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Thursday, September 07, 2006

The More Frivolous the Complaints, the Better the Job

I am delighted to serve as a guest on Prawfs, and I want to thank Dan and the rest of the gang for the invitation.  In its short operation, this site has been invaluable to me, and I suspect the current project of collecting the canonical readings in several different categories of law will be among its most valuable contributions to the academy and especially to beginning law professors.  I look forward to analyzing current events and the profession with you over the next month, and begin today with another in the series of what-a-great-job-we-have posts:

I've resigned myself to the fact that virtually all people (and I am rarely an exception) will complain about their lives regardless of how good things are.  Those of who have good health and are fortunate enough to live in the free world in the 21st Century have little cause to complain about anything, given the conditions in which other people live and have lived.  I like to read history, and in recent months I've learned about the suffering of soldiers in the Revolutionary War and workers digging the Panama Canal, among others, and it is impossible for me not to reflect on my life and consider how lucky I am to live when and where I do.

Until, that is, some trivial thing aggravates me again and I have to work at maintaining perspective.  Widener's law school is on two campuses, in Wilmington, DE, and Harrisburg, PA.  The main campus of the university is in neither of these locations, but rather is in Chester, PA, near Philadelphia.  Once a year there is a "full" faculty meeting in Chester, where the president of the university gives an update on progress made over the last year.  All this information, of course, could be conveyed in a memo, which 90% of faculty would throw away without reading.  Instead, we have to ignore it in person.  I think the idea is to encourage collegiality -- there is a reception at the president's house after the meeting -- but I still don't know anybody at the university outside of the law school, though that is assuredly in large part my fault.  This year's meeting was yesterday, and those of us who work in Harrisburg lost six hours of time we could have spent writing or preparing for class, while we were driving to and from the meeting, and while we were in the meeting itself.

Last year I was upset at the waste of time, but this year I am not complaining.  I could be digging a canal amidst mosquitoes, or freezing shoeless in the snow and waiting for a British cannon to take my head off.  I could be billing time in document review.  Instead, I look at the bright side.  The worst part of my job is that I have to sit and do nothing for a few hours every once in a while.  I don't even have to prepare for the meetings; I don't have to give any presentations; and my committee assignments are only tangentially related to anything that goes on there.  This is a great job.

This is the reverse of the back-handed compliment.  The fact that our whining is so frivolous means that the complaints themselves are indications that we have nothing to complain about.  (Cf. most people's reaction to prisoner complaints about their inability to access HBO and pornographic magazines -- for an example see Yarbrough v. Johnson, 2005 WL 1553977 (N.D. Tex. 2005).)

My favorite example was told to me by a colleague.  He said that he had been talking to an acquaintance at another school who was complaining about how much work it was to update his syllabus when the new edition of his casebook was published.

Let's just hope that nobody ever calls our bluff and declares, like Darren McGavin did in A Christmas Story, that he'll "give [us] something to cry about."

Posted by Michael Dimino on September 7, 2006 at 11:25 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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