Thursday, September 18, 2014

Student Evaluation of Teaching: "We Had to Learn it Ourselves."

The Student Evaluation of Teaching is always an interesting tool for evaluation of one's job performance. Thankfully, at my school administrators seem to pay attention to them, but not so much as to overemphasize the results.  I find them useful and pay special attention to the comments that students enter beyond the numerical rankings. Over the many years these comments have helped me to understand the undergraduate mind and make what I believe to be improvements in the content and presentation of material.

One comment that I received on SET form this past Spring semester has really been gnawing at me. When prompted for  comments about my teaching one student responded, "We had to learn many topics ourselves."  I had never seen a comment like this before. Apparently, these types of comments are not all that unusual. According to this article, today's students are inclined to complain that they are not being taught and have to think in order to learn the material.

As I thought about the comment and became introspective about my teaching methods, I realized that I was surprised that I had not seen comments like this before. Indeed, I can teach material, but students always must learn on their own.  I have developed methods over the years where I intentionally lead student far down the path through the woods to the cool clear lake, but stop short of pushing them in - assuming that they can take that last leap into the water on their own.  The journey is the learning process.

But for today's students, these methods may begin to negatively affect my SETs. I can speculate about the causes. First, students are distracted by their phones and laptops during class. Consequently, they are not participating in the learning journey.  They just look up to see the destination.  Having no idea how they got there, it is impossible to extrapolate the learning experience to other concepts. They don't have to use maps to get places, they follow GPS instructions while simultaneously listening to an i-pod.

Second, researchers tell us that today's generation of students are less intellectually curious.  They are less interested in acquiring knowledge than in obtaining information necessary to complete a specific task (i.e. earn an exam grade). Millennials are much more interested in "checking a box" as done and moving on.

Finally, our students are digital natives. They always have information at their fingertips. Everything is "breaking news."  Anything and everything they want to know comes to them automatically without effort through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media even as they are sitting in your class. Consequently, it is disconcerting to them that they might have to put together a string of thoughts and carefully analyze alternatives to arrive at a conclusion.

I don't plan on making any radical changes in teaching methods in the near future.  But I am interested in watching for these types of comments in future surveys to determine if a change is necessary. On a larger scale, these considerations go right to the core of the purpose and effectiveness of higher education.  I encourage my students to see themselves as life long learners.  I hope that I can remain one as well and will try to learn as much about how my students learn as I can. But right now I have to go to click on the Facebook link I just got to see the latest adorable kittens video.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Was Daniel Shays Right?

Democracy is more or less accurately described as “rule by the majority.”  The drafters of our Constitutional scheme of government were concerned that a majority could become despotic and trample upon the rights and interests of minorities. We have seen ongoing example of this phenomenon throughout American history, particularly in the area of race relations.  American law in many states denied basic civil rights to persons based on the color of their skin - the majority races tyrannizing the minority races.  Public referendums enacting bars to same sex marriage would also seem to fall into this category.  

There is ample evidence that our founders’ concerns over the potential for “tyranny by the majority,” were not animated by a desire to protect the kinds of minorities that history has since borne out to be the victims of these injustices.  Their concern was for potential oppression of the numerically inferior but vitally important commercial interests of the nation. Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts caused our founders to fear that mass public uprisings and a legislative appetite for popular policies could thwart commercial interests and stifle the development of a nation.

Whether intended or not, in our Constitutional scheme, the courts have become the havens for oppressed minorities seeking relief from an overzealous oppressive majority.  As Judge Richard Posner wrote in his Federal Appeals Court opinion striking down same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, “Minorities trampled on by thedemocratic process have recourse to the courts; the recourse is called constitutional law.”

That background brings us to consideration of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United v. FEC. Laws enacted with the support of the majority limited the amount of money that corporations could spend on political election campaigns. Was this Shays’ Rebellion all over again? Was this not oppression of our nation’s vital economic interest by a self-serving and greedy majority? The court rescued the victimized corporations by declaring such restrictions constitutional. As Senate minority lead Mitch McConnell stated when he thought no one would catch him, the court had simply “level[led] the playing field for corporate speech.”  Oh, those poor oppressed corporations!

