pageok
pageok
pageok
Lawprofs Gone Bad:

From Iowa Supreme Court Att'y Discip. Bd. v. Kress (Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission, Mar. 5, 2007):

[Finding of Fact] (10) On the evening of April 19, 2004, Respondent [Kenneth Kress, then a tenured Iowa Law School professor] distributed [class] evaluations to 10 students enrolled in his Mental Health Seminar. Later that evening, after the students had completed the evaluations, Respondent reviewed the questionnaire responses and then substituted three evaluations he had completed for three negative student evaluations. Additionally, Respondent altered two other evaluations by erasing the pencil marking of the "(3) Average" circle in Question 2, on teacher effectiveness, and filling in the "(5) Outstanding" circle on both forms....

(12) [The] Registrar at the law school, testified that on April 30, 2004 Respondent told her that he was anxious for [the dean] to see his student evaluations because he knew he had done a lot better on his evaluations that spring than he had in the fall....

(13) [A week later, when the matter was being investigated, Kress] initially responded that "his RA had been involved and it was possible that he had done something or there were others who had keys to the office." But when asked, he said he had no reason to believe anyone else would have done this. He did not admit or deny changing the student evaluations, but asked what would happen next....

The Grievance Commission is recommending that Kress be suspended from the Iowa bar, though he would be eligible for reinstatement in a year. (Kress acknowledged the falsification, but defended himself by pointing to his longstanding bipolar disorder, and claiming that his actions were the result of that disorder.) Kress resigned from his tenured position in January 2006, but the Des Moines Register reports that Iowa has given him a $226,000 severance package, plus other benefits, "to avoid 'the expense and time of further proceedings with the Faculty Judicial Commission.'"

Thanks to Paul Caron (TaxProf Blog) for the pointer.

UPDATE: I've updated the post to make clear that it's undisputed that Kress has suffered from mental illness. The Commission concluded, however, that the illness cannot excuse his actions, and that in any event his actions were not caused in substantial part by his illness.

Jeff Shultz (mail):
Gee - where can I get a job that pays about 7x my yearly salary just for lying?
4.9.2007 8:28pm
2L:
I'm somewhat amused that it was a prof who was apparently a specialist on mental health law. It doesn't exactly sound like he's a candidate for the cover of Sanity Fair...
4.9.2007 8:30pm
Pendulum (mail):
How on Earth does the school manage to fail at securing their evaluations? How can an institution possibly be that idiotic?
4.9.2007 8:32pm
jallgor (mail):
Completely off topic but, speaking of law profs gone bad . . . how come there's been no mention of the appearance of two conspirators on Penn &Teller's show "Bullshit"? I actually really enjoy the show and I was excited when they used Orin as an expert on the Patriot Act. I was a little surprised to see you on there Eugene after it seemed like they were a little unfair to Orin by taking a sound bite from him and then mocking it. They kind of did that a little bit to you but not quite as bad.
4.9.2007 8:41pm
Pyrthroes (mail):
Such institutional as well as personal corruption speaks for itself. As ever, this revelation is no doubt the tip of a large iceberg. Not content with extorting student compliance in political contexts, suborning any who disagree with what amounts to a PCBS conspiracy to stack the academic deck with doltish copouts, louts such as this cheat on their "evaluations" (which are Mutual Admiration Society frauds in any case) only to slink off with exhorbitant hush-monies.

It's happening everywhere you look. As an honors graduate of a pre-eminent Ivy League school presently embroiled in slush-fund scandals, may I suggest to fellow alumni that your sentimental donations might better go elsewhere. Let's face it, in today's "Mental Health" environment we wouldn't last a month. When "education" degenerates to phony credentialism (my alumni magazine is riddled with typos, ungrammatical, abusing a Fourth Grade vocabulary), realists of talent go their ways. Today that means any self-respecting 18-year old heterosexual male... and qualitative surveys of alumni "success" (financial and otherwise) are making this noticeably plain.

An academic Gresham's Law is inescapable: As bad teachers drive away good students, good teachers follow them until only miserable ideologues berate subprime intellects at vast expense. Call it "Mental Health", "Women's Studies", any other blatant scam you know-- the top 10% always knows the difference, and I among them will gladly eat the gabbling, grumbling others' unearned lunch.
4.9.2007 9:07pm
Jake (Guest):
At least we have an example of a tenured professor caring about student opinions...
4.9.2007 9:12pm
neurodoc:
How on Earth does the school manage to fail at securing their evaluations?

