leaving a blanket—that they could use to help them survive—to wrap the boy’s dead “papa.” In a freezing world where survival is uncertain, this is an extreme act of kindness that strikes against cold utilitarianism. Even in a land of very limited resources, life means much more than simply using power to survive.
The boy and the stranger were both armed. The more powerful one could have killed the other and stolen his supplies. In a sense, the more powerful person would have “won” the competition, but he would have only secured a bit more time in a decidedly ugly world. In the novel, however, both the stranger and the boy risked a shortened life, but they seemed to gain beautiful friendship and the priceless experience of shared sacrifice.
Competition is not altogether evil. As Coach Van Townsend knew, healthy competition can be used to inspire and it can even help build community out of shared striving and respect. But when “winning” becomes the ultimate goal, and virtue is trampled, the world can quickly turn cruelly cold.
(Note: Anything insightful I have written was likely drawn from conversations with my brilliant literature professor brother. Anything foolish is of my own making.)
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Details for the ALSB Annual Conference are here.
The organization is primarily geared toward law faculty who teach in business schools, but we have presenters from practice and law school faculties from time to time as well.
The call for participation deadline is June 1, 2020. And the virtual conference will be held August 2-7, 2020.
Friday, May 8, 2020
After finishing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I devoured Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Published in 1985, Postman’s thesis is that Huxley in Brave New World, not George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984, more accurately predicted life in the modern United States. In the forward to his book, Postman writes:
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history, As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. (xix).
Postman argues that we have moved from an Age of Exposition--where print-based works encouraged logic, order, relevant criticism, and deep learning--to an Age of Show Business, dominated by "the language of headlines--sensational, fragmented, impersonal.” (55-70). This shift, according to Postman, has led to a focus on applause over reflection, a focus on image instead of ideas. He compares a 7-hour Lincoln-Douglas debate in the Age of Exposition (44-45) to the 1984 Age of Show Business presidential debates with 5-minute addresses and 1-minute rebuttals (97). Given the biases of the medium of television influencing the 1984 “debates,” Postman argues that:
in such circumstances, complexity, documentation, and logic can play no role, and, indeed, on several occasions syntax itself was abandoned entirely. It is no matter. The men were less concerned with giving arguments than with “giving off” impressions, which is what television does best. Post-debate commentary largely avoided any evaluation of the candidates’ ideas, since there were none to evaluate. Instead, the debates were conceived as boxing matches, the relevant question being, Who KO’d whom? The answer determined by the “style” of the men--how they looked, fixed their gaze, smiled, and delivered one-liners. (97)
Having watched a number of political “debates,” I must say Postman nails it here, though 5-minute addresses may have shrunk to 2-minutes by 2020! In contrast, on October 16, 1854, Douglas received 180 uninterrupted minutes before Lincoln was given a chance to respond. In a shorter debate on August 21 1858, Douglas received 60 minutes to speak, followed by a 90 minute reply from Lincoln, and concluding with a 30 minute rebuttal by Douglas. Unfortunately, in the modern United States, Postman convincingly argues that “the fundamental metaphor for political discourse is the television commercial….on television commercials, propositions are as scarce as unattractive people...the commercial disdains exposition, for that takes time and invites argument.” (126-31)
Those who run television do not limit our access to information, but in fact widen it. Our Ministry of Culture is Huxleyan, not Orwellian. It does everything possible to encourage us to watch continuously. But what we watch is a medium which presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical, and noncontextual: that is to say, information packaged as entertainment. In America, we are never denied the opportunity to amuse ourselves. (141)
According to Postman, the Age of Show Business influences everything from how modern books are written to how our education is shaped. His tenth chapter is entitled “Teaching as an Amusing Activity” and starts with intense criticism of Sesame Street. Postman claims, “[w]e now know that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like ‘Sesame Street.’ Which is to say, we now know that ‘Sesame Street’ undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” (143). Postman cites no evidence to support this claim and the research on Sesame Street’s impact seems varied. Nevertheless, Postman argues that the material in the Sesame Street shows is not nearly as important as the way it is taught. Postman writes “the most important thing one learns is always something about how one learns," not the content of the lesson. (144). In responding to television's increasing influence, Postman argues that teachers are increasing visual stimulation in the classroom and “are reducing the amount of exposition their students must cope with; are relying less on reading and writing assignments; and are reluctantly concluding that the principal means by which student interest may be engaged is entertainment.” (148-49).
