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A Law School Dean Offers Grief Counseling to “Hysterical” Students after Trump Wins: Legal Reasoning Suffers

Michael Schwartz, dean of the law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock announced in November, 2016 that he would resign the following summer. His accomplishments included a lawyer-student mentoring program, live-client learning sessions, and a low-income clinic in the Arkansas Delta.[1]The trigger for his resignation was a school-wide email he had sent to students just days earlier in which he announced that he was making counseling available to any student who was upset by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President. Besides effectively normalizing over-reactions and failing to recognize normal venting, the dean’s email interjected partisan politics, albeit tacitly, into higher education. Rather than turn the popularized context into a teachable moment for assumption-analysis, the dean modeled what happens when unsupported assumptions run unchecked. In the end, the legal reasoning of students could suffer.

The full essay is at “Grief Counseling to Hysterical Students.”


1. Emily Walkenhorst, “UALR Law School Dean to Exit Post,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 19, 2016.

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The Courts Go After Gerrymandering: Deconstructing a Conflict-of-Interest

In the U.S., the boundaries of both federal (e.g., U.S. House of Representatives) and state legislative districts are redrawn every ten years after the census to “ensure that each district contains roughly the same number of people.”[1] Both major political parties in state legislatures “often remap districts to favor themselves, either by cramming opposition voters into a single district or by dividing them so they are the majority in fewer districts.”[2] I contend that a simple majority vote is problematic, given the irresistible temptation to redraw the districts for partisan advantage rather than merely to take account of changes in population.



The full essay is at “Gerrymandering.”


1. Michael Wines, “Judges Find Wisconsin Redistricting Unfairly Favored Republicans,” The New York Times, November 21, 2016.
2. Ibid.

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President Obama’s state of denial

This NY Times article highlights the fact that liberals haven’t come to grips with the fact that the nation rejected President Obama’s agenda this past Tuesday night. Dan Pfeiffer, a senior advisor to President Obama, said “It was not a rejection of Obama or Obama-ism. It was probably more about the two candidates running in […]

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Organizational Conflicts of Interest and National Interest: The Case of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation

Organizational lapses, such as in non-profits or companies, regarding institutional conflicts of interest can extend in impact as far as distorting or impairing government policy and national interest if a principal of the organization also holds a hig… . . . → Read More: Organizational Conflicts of Interest and National Interest: The Case of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation

Organizational Conflicts of Interest and National Interest: The Case of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation

Organizational lapses, such as in non-profits or companies, regarding institutional conflicts of interest can extend in impact as far as distorting or impairing government policy and national interest if a principal of the organization also holds a hig… . . . → Read More: Organizational Conflicts of Interest and National Interest: The Case of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation

Political Ideology in the U.S. Supreme Court: Undercutting the Court’s Legitimacy

As the U.S. Supreme Court began its 2016 term with eight justices, the Court stood “at the threshold of an ideological transformation unmatched in nearly a half century.”[1]Not since 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected U.S. President, had such an opportunity presented itself. Nixon’s four nominations ended the liberal majority begun by Franklin Roosevelt’s eight.[2]The conservative majority begun with Nixon’s nominations was up for grabs with the 2016 presidential election. I submit that the legitimacy of the ideological dimension itself dwarfs the matter of which ideology is dominant on the Court.



[1]Richard Wolf, “Court at Brink of Transformation,” USA Today, September 30 – October 2, 2016.

[2]Ibid.

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Brazil’s Rousseff Impeached and Removed from Office: A Case of Partisan Politics?

Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office at the end of August, 2016. The state’s senate voted 61-20 to convict her on charges that she used illegal bookkeeping maneuvers to hid a growing budget deficit.[1]Her defense that she did not enrich herself through public office—that she did not steal public money for her own account—can be regarded as an attempt to deflect the legislators from the existing charges.[2]Only 56 legislators were necessary for a two-thirds majority. Given the problems of hyperinflation and fiscal mismanagement, including a growing public debt, her offenses were “deemed an impeachable crime.”[3]Although Brazil was hardly the only country where the chief executive has sought under political pressure to make a budget deficit look smaller than it actually was, enforcing deterring consequences even just in this case is laudable—while other, partisan motives, detracted from the vote’s legitimacy.

The complete essay is at “Partisan Impeachment in Brazil?”

1. Paulo Trevisani and Reed Johnson, “Brazilian President Rousseff Ousted,” The Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2016.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

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Defiant DFL defends Dayton

Let’s be blunt about this. The DFL isn’t sad that Gov. Dayton vetoed the Tax Bill. Instead, a defiant DFL defended Gov. Dayton. For instance, said Rep. Tina Liebling said “The tax bill was put together very hastily and brought to the floor very hastily and had very little debate. It’s not too surprising to […]

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Beyond Facebook’s Impact on Political Polarization in the U.S.

