This will probably get me in trouble, but I wanted to respond to one of the comments to UM Promises to Be Good About Something, which actually seems to be responding to something I said in Class Warfare. There I wrote,
I’d expect that most of the faculty see students as junior versions of themselves and their friends. After all, we were (almost) all law students once. What the current fracas reveals is that many students not only don’t see the faculty as senior versions of themselves, but seem quite unaware that even when it doesn’t feel their pain, the faculty wants them to learn, and to go out into the world prepared to do good and to do well.
The commentator disagreed,
Your students see you and your colleagues as the Havard/Stanford/Yale elites that you and they are. When a Miami student looks around, they do not see senior versions of themselves because you are not that. Miami students do not see themselves as attorneys in the top DC/NY law firms, as federal clerks (and certainly not federal judges), as US/DOJ attorneys, and certainly not as law professors. How are you a senior version of the students that you teach? Almost none of them will be a tenured professor at a law school. You know that.
To which a former student replied, “Shoot higher…people in other UM Law classes certainly saw themselves in those roles…and are currently in those roles.”
I think that’s absolutely the right answer, and that the first commentator has let his reverse elitism get the better of him.
It’s true that the odds of getting a teaching job coming from UM are low compared to a top 10 law school, although it has been done. But most of the students in any law school other than Yale, which is both small and a bit of teacher factory, are not going to be professors either, so this is hardly unusual. (If you want to teach, write publishable stuff: get on a law journal, publish a note and also write something else for publication in a non-UM journal — something a number of my students have done while in law school. After graduation, work a bit, then get a pre-teaching fellowship from one of the schools that offer them. It can be done.)
OK. Here’s where I get myself in trouble:
As I see it, the way in which the majority of UM students differ most from the majority of Yale students is that Yale students feel empowered and UM students by and large do not. While this feeling obviously has some empirical validity (law is a credential-conscious profession; a top-5 degree has greater market value, pretty much everyone at Yale will get a nice job if they want it), the empirical element is nowhere as great as UM students think, especially if we leave out the bottom 10% or so of the UM class, the people who do face some serious employment obstacles after they graduate — if they even pass the bar. So what really has the biggest effect on the rest is the self-fulfilling aspect of this prophecy: because UM students don’t try lots and lots of stuff — like apply for clerkships — they don’t get lots of stuff.
Rejection is a part of life, even a Yalie’s life; undoubtedly coming from UM sharpens the odds (although less than you might think — many employers, especially the feds, want geographic diversity; firms and others have become dubious of academic monoculture): the really big difference is the extent to which people will take charge of their own futures, think big, take risks, do unconventional things, and take large efforts to apply for many things and risk tons of rejection, to get what they want.
The top N% of our class would fit right in at Yale. I’m not sure what N is, exactly: more than 5 less than 15, I’d guess. The next batch would stand out less for lack of brains than lack of … I don’t know quite what to call it … it’s not exactly entrepenurialism, nor willingness to work, nor thinking out of the box, but a sort of imaginative and ambitious self-starting. Maybe it’s just “attitude”.
I agree that not everyone at UM is going to have a big national career. But some will; and many, many will end up holding key positions in this state — an increasingly important state in the life of this nation. That’s not to be sneered at. You may also be surprised to learn that of my classmates at Yale, not all are doing the big firm thing either, and many of those that did at first bailed out because they hated it. When last heard from, at least one classmate was home schooling her kids.
So, yes, UM students do look sort of familiar in many ways. Other than how they dress in February, anyway.