Let’s Reward Failure

My alma mater never ceases to amaze. Here is the most recent exercise in weirdness that has come out of it:

Yale Law School professors Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84 and Ian Ayres ’81 LAW ’86 are now pushing . . .  for law schools to offer to pay off part of their first-years’ loans should these students realize that their prospects of successful legal careers are slim. No law schools have policies like this one, and the law professors want Yale to be the first to adopt their proposal.

Yes, let’s reward failure instead of success because there is not enough of that going on at Yale.

I especially love the part that states “no law schools have policies like this one.” I bet they don’t. I also bet that in most graduate schools students don’t conceal their publications in prestigious peer-reviewed journals for fear of being dumped on. I’m sure that in most grad schools people don’t petition to abolish the grading system because those grad students who pass and fail undergrads on a regular basis are too traumatized by the idea that their work might be graded. I can pretty much guarantee that in most grad schools people don’t slink out of the library hoping that nobody sees them carrying scholarly volumes because reading is not prestigious.

If we are talking about Yale, then the last thing this school needs is to reward people for dropping out of grad school, failing, and messing up. It is done way too much as it is. Maybe it’s time to start rewarding success, for a change.

The article I quote above proceeds to get boggled down in really ridiculous philosophizing:

The argument hits a classic question: Should the responsibility of a student’s success in school fall on the school or the student?

This isn’t a classic question. It is a stupid question. Those who want to learn, learn. And those who don’t come up with a shitload of excuses about how they are huge victims of everything. If we attribute a student’s failure to his or her university and proceed to compensate students for that financially, then it stands to reason that if students have wildly successful careers after graduation, they should pay bonuses to the school for making this success possible. And how much success does that make?

This patronizing attitude that completely denies any chance of personal responsibility to human beings is really annoying.

26 thoughts on “Let’s Reward Failure

  1. But Clarissa, “Stupid” is so terribly pejorative when rewarding failure is concerned. Can’t you instead use “misguided,” “unfortunate” or even “sadly inappropriate?”

    Of course it’s stupid. Many schools no longer provide grades beyond “pass” or “fail.” To the extent that success in law school has to do with getting a job at a prestigious law firm, grades and being selected for the school’s law review are very important; being selected for the law review has customarily depended on grades. The “misguided” failure of schools, graduate and undergraduate, to provide grades is “unfortunate.”

    Still, I suppose it’s reasonable.


    1. A hilarious post. What you propose there has actually existed. In the Soviet Union, there were governmental committees that decided the reasonable amount of bread, butter, cabbage, shoes, etc. that a Soviet person was supposed to require. Even the number of hooks on a bra was discussed and approved by such committees. And until a committee approved a certain number of bra hooks, there was absolutely no way anybody could produce it. So if the committee forgot to plan shoelaces for next year, we had no shoe laces.

      It would be very funny, had it not been true.


  2. So why would you support having the government apply this Yale Law school logic for the entire country through bailouts and welfare? In the case of a private law school I could understand making a John Rawls style agreement with incoming students to pay higher fees in exchange for support if things did not work out.


    1. “So why would you support having the government apply this Yale Law school logic for the entire country through bailouts and welfare”

      – I have no idea why anybody would. I don’t think anybody can be more opposed to bailouts than I am.


      1. What about the entire welfare social net system. I guess one can make an argument that society through the government has a moral responsibility to help children get to the point where they can succeed or fail, but how would you justify government programs for anyone over 18 such as unemployment welfare? Is this not rewarding failure?


        1. “but how would you justify government programs for anyone over 18 such as unemployment welfare? Is this not rewarding failure?”

          – In the form that such programs exist in Canada (because this is what I’m familiar with), they absolutely totally unequivocally do exactly that. And that is creating a huge problem for Canada where many young people (including people my and your age) don’t even see the need to work because hey, there is always unemployment benefits. I have quite a few ideas how a fair and reasonable welfare system could be organized, but I don’t see anybody being interested in bringing reason to this issue.

          I can’t say mush on the US welfare system because I’m not familiar with how it works.


  3. The line of thinking behind it seems to be that a lot of students are leaning towards law school in this economy, thinking that it’s a sure-fire way to make enough money to pay off your student debts. Law school allows you to come in regardless of what your field in undergrad school is, which makes it doubly attractive. I considered law for a while, but not out of a moneymaking desire, but because I’m a pathetic bleeding heart who wanted to defend indigenous rights in Asia. 😛


  4. Why oh why are you (still) reading the Yale Daily News? I had a nightmare last night that I had to teach at Linsly-Shittendale this semester.