Postman admits that he doesn’t have strong solutions for the shriveling cultural spirit that he observes (155-63). He is not optimistic about Americans abandoning television nor about attempts to improve the programming. The only hope he sees is education, though he admits that even education may be powerless. Interestingly, Postman (in 1985) claims that he “believe[s] the computer to be a vastly overrated technology.” (161). More accurately he predicted:
[Americans will give computers] their customary mindless inattention, which means they will use it as they are told, without a whimper. Thus a central thesis of computer technology--that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data--will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved. (161)
I need to do a lot more thinking about this book. Postman makes a compelling case for the shallowness of the Age of Show Business, but I am more hopeful than Postman that students, with the help of professors, can see this shallowness and work in more meaningful directions. While many of us have been immersed in the Age of Show Business for our entire lives, we professors should aspire to much more than mere amusement in education. There is great value in working through dense, difficult material over long periods of time. This difficult work may not be enjoyable in the short-term for students, but it is indispensable for deep work and growth to maturity. Sadly, the pull of the Age of Show Business is quite strong, and maybe the amusing Matt Damon will be cast for the role of professor in future classes. For all our sake, let's hope not.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
I would have thought that eliminating my commute during the pandemic would have meant more time to read, but those of us with young children seem to have significantly less free time during all of this. Nevertheless, my neighborhood book club prompted some reading, and I squeezed in a few others. Always open to suggestions.
Atomic Habits - James Clear (2018) (Self-Help). Didn't think there was much novel here, but I did like his suggestion to start small with habits (create some 2-minute habits and build from there). This podcast with Donald Miller on writing and exercise habits prompted me to read the book.
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry - John Mark Comer (2019) (Religion). "The modern world is a virtual conspiracy against the interior life."
A Lesson Before Dying - Ernest Gaines (1993) (Novel/Historical Fiction). Story of family, humanity, race, teaching, and belief.
Talking to Strangers - Malcom Gladwell (2019) (Pop Psychology). Book club (and he spoke at Belmont on this book). Basically, Blink Part II. Challenges our judgment of others, especially those we do not know well. Liked this note of humility and willingness to be corrected at the end of the book. “Instances where I am plainly in error, please contact me at email@example.com and I will be happy to correct the record.”
Endure - Alex Hutchinson (2018) (Fitness). More story and less sports psychology than I was hoping for, but confirmed the power of belief and explored the limits of human endurance in sport.
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones (2018) (Novel). Book club. A novel about marriage, family, friendship, betrayal, race, class, and injustice. Written mostly in the forms of letters to and from a husband/son who is supposedly wrongfully imprisoned.
Race Matters - Cornel West (1993) (Social Science). A few quotes that leapt out -- “Today, eighty-six percent of white suburban Americans live in neighborhoods that are less than 1 percent black.” (4). “American mass culture presented models of the good life principally in terms of conspicuous consumption and hedonistic indulgence.” (36) “Humility is the fruit of inner security and wise maturity. To be humble is to be so sure of one’s self and one’s mission that one can forgo calling excessive attention to one’s self and status.” (38)
Sunday, April 19, 2020
In a reflection on the meaning of career success, a majority of my business ethics students mentioned happiness as a barometer.
“Happiness,” however, is an incredibly imprecise term. For example, here is over seventy-five minutes of Jennifer Frey (University of South Carolina, Philosophy) and Jonathan Masur (University of Chicago, Law) discussing happiness under two different definitions.