Is it unimaginable that the school doesn't take such evaluations too seriously? But Jake (Guest is right, "At least we have an example of a tenured professor caring about student opinions..."
4.9.2007 9:30pm
Pendulum (mail):
Is it unimaginable that the school doesn't take such evaluations too seriously?

Doubtless. But then why give them at all? Or, if you're going to pretend, why not do a halfway decent job at pretending?
4.9.2007 10:36pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The school didn't adequately secure its evaluations because it trusted its faculty. Trusting experienced, professional employees not to act fraudulently is the normal mode at most institutions; it seems especially likely in institutions where the employees actually play a major role in institutional governance. The great majority of the time, it works just fine. In a very few cases, it makes fraud possible.

Whether those cases show that the previous security system was inadequate depends on what the marginal costs and marginal benefits (financial and otherwise) of a comprehensive security system would be.
4.9.2007 10:38pm
Craig Oren (mail):
I've met Kenneth Kress, and I believe I have read at least one piece by him. So my reaction is to feel sorry for him and hope that he recovers soon from his illness.
4.9.2007 10:43pm
Dave N (mail):
I am trying to figure out why he did this. If he had tenure and taught classes no other colleagues taught, why in the world would the student evaluations even matter?

Perhaps EV or another law prof can explain this to me, because I am stumped as to what the answer could be.
4.9.2007 11:08pm
patrickjc (mail):
Why did he do it?

If you click the link to the Des Moines Register article, it states that the surveys were one of the tools used by the university to award pay raises to members of the faculty.

Read the article, it explains a lot about this sorry affair.
4.9.2007 11:23pm
Too cynical?:
Professor Volokh said:

The great majority of the time, it works just fine. In a very few cases, it makes fraud possible.

Allow me to fix that for you:

The great majority of the time, it works just fine. Or the fraud is never discovered. Or it's discovered, dealt with quietly, and never disclosed to anybody not on the inside. Or it never makes the news and, while not secret, is effectively hidden from public view. In a very few cases, fraud becomes widespread public knowledge.

It's far more likely that the University simply doesn't care about student evaluations. The opinions and needs of students seem pretty low on the priority list of law schools-- it's far more important to humor the trolls at US News and World Report.
4.9.2007 11:26pm
Dave N (mail):
patrickjc:

I read the article (though I acknowledge I read it after I posted the first time). The article makes it seem like it had to do with money--and that alone may be it.

However, I still can't imagine how a bad student evaluation or even a lot of bad student evaluations, is going to effect someone who is already tenured.
4.9.2007 11:29pm
Peter Wimsey:
It would be interesting to know what the result would have been had Kress - like many law profs I know - not been licensed to practice law in the state.
4.9.2007 11:35pm
Jrny:
The school has the subject of the evaluations collecting them?! I'm not sure who I think is less competent, the fraudulent professor or the administrator who is OK with such a system. Although far less "costly", this is akin to trusting the solo comptroller with the checkbook and having that person receiving the bank statements--all because "the great majority of the time, it works just fine". There are enough examples in law and business about "checks and balances" I would expect more from a law school administrator.

As to the comment about the "marginal costs" of changing the system, I find it hard to believe the "costs" of having anyone else collect and compile the evaluations would be so high. No one is asking for a secure electronic evaluation system here.

I think the school should be embarassed for its own failures, not just this professor's.
4.9.2007 11:45pm
Sean M:
I agree with Jrny. Clearly, a bells-and-whistles security and logging system would probably be out of line, but, at least at my College, the solution is simple and costs nothing.

The professor has a student volunteer to hand out the evaluation. The professor leaves the room. The evaluations are completed. The volunteer walks the completed surveys down to the department secretary who turns them into the folks who compile the surveys.

This seems to be a very easy and straight-forward way to prevent this.
4.10.2007 12:21am
Lev:

...Kenneth Kress, then a tenured Iowa Law School professor...actions were the result of mental illness


There is a mystery?
4.10.2007 12:42am
Lev:
Just messing with you guys.

I expect there are very few who like being evaluated by their students, and I doubt that will ever change.

