Life As Is

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Friday, February 18, 2005
  On the Subject of Alumni Donations to the UW Law School : UW Law alums you should be receiving your Winter issue of the Gargoyle soon. For the benefit of others (and, I suppose, recent graduates who don't often check their mailbox), I need to explain that the Gargoyle is our alumni magazine. It's named after our mascot, a true-blue gargoyle, made of sandstone, who was perched on the roof of the original 1893 law building. Legend has it that our gargoyle was rescued from the rubble--by the law school dean, no less--when the building was torn down in 1962. The Gargoyle and his mate of almost seventy years can be seen in this photo of the old law building. Said mate was lost in the destruction. Sadly, so was the rest of the old law building.

But their memory lives on in the pages of the alumni magazine... so don't despair!

The impetus for the magazine, of course, is to encourage people to donate. So before you start flipping through it either cursing or trying to decide how big a check to write, I'll give you one more thing to think about. My own faith in the UW Law School recently has been renewed and rejuvenated. Why? Because the faculty hiring committee is doing right by us. My professor in Constitutional Law this semester is a new hire and she's a really good teacher. (Her pic is on page 18.) And lest you think that this post is a shameless attempt to influence my grade in her class (because you're that cynical, and you don't believe that grading is really anonymous, and you love this blog so much that you think all my professors must be reading it) full disclosure: I am taking Con Law pass/fail. In fact that probably partly explains why I enjoy the class, but it's also the teaching, just trust me.

She of course joins the ranks of a faculty that is brimming with good teachers, and several great ones. But the important point is that she matches them, which means the my soon-to-be alma matter isn't slipping. Even more than the mascot, that's what I care about.
Is this post really "on the subject of alumni donations to the UW law school"? You use the Gargoyle merely as a segway to talk about your professor. Yet, you haven't mentioned if you plan to give once you're an alumnus, or how much.

Nor do you explain why others should give except to say UW ain't slipping. The school shouldn't be satisfied with not slipping from its current ranking, which, by the way, is historically low for UW.

The problem a number of alums have, and I have spoken with some from classes well before mine, is that resources at UW tend to flow to very niche areas with influential faculty. Now that's not all bad, and I suspect neither is it unique, but at UW those niche areas are not the areas that will improve the school's "ranking." The general concern from alums that are in larger firms (out of state) is that money they give will go to these niche areas, in one way or another, without building up teaching areas that would better prepare UW students for job searches that focus on out-of-state private firms.

How about a substantive post about the tension between what UW wants to be (and will therefore slip in rankings) and what it has to be to avoid slipping in the rankings (where slipping means fewer and fewer top students consider the school)?

Or, you could just post about "the subject of alumni donations to the UW law school." I look forward to that one.
Eric, thanks for your comment. Glad to see that that I haven't driven away all my readers with the reduced posting habits of late. I don't have a counter, so comments and old-fashioned conversations are the only ways that I have of knowing who is out there.

In this case I guess I see a stronger connection than you do between my experience with Prof. Q. and "the subject of alumni donations to the UW law school." As I explained, because of her class this semester I've begun to think about donations in a different light. That's on subject, isn't it?

It could be that my use of the "On the Subject of" convention implies that a comprehensive discussion will follow. If that's the case I may have misled.

You correctly state that I don't explain in my post why others should give. That's not my place. And if I was looking to do some persuasive writing it wouldn't do for me to select as my venue a blog entitled *Life As Is* now would it?

I'm not prepared to talk about how much I plan to give as an alumnus (although I'm sure something), because I don't know what my financial situation will be after I graduate. And besides, that's private. I'd be curious to know how much you're going to give, and when--I know you've said that you're witholding payments for some time to come.

Also, I'll leave it to those more knowledgeable than I to bestow us with kingly decrees and other various ramblings related to the other concerns that you identify. You and I don't always agree in our complaints about UW Law (e.g., I don't favor devoting more limited resources to helping the top 5% of students find clerkships). But the issues you raise here seem to be of general concern, and I'm interested in learning about them.
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I'll just address your last point, about the clerkships. Other than talking with Kristin as a sounding board, there was no "assistance" from the law school in finding a clerkship. The only financial assistance is a fund set up by Judge Crabb (and a limited fund at that). I'm not saying this is what you think, but anyone who thinks because of class rank that getting a clerkship is a given, and therefore needs less "help" in getting that clerkship, hasn't been through the process.

A clerkship is a job, so when you say the law school should not devote money to helping the top 5% find them, you're essentially saying that the law school shouldn't help a certain category of law students find a certain type of legal job.

Why stop there? Why not say, anyone in the top 5%, you're not getting help (on-campus recruiting, etc.--because that's "help") in finding jobs in [insert category of jobs you don't think people in the top 5% should have help on. For example, any job for a private law firm that pays over $55k].

Now a more general point about clerkships. Having students get good clerkships helps the law school, not just the student. Good clerkships are not almost an unspoken requirement for teaching positions. The more students who go onto teach, work at big firms, get prestigious fellowships, etc., the better the law school looks.

This, I argue, does as much (and maybe more) as hiring a new professor in a niche hot area that will no doubt leave UW for a "better" school within five years (unless she has some tangible and significant tie to Madison).

So before you go poo-pooing helping the top students find a certain type of job, try and keep in mind that as more UW law students go on to positions of prestige, publicity and power (which does NOT mean they're not also helping people or the world), the more the value of your degree increases.
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