    1. I’m not reading it. I was sent a link by a prospective grad student at Yale who wants my take on it. 🙂 I actually get that a lot.

      Mon ami, why aren’t you replying to my email? If it’s a no, that’s perfectly fine, I won’t be upset or anything. Just tell me something. 🙂 I promise to adore you no matter what. 🙂


      1. Oh… you remember I had a problem with my email account, right? I now use my institutional email. I will send it to you right now.


  5. This kind of this would only make sense if the education your law school is offering is so bad that students aren’t willing to sign up and pay the tuition because they don’t have good job prospects graduating from there.
    I would assume that Yale still has plenty of students signing up who are sure enough that they’ll get a good job from Yale Law to be willing to pay the high costs of attending it.


  6. There was a tradition for a century or more in U. S. universities that it was unethical to accept a Ph. D. student unless you had a good idea of a place where a colleague would be in a position to give them a job. I think this was true in the humanities until the 1960’s. It was also sometimes true in mathematics. I know of at least one colleague whose advisor accepted him with the caveat that he would direct his research and dissertation writing, but would not accept responsibility for being sure that the colleague (then a grad student) could necessarily find a job upon graduation.

    I have heard a number of colleagues argue that it was irresponsible to let a student get a Ph. D. if we believed that they might not be able to find a job in their field. A man who got a Ph. D. under my direction works as a bookkeeper, I think. This makes me a little sad, but fifty years ago, it would have been seen as a moral failing on my part. He is a good mathematician; he just had/has other priorities.


  7. I tried to post this from a different browser; it did not work.

    Until the 1960’s it was considered at most universities in the U. S. to be at least somewhat unethical to take on a Ph. D. student if one could not be sure of finding the student a job after graduation. This was true in the humanities and also in mathematics. I do not know how widespread it was in other fields.

    One man who got a Ph. D. as my advisee had an academic job for a year and decided not to look for another one. He is doing something else. He is a good mathematician, but he had other priorities. At one time this would have been regarded as a failure on my part.


  8. Yale Law School has long been a bastion of Marxist-Leninist thinking. A group of such faculty were hired at Yale by Dean Guido Calabresi (now serving out socialism from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals as a Clinton appointee) during the 1970s. They were known as the CRITS – Critical Legal Studies – as they called themselves. They were and are intellectual trash who try to manipulate the common law system to bring about an October Revolution in the United States.

    So why would they not promote failure? Clarissa’s comment about the USSR is right on the mark. Somehow, however, these Fifth Columnists never give up their cushy tenured positions in New Haven in order to savor the delights of North Korea or Cuba. I wonder why?


    1. “Somehow, however, these Fifth Columnists never give up their cushy tenured positions in New Haven in order to savor the delights of North Korea or Cuba. I wonder why?”

      – This funniest thing is that when I’d start telling my rich Marxist friends about the horrible things I have seen in Cuba, they’d tell me they knew Cuba was doing great even though they never visited. And the reason the never visited was because they needed to preserve their illusion of a prosperous Cuban society.


        1. I’m a citizen of Canada and so are many of my friends, colleagues and classmates. I’ve visited Cuba quite a few times. And I have several colleagues here at my school in the US (American citizens) who travel to Cuba even more often than I do. We are funding a huge project that will bring Cuban artists to our university and will take our artists there.

          In reality, traveling to Cuba through Canada is extremely easy. You just ask Cuban customs officers not to put a stamp in your passport and they are very understanding. It is a little more complicated for an American scholar to go to Cuba “officially.” Still, it’s done all the time.


  9. “Wow. They must be very insidious. It’s lucky Charles Rowley has enough insight to point out their dubious intellectual ways.”

    The movie ‘Red Dawn’ was based on true events that occurred at Yale University.


  10. The proposal may have been a bit tongue in cheek.

    The writers believe that law school programs should provide information about percent of graduates passing the bar, percent of graduates employed in a legal capacity within x amount of time from graduation, percent of graduates employed in unrelated jobs (and the type of jobs) within x time.., percent of graduates unemployed within x time…, median salary and salary range within x time… . It may be true that students should beware of university claims that student loans can be paid off quickly given the “high pay” of graduates. If no actual data are available, it is hard for prospective students to decide whether to make that investment in time and money at that particular institution and program.

    As for the supposed Marxist-Leninist content of critical theory, I suggest that Rowley does not know anything about either Marxism or critical theory, or for that matter, the law.


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