Frey, in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas, considers happiness not as a private good, but rather as the highest common good. Happiness is enjoyed in community. True happiness according to Frey, is bound up in the cultivation of virtue and human excellence. Under Frey’s definition, happiness makes room for sacrifice and suffering as beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Masur, a self-described hedonist, seems to have a more psychological, subjective view of happiness. Masur defines happiness as positive feelings, and unhappiness as negative feelings. Masur acknowledges that happiness--maybe even the deepest happiness--can arise from relationships and altruistic behavior. Unlike Frey, however, Masur includes positive feelings that are artificially produced or arising from unvirtuous behavior as part of “happiness.” Masur sees happiness and living a good, moral life as often overlapping, but as not necessarily intertwined.
These are two different conceptions of happiness. I think we need seperate words for the different conceptions--perhaps joy and pleasure--though I do not think any two English words fully capture the differences.
Somewhat relatedly, this month, my neighborhood book club is reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Throughout the book, Huxley explores a future devoted to pleasure. In this world, a drug called soma, a sport called obstacle golf, and touch-engaging films called the "feelies" combine to drown out negative emotions. While the elimination of virtually all infectious diseases seems enviable in this moment, there is very little I admire in the brave new world---it seems incredibly shallow. Some of Aristotle’s virtues are largely missing. Courage, temperance, and liberality are only seen in the outcasts of this world. Self-denial and committed relationships are strongly discouraged.
Ross Douthat, in The New York Times, hits some similar notes below:
- In effect, both Huxley and [C. S.] Lewis looked at the utilitarian's paradise--a world where all material needs are met, pleasure is maximized, and pain is eliminated--and pointed out what we might be giving up to get there: the entire vertical dimension in human life, the quest for the sublime and the transcendent, for romance and honor, beauty and truth.
But even John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian, seemed to realize that there can be a depth to happiness that extends beyond pure pleasure. Mill wrote:
- It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
Near the conclusion of Brave New World, the Savage (John) has an illuminating verbal spat with the Controller Mustapha Mond:
- Savage: "But I like the inconveniences [of life.]"
- "We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."
- "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
- "In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
- "All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I am claiming the right to be unhappy."
The Savage meets a tragic end (in part because he gets cut off from supportive community and has not grasped the concept of forgiveness), but I am still more drawn to his life--of pain and love, desire and disappointment, art and decay, principle and struggle--than to a life plugged into the pleasure producing experience machine.
Even though Frey and Masur disagree on the breadth of the term “happiness,” both seem to agree that devoted relationships, selflessness, and self-transcendence often lead to durable, deep happiness. While many of my business ethics students did not define “happiness” in their reflections, I hope they increasingly realize the fulfillment that can come from cultivating virtue in the midst of difficulty.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
The Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) previously defined "social enterprise" as businesses that (1) Directly address social need; (2) Commercial activity [not donations] drives revenue; and (3) Common good is the primary purpose. SEA's definition has evolved to be more inclusive, now recognizing three different models based on -- (1) opportunity employment, (2) transformative products/services, or (3) donations. While the first definition could be criticized for being too narrow (Ben & Jerry's would not qualify because their product does not directly address a "social need"), SEA's new definition is likely too broad because it seems to cover all donating businesses.
Personally, I am most fond of social enterprises that produce products/services that lead directly to human flourishing.
For Lent, I gave up Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. While these products have their uses, on the whole they tend distract me from what is truly important. Perhaps social media has improved since the advent of Covid-19, and I admit to feeling somewhat out of the loop. But I also feel much more at peace, and may not return to those forms of social media after Easter, or, if I do, I hope it will be on a much more limited basis.
In contrast, Strava is one form of social media that has been a constant positive in my life. Strava, for those who don't know, is a free app to log all kinds of physical exercise. I credit Strava (and my friends on Strava) with keeping me accountable to exercise 4+ times a week for the past 4+ years. The community on Strava is unlike any social media I have seen or heard of elsewhere. People are relentlessly encouraging, and the focus is on fitness not controversy. Also, as a Strava friend recently posted -- "love Strava because it’s the only social media platform with almost 100% factually accurate information and statistics. (Besides minor GPS errors and the occasional ‘wrong activity type’)." Strava has truly created a product that likely improves the lives of nearly all of its users.
Anyway, no sponsorship for me for this post, but I do hope to see more readers on Strava!