I know one college professor who quit and went into a completely different profession because he did not want to be subjected to student evaluations.
4.10.2007 12:48am
Pendulum (mail):
Just like attorneys in firms would never double-bill or cheat on billable hours, because they're experienced professional employees? Even if they're running far behind their monthly quota?

To me, a system which allows the subject of the evaluations to collect them spits in the face of the ethical professor who doesn't change his grids. How could you establish that a below-median score isn't the result of others changing grids?

To add food for thought, think of how difficult it would be to actually catch this kind of fraud - changing a few bubbles; maybe substituting a fake grid. It's astonishing that even one person was caught - and it seems likely that a large number of mildly more capable forgers have evaded detection.
4.10.2007 1:00am
Adeez (mail):
The Iowa bar would be making a mockery of itself if it didn't disbar him for life. Fraud is far and away one of the transgressions that they take most seriously. This is pure fraud that should be duly punished.
4.10.2007 11:16am
David Drake (mail):
I've taught at the undergrad and law levels, and have never before heard of a professor's having access to completed student evaluations until after the administration has reviewed them. Where I've taught, the professor leaves the classroom after distributing the evaluations and appointing a student to pick them up and deliver them to the Dean.
4.10.2007 12:22pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
The Iowa bar would be making a mockery of itself if it didn't disbar him for life. Fraud is far and away one of the transgressions that they take most seriously. This is pure fraud that should be duly punished.

Is this fraud really so serious that it warrants disbarring and firing him? A comment above suggests that this was just the tip of the iceberg, which may be, but also may not be. He had tenure already. Substituting fictitious favorable evaluations for real unfavorable ones violates academic norms, to be sure, but I'm not seeing how Kress could have obtained anything of tangible value through the deception.
4.10.2007 1:08pm
Adeez (mail):
Tyrone: In my humble opinion, fraud is fraud. I'm not saying all lies are bad, b/c of course that'd be incorrect. But this was a deliberate lie designed strictly for the professor's pecuniary benefit (regardless of how tenuous that benefit may be). He didn't do it to save Anne Frank from the Nazis, if you get my drift.

I'm under the impression that state bars generally take fraud very seriously. Hence it is more problematic to have been caught cheating in school than to have been convicted of, say, marijuana possession. Whether or not one agrees with this stance (I happen to), treating this lightly would be hypocritical.

And personally, I have no sympathy for people who do wrong when they damn well know better. Others are of course free to disagree.
4.10.2007 1:46pm
Adeez (mail):
Tyrone: In my humble opinion, fraud is fraud. I'm not saying all lies are bad, b/c of course that'd be incorrect. But this was a deliberate lie designed strictly for the professor's pecuniary benefit (regardless of how tenuous that benefit may be). He didn't do it to save Anne Frank from the Nazis, if you get my drift.

I'm under the impression that state bars generally take fraud very seriously. Hence it is more problematic to have been caught cheating in school than to have been convicted of, say, marijuana possession. Whether or not one agrees with this stance (I happen to), treating this lightly would be hypocritical.

And personally, I have no sympathy for people who do wrong when they damn well know better. Others are of course free to disagree.
4.10.2007 1:46pm
Ken76 (mail) (www):
I've only been a part-time instructor, but my institution has safeguards, such as they are, against this. I'm not permitted to handle the evaluations, and I didn't see evaluations from Fall '06 semester until the beginning of March of '07. No system is foolproof, but it doesn't have to be perfect if the participants have some standards.

As for caring about evaluations, I weigh them against my own self-assessment, which is as honest as I can make it. I use them to confirm where I thought I fell short. Considering the boundless sense of entitlement--"my check cleared, gimme my A and don't make me work too hard at going through the motions"--one often encounters among students (I teach MBA students), I don't get excessively invested in student evaluations.
4.10.2007 4:11pm
pete (mail) (www):
My experence as an undergrad was like David Drake's above. The professor always left the room and let a student volunteer collect them and return it to the administaration in a sealed envelope. Later the student evaluations would be read by the professor's department.

While most students just filled in the bubbles, I always wrote long good comments if I liked the class/professor since I figured that was a nice reward. I was respectfully critical if I thought the assignments were poorly done, the teaching was poor, or did not live up to the description of the class.

I knew one person who typed up an essay beforehand to staple to the evaluation to express his displeasure with one professor's teaching ability.
4.10.2007 4:46pm