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September 10, 2002

Academic Hell, Part 23

As a followup to my last post ending with whether law is a good path for me to follow, here's another reason why sticking with academia is a bad idea: relationships are hell. Robert MacDougall, a doctoral student of history at Harvard, could be talking about me and my peers in the English Ph.D. program when he writes in today's Chronicle of Higher Education that:

we have never been in academe when the job market for Ph.D.'s was not considered terrible. Our friends, our professors, even columns in The Chronicle have done their part to let us know just how brutally competitive it is out there, how dismal are the odds against landing the coveted full-time, tenure-track job. They've done so, I know, with the very best of intentions. But everyone has been so conscientious in protecting this generation of grad students from false hopes or disillusionment that many of us seem to hold out no hope at all.

MacDougall goes on to say that this complete lack of hope means that academic relationships (in which both parties are academics) can be difficult, if not impossible, since the chances of you and your partner finding jobs in the same area code (let alone at the same school) are next to nil.

<obsequious whine>
Oh please, please, may I dedicate 7-8 years of my life to earning a Ph.D. (to the exclusion of all other pursuits), only to have to sacrifice my relationship to a tenure-track job that will then force me to dedicate 5-7 more years kissing ass to earn tenure (again, to the exclusion of all other pursuits)? Please? Please? Oh, thank you, sir! Yes, sir! May I have another!?
</obsequious whine>

No thanks.

Posted 11:47 AM | Comments (3) | law school

Committees, No; and...

Thanks to TPB for snagging some of the flies I popped up the other day on interdependence, America's participation in international treaties and world courts, NAFTA, and "enemy combatants." Give me time and space, I'll work in a tangent about the kitchen sink next time, I promise. While I'm glad to hear that the legal basis of Chapter 11 of NAFTA sounds as weak to a lawyer as Bill Moyers suggested, the real focus of TBP's original post, was whether E.U.-style rule-by-committee would ever fly in the U.S. I agree that it doesn't seem like the best idea, for all the reasons TPB points out.

I knew someone would tag me on the "representative" part of our democracy; I'm not sure where to come down on that. On the one hand, I simply don't trust most candidates and elected officials, so I'd like them to be more responsive to their constituents. On the other hand, I don't trust a lot of the American PeopleTM, either (since they (we) are often largely pawns of soundbites and special-interest media campaigns which tell us what to think), so we might be better off if reps largely ignore us. (But then, in my most cynical mood, I think if the majority of Americans think it's a good idea to—for example— allow the global environment to be destroyed in the next 50 years while we continue living as if it weren't happening, then the American PeopleTM deserve what's coming to us.)

Another tangent was the "enemy combatant" status that is being applied to certain people accused of terrorism, or of helping terrorists, or whatever. In truth, these people don't have to be accused of anything at all—they can simply be labeled "enemy combatants" and all their rights magically disappear (as U.S. citizens or otherwise—see the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, for example[1]). TBP has the goods on what the Constitution says about this:

Once someone is designated a "clear and present danger" by both Congress and the Executive Branch, what limits what we can do with them? At present, there is an executive order which restricts our ability to assassinate them, but little else. In terms of the Constitution, nothing.

Which brings me hopping and skipping to TPB's final point about why I'm still debating going to law school. The answer is I'm not quite debating so much anymore—I'm tentatively planning on it. I'm studying for the LSAT and making application-type movements, so we'll see where that goes. But it's issues like the above that make me doubt my fitness for law school. The deal is this: While the Constitution may say nothing about what we can do with people designated as a "clear and present danger," that obviously doesn't answer the question. But even if legal precedent said we could do anything we wanted with these people (boil them in oil or whatever), that still wouldn't answer the question. The point is: I fear I don't have enough respect for the law. When the law seems wrong, it's easy for me to dismiss it. At the same time, I'm wary of using the law as a final limit—just because there's no law preventing us from doing various things, that doesn't mean we should think ourselves free to do those things. (Recent corporate finance scandals are cases in point. Perhaps, technically, no crimes were committed; however, what happened was not ok.) I'm guessing law school and a couple of years of legal practice would help me see how to deal with these cases where the law either seems inadequate or in error, but still I wonder if I'll always be running into the law as a wall, and if I'll always be frustrated by that. I've heard some advice that law isn't for people who like to color outside the lines, think outside the box, etc. If that's true, I may be very bad at it, and I may really hate it. Hence, the debate ... and the name of this blog, by the way—I'm ambivalent about law (I'm both very eager to get to law school and dig in, and I'm also very hesitant to do so), which leads to my current imbroglio (a perplexing state of affairs). Still, I'm probably going. And if law school enables me to have more good "conversations" like this one with TPB, I'll probably end up being as happy as I hope to be.

[1] On the Hamdi case, see also: Charles Krauthammer, a slightly more recent story, and the actual suit: Yaser Esam Hamdi v. John Ashcroft (pdf file).

Posted 11:13 AM | law school

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