In Congress now, Senate Democrats have proposed a constitutional amendment that would undo Citizens United and allow the federal and state governments to regulate corporate monetary influence in campaigns. As is clear from this NPR report, the amendment has overwhelming public and bi-partisan support outside of Congress.  Yet, there is absolutely no chance that Congress will pass it.

When our Founders sought to protect economic interests from the political influence of the masses, they were concerned that commerce and the national economy would be stifled, financially strangling the new nation in its infancy.  The modern protectors of corporate interests from public sentiment seek to preserve the power of money – not to advance national economies and international trade –but to influence elections.  Many of those who seek to protect this corporate influence often purport to embrace the ideals of the founders for their political ideology. Somehow, I don’t think that preserving the influence of the affluent in elections was a founding ideal.

Here are some questions for our students:

What is the nature of this complex and complicated institution of democratic law-making?  Is the Supreme Court protecting huge multi-billion dollar corporations from oppression by the massed majority?  Is this the kind of “tyranny by the majority” that concerned our founders?  Is the majority always right? What should be the role of public opinion in law-making?  What should be the role of unlimited money in elections? How does that affect public policy as expressed in law?

Did Daniel Shays actually have the right idea in the first place? 

Shays' Rebellion:

Tyranny by the Majority:

Citizens United:

Constitutional Amendment:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Website: USLawEssentials YouTube Site

According to his USLawEssentials Blog, New York Attorney Daniel Edelson teaches United States Law at Soongsil University College of Law in Seoul, S. Korea.  I stumbled upon his YouTube site while looking for some resources on jurisdiction. Attorney Edelson has produced a number of videos based on questions that he has been asked by his international students.  I thought the videos that I had an opportunity to smaple were simple without being simplistic.  They are short (3-4 minutes) and limited to a single topic.They strike me as being at just about the right level of depth of analysis to assist undergraduates in understanding basic law concepts.  The site includes about 70 videos on a wide range of topics relevant to BLAW, all posted since about April of 2014 with more being posted daily.  Below is a sample on Long Arm Jurisdiction.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Can You Be Canned For Trying to Stay Alive? Shared by Konrad S. Lee

Thanks goes out to Konrad S. Lee, Associate Professor in the Practice of Law, Ethics and Management at Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University for submitted this resource for the discussion of public policy exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine.

Under the common law doctrine of employment-at-will, in the absence of an employment contract stating otherwise, an employee may be dismissed at any time, with cause, for no cause and even in many cases for a cause that seems unfair. here are certain exceptions to the rule.  For instance, there are statutory exceptions for discriminatory discharges based on protected characteristics or retaliation for whistle-blowing, The NLRA prevents discharges from employment for union activities.  Most states also recognize some level of common law exceptions.  the most common being a public policy exception.  That is, when the employment discharge interferes with or discourages some activity that is otherwise beneficial for society, the discharge may be deemed wrongful.

With this background comes the incident described in this article from KUTV in Utah. 

A video posted to YouTube showed (ex WalMart employee Gabriel) Stewart, then an assistant manager, and several "asset protection" employees inside a small room with a man suspected of shoplifting. The suspect, at one point, pulled out a handgun, prompting at least two workers to restrain him, and take away the weapon. 

The workers were fired by WalMart following the incident and have filed suit claimimg wrongful termination. 

"Our number one concern is always the safety of our customers and associates," said Randy Hargrove, Walmart corporate spokesman. "Our policy is for associates to disengage, if a suspect has a weapon. . . ."We don't want to escalate a dangerous situation further," said Hargrove.  

So WalMart would have their employees "disengage" with an armed and angry suspect and face likely death rather than defend themselves by taking the instinctive action to overpower the gunman. Watch the video below and decide for yourself. Should you be fired for trying to stay alive?  

Video news report:

Raw surveillance video:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Code Duello, Troglodyte Style

The videos available at this Huffington Post site nearly defy description by rational humans. The headline for the post is: "Girls' Fight Ends With Shovel to the Head." True to the headline, an 8 second video clip is shown where a girl gets a shovel to the head.  It looks like a classic case of civil battery.  But the 8 second clip is an outtake from an 8 minute video, also shown, where these two fine examples of American youth conspire to engage in a duel of fisticuffs while their earnest "seconds" stand outside the circle videotaping the exhibition for sharing on the internet.  The longer video has been taken down from youtube but is still available on the Huffington Post site. The longer video raises questions of consent that may provide a defense to a battery claim. How far does the consent go?  Does agreement to a duel with fisticuffs include use of a weapon? (one of the "seconds" even makes a similar query on tape).   It appears that the shovel wielder was earlier surprised when she was kicked by the shovel-to-the-head victim.  Did the kicking escalate the level of consent beyond the implied agreement upon fisticuffs?