Any time “scientists” at a company purport to have done a study involving said company in any way, the public has good reason to be suspicious of the reported conclusions. Were the folks running the company really intent on providing credible information, they would use independent scholars (i.e., not being compensated by the company). Such a management would want to obviate even the appearance of a conflict of interest—their desire to provide the public with an answer being so strong. So the management at Facebook may not have been very invested in providing the public an answer to the question: how much influence do users actually have over the content in their feeds? In May 2015, three “Facebook data scientists” published a peer-reviewed study in Science Magazineon how often Facebook users had been “exposed to political views different from their own.”[1]The “scientists” concluded that if users “mostly see news and updates from friends who support their own political ideology, it’s primarily because of their own choices—not the company’s algorithm.”[2]Academic scholars criticized the study’s methodology and cautioned that the risk of polarized “echo chambers” on Facebook was nonetheless significant.[3]I was in academia long enough to know that methodological criticism by more than one scholar is enough to put an empirical study’s findings in doubt. Nowadays, I am more oriented to the broader implications of the “echo-chamber” criticism.


The entire essay is at “Beyond Facebook’s Impact.”



[i]Alexander B. Howard, “Facebook Study Says Users Control What They See, But Critics Disagree,” The Huffington Post, May 12, 2015.

[ii]Ibid. I put the quotes around “scientists” to make the point that the conflict of interest renders the label itself controversial in being applied to the study’s investigators.

[iii]See, for example, Christian Sandvig, “The Facebook ‘It’s Not Our Fault’ Study,” Multicast, Harvard Law School Blogs, May 7, 2015.

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Strib endorses racist Simon

It isn’t a surprise that the Strib endorsed Steve Simon. It’s just sad that they said this about him: This is the issue that should matter most when those Minnesotans who do exercise their civic privilege vote for a new secretary of state on Nov. 4. And once this key consideration is taken into account, […]

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SCTimes endorses Dayton, Part I

In the St. Cloud Times’ endorsement article where they endorsed Mark Dayton, they made some sloppy statements that simply aren’t factual. Here’s one of the Times’ sloppy statements: Republican challenger Jeff Johnson’s strongest arguments seem rooted more in attacking Dayton than detailing exactly what government programs and priorities he would change and cut. The Times […]

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Westrom inspires, Peterson equivocates

Friday night, Collin Peterson collided with Torrey Westrom in a debate. Here’s the video for the entire debate: Saying that it was contentious is understatement. It was also inspirational and infuriating. This clip fits into the infuriating category: Here’s what Collin Peterson said in defending his decision not to vote for Obamacare: PETERSON: I didn’t […]

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Incoherent Dayton criticizes Perpich

The least competent DFL governor of my lifetime criticized the most successful DFL governor of my lifetime during Tuesday’s debate in Duluth. Here’s what Gov. Dayton, the least competent DFL governor of my lifetime said: “I’ve seen the hucksters go up there and promise chopstick factories.” There’s only one person that fits Gov. Dayton’s description: […]

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McFadden scores TKO vs. Franken

The first debate between Al Franken and Mike McFadden is in the books. Suffice it to say that McFadden took the fight to Franken from the opening statements. Here’s one of McFadden’s statements early in the debate: We can do so much better. I am so tired of politics as usual. That’s why I’m running. […]

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McFadden vs. Franken tightens

Sen. Franken is more than justified in looking over his shoulder in his race against Mike McFadden. This poll shows the race tightening: From the Magellan Strategies memo: Q 8: If the elections were being held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were Mike McFadden, Republican and Al Franken, Democrat or Steve […]

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Otto: Auditor job not partisan

Deep within Don Davis’ article is the gem that always finds its way into Don’s article. Here’s today’s gem: Otto said that Entenza would turn the office, with about 110 workers, into a partisan operation. “Numbers aren’t partisan,” she said. Numbers aren’t partisan but she’s definitely a partisan. It’s impossible to forget that she’s the […]

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Grimes’ 8-minute temper tantrum

Alison Lundergan-Grimes’ speech at the Fancy Farm Picnic wasn’t a speech as much as it was an 8-minute long temper tantrum: The highlight of Ms. Grimes’ temper tantrum came 6:10 into her speech. Here’s what she said: Now I want you to put aside the partisan attacks and you’ll see that one of us represents […]

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First bipartisan reform bill

When Congress passed the bill reforming the VA hospital system, it became the first bipartisan reform bill passed during the Obama administration. The Senate gave final approval Thursday to sweeping legislation aimed at fixing the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, marking a rare moment of bipartisan accord triggered by the widespread treatment delays veterans faced […]

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Will Reid punt?

The illegal immigant crisis is still getting tons of attention, with Democrats looking particularly inept. According to John Sununu’s op-ed, this crisis has put Harry Reid in a box of his own making: Harry Reid has a border problem. More accurately, America has a border problem that Reid, as Senate majority leader, will need to […]

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Starbucks’ CEO as a Societal Leader

According to the Huffington Post, “Howard Schultz is calling on his fellow CEOs—and other would-be donors—to boycott all campaign contributions to either party until the nation’s elected leaders put aside their political posturing and find some common ground on long-term fiscal issues. Schultz wrote in a widely distributed email dated Monday that, like ‘so many common-sense Americans,’ he wants elected leaders to consider ‘all options, from entitlement programs to taxes,’ and reach a wide-ranging budget deal ‘long before the deadline arrives this fall.’ Schultz concluded with a promise: ‘We today pledge to withhold any further campaign contributions to the President and all members of Congress until a fair, bipartisan deal is reached that sets our nation on stronger long-term fiscal footing.’”