What do these videos teach about the use of videos in court?  The 8 second video and the 8 minute video tell very different stories. Does the comparison of the two videos give support to the concerns expressed by law enforcement officers when they are videotaped - that the video shown or taken may not accurately portray the context of what is shown?

Warning! There is saucy language in the longer video!  As you might imagine, the verbal discourse between these aspiring Rhodes scholars and their friends may not be suitable for a classroom.  But, the language does impact upon the issues.

 UPDATE: The 8 second video has been removed from the Huff Post site, but click here to see a re-posting at vine.

Click here or on the image below to be taken to the Huffington Post report:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Guest Blogger,Henry Lowenstein: Yes, We Have No Bananas!

Appellate Court Goes Bananas!:   Banana Lady "Slips" In Credit Union Lawsuit

Our students in the Legal Environment of Business courses often ask us if there is any control to what appears to be frivolous, abusive litigation against individuals and firms, often merely to simply try and pressure money settlements to avoid the expensive legal fees involved in litigation.  Every now and then, a litigant crosses the line such that a court rises to protect the integrity of the judicial process and halt for that moment abuses of the system.   Such was the case this week from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the matter of Conrad (aka “Banana Lady’) v. AM Community Credit Union (Case No. 13-2899, April 14, 2014.   Click here for the link to the story as reported by the Chicago Sun-News with link to the opinion by the Chief Judge, Richard Posner.

The “Banana Lady” represents an extreme example of abuse of the judicial system that not only was costly to defendants but in clogging the courts and impeding the effectiveness of the judicial system.  It also points out the growing intolerance of Federal courts to questionable if not de minimus attempts to improperly use intellectual property law (in this case copyrights) as a tool to bully questionable settlement payments rather than protect legitimate intellectual property values.  This case can be used in classes to emphasize both points and the costs to business of succumbing to settlements that encourage simply more litigation.

In the case of the “Banana Lady,” the Court of Appeals signals its intolerance and opinion (complete with pictures) that such suits will receive from the court the old song, Yes, We Have No Bananas and intolerance for like frivolous and vexatious lawsuit behavior in the future.  Those who try in the future will find Federal judges….well… .going bananas!  

I hope you enjoy this story and the serious lesson it leaves other than a judicial banana peel on the judicial floor.

Editor's Note: I have previously expressed the opinion that "frivolous lawsuits" typically share 3 common characteristics: 1) They are filed without the aid of counsel, 2) there is likely some level of mental illness exhibited by the Plaintiff, and 3) they are flushed out of the system without causing millions of dollars in taxpayer and/or defense expenses.

With respect to the "Banana Lady" case: 

1. From Judge Posner's decision:  "Proceeding pro se, Conrad has sued several credit unions in this case."

2. From the Chicago Sun-News Article: Banana Lady . . . has a history of making wild claims in her court filings, including comparing her legal opponents to the Unabomber and alleging that they hung out at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.

3. From Judge Posner's decision:  The district judge granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.

Although the case did go on appeal to the Court of Appeals, it still was disposed of in a reasonably expeditious fashion without closing the courthouse doors to people who believe they have legitimate grievances. Frivolous lawsuits do have the effect of ameliorating what might otherwise become dangerous expressions of rage and frustration. Given the plaintiff's history in this case, Judge Posner's orders are absolutely justified.

Banana Boat Song:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Heigl Harried By Pilfered Picture

If the reported facts are correct, it looks like former Grey's Anatomy star, Katherine Heigl, has a slam dunk of  a commercial appropriation suit.  Apparently the actress was photographed, without her authorization, by papparazzi standing in front of a Duane Read Pharmacy Store.  The chain apparently then used the photograph in digital marketing schemes through Facebook and Twitter.