Analysis:

The Starbucks CEO was essentially selling his vision of American political society wherein “partisan and ideological purity” are not permitted to trump the “well-being of the people.” In a positive sense, the vision is one of “collective confidence in each other” and “in our ability to solve problems together.” This is a good example of leadership vision being applied to the societal level by the chief executive of an organization. Besides the levels of analysis differing (i.e., societal and organizational), the leadership vision can be in tension with the organizational strategic interests (of Starbucks).

Even though it is not in Starbucks’ financial interest that taxes on coffee be minimized, Schultz’s letter to other CEOs notably includes the possibility of additional taxes in solving the problem of the recurrent gaping fiscal imbalance of the U.S. Government. He writes that “our ability to solve problems together” includes the two major parties in Congress coming to a deal on reducing the deficits. This “means reaching a deal on debt, revenue, and spending long before the deadline arrives this fall. It means considering all options, from entitlement programs to taxes.” The inclusion of taxes introduces a tension with Starbucks’ strategic interests, which also cannot be ignored. Crucially, the tension adds to the credibility of the CEO’s societal leadership vision with respect to Schultz’s more immediate self-interest.

According to Enderle (1987, p. 661), the interpretation by potential followers of the social reality in a potential leader’s vision “must not be affected by success-oriented considerations in favor of the corporation” or the vision will not be regarded as credible. I argue elsewhere that a leader can draw on integrity as a value, or force of sorts, that can effectively bracket the temptation to fashion a leadership vision that is actually a subterfuge or projection of his or her organization’s strategic interests. Having financial interest in mind, I left out another temptation, however: that of societal partisan self-interest. Schultz’s inclusion of taxes can be taken as partisan on the societal level (i.e., “politics”) because the Republican party opposed putting revenue on the table. In this sense, the inclusion could undercut Schultz’s credibility on the societal level even though “revenue” from coffee sales would be averse to Starbucks’ financial interests.

To be credible in an ideal sense, a CEO’s societal leadership vision explicitly includes the possibility of tangible costs in terms of the organization’s financial or strategic interest. For example, Schultz could have included in his letter a sales tax on luxury beverages as a possibility. The willingness to take on stockholder interests in spite of his fiduciary duty would have given the CEO more credibility with other CEOs, who in turn would be more likely to buy into his leadership vision and thus join in his pledge. Republican CEOs, however, might relate the inclusion of revenue as partisan politically. So to be more credible, Schultz could have written that it should be up to members of Congress working together to decide whether to include additional revenue in the solution. So to have a fully credible societal vision, Schultz would have been well-advised to make explicit the possible costs that his organization and his political party might pay. Being willing to sacrifice one’s partial interest for the good of the whole is, after all, a salient principle in his societal vision.

In short, business executives proffering societal visions as leaders should realize that just as there is no free lunch, credibility on the societal stage is not costless. After all, if it were, it would not be worth very much. Rather than simply presuming that one’s organizational office proffers sufficient credibility, persuading others to accept one’s societal vision should include explicit references to how it detracts from one’s organizational and even societal interests. While laudable, Schultz’s attempt at societal leadership from his vantage point in business as a CEO can be read as partisan in terms of American politics. He does better in terms of intimating a possible drawback to his company in possible higher taxes, but even in this respect he could have made the possible financial downside more explicit. Indeed, he could even have proposed it in the spirit of putting the public good first. Credibility, backed up by a leader’s integrity, is absolutely crucial to a vision being accepted and ultimately made actual. At the very least, integrity means consistency between word and deed. As applied to leadership, the content of the vision must be consistent with how the vision is formulated and sold.

While perhaps not in the immediate and even medium-term interest of a business leader and his or her organization, certain costs may follow from a business leader’s societal vision. In the long run both the CEO and his company depend on the viability of the public square, yet investors can be less informed by enlightened self-interest. Even so, making the costs explicit—even suggesting them!—can do wonders for a business leader’s credibility and that of his or her vision for a society that is much in need of such leadership.


Sources:

Enderle, G., “Some Perspectives of Managerial Ethical Leadership,” Journal of Business Ethics, 6 (1987), no. 8: 657-663. http://www.springerlink.com/content/p717km688r506725/fulltext.pdf

Froomkin, D. “Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Calls For Boycott On Campaign Contributions,” The Huffington Post, August 15, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/15/starbucks-howard-schultz-boycott-campaign-contributions_n_927550.html

Worden, S. “The Role of Integrity as a Mediator in Strategic Leadership: A Recipe for Reputational Capital,” Journal of Business Ethics, 46 (2003): 31-44. http://www.springerlink.com/content/g812240500242l22/fulltext.pdf

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