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Calabresi-Melamed and Bernard Malamud:

With the possible exception of attending committee meetings, grading final exams is the most boring part of a professor's job; that - plus recovering from ankle surgery- is what I have been doing the last few days. Tis definitely the season to be jolly.

Every once in a while, however, the monotony is broken by a hilarious exam blooper. In my Property class, I always cover the Calabresi-Melamed framework which distinguishes property rules, liability rules and inalienability rules.

This year, the students seem to have grasped it well. However, I did read one exam that repeatedly referred to "the Bernard Melamud" theory. What (other than my inadequate teaching, of course) could have led the student to make this mistake? I eventually figured out that he or she must have confused Calabresi and Melamed with novelist Bernard Malamud. Malamud did write some books where legal issues feature prominently; his most famous novel, The Fixer, is a fictionalized account of the trial of Mendel Beilis, a famous anti-Semitic "blood libel" case in czarist Russia. Unfortunately, however, Malamud - unlike Jane Austen - didn't focus much on property law and wasn't much of a law and economics scholar.

It's a minor mistake by the student and one that I didn't penalize much; but humorous nonetheless.

UPDATE: As commenter JonathanM points out, Malamud did in fact write a property law-related novel, The Tenants. Perhaps the student had read this book recently, applied a Calabresi-Melamed analysis to to the plot and began to conflate their theory with Malamud!

byomtov (mail):
An easy mistake to make, since "Malamud" and "Melamed" are really the same word, transliterated differently.

A "melamed" was a Hebrew teacher, sometimes an itinerant. He generally taught elementary-level students the basics, and had considerably less status than more learned types, such as rabbis.
12.24.2007 8:37pm
Ilya Somin:
An easy mistake to make, since "Malamud" and "Melamed" are really the same word, transliterated differently.

Both Malamud and Douglas Melamed are, I believe, of Eastern European Jewish descent, so there names probably have common origins.
12.24.2007 8:48pm
JonathanM:
For property law related Malamud, I recommend his 1971 novel The Tenants, the plot of which is based on a tenancy at sufferance and rent control ordinances.
12.24.2007 8:59pm
SlimAndSlam:
Correction needed: no Nobel for Bernard Malamud. Pulitzer and National Book Award, yes.
12.24.2007 9:31pm
Ilya Somin:
Correction needed: no Nobel for Bernard Malamud.

Noted and corrected.
12.24.2007 10:16pm
tvk:
I sure hope that your grades have already been posted, or I will feel very sorry for the student in question. "one that I didn't penalize much" will only freak out a 1L.
12.24.2007 10:26pm
Michael Masinter (mail):
I just finished grading first amendment exams; one student wrote that a sign permitting system was unconstitutional because it allowed the exercise of unfeathered discretion.
12.24.2007 10:51pm
Dave2L (mail) (www):
My thoughts exactly, TVK. It also seems to me to be a bit unfair to write up a student gaffe on an exam when that student is likely a reader of the blog. Particularly since in the time pressure of an exam, all kinds of mistakes can be made that would normally be caught. Yes yes, there is no atribution... but still, such mockery does have the potential to sting a bit.
12.25.2007 3:40am
Ilya Somin:
It also seems to me to be a bit unfair to write up a student gaffe on an exam when that student is likely a reader of the blog. Particularly since in the time pressure of an exam, all kinds of mistakes can be made that would normally be caught. Yes yes, there is no atribution... but still, such mockery does have the potential to sting a bit.

I don't think it's such a terrible wrong to note an exam mistake without naming the person who made the error (whose identity, by the way, is unknown to me as well, due to blind grading). This one was made repeatedly throughout a moderately long essay, so it wasn't merely a random gaffe. Many professors and teachers have noted similar mistakes in articles and blog posts over the years.
12.25.2007 3:51am
MDJD2B (mail):

Correction needed: no Nobel for Bernard Malamud.

Noted and corrected.

He should have won a Nobel prize.
12.25.2007 12:22pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Wow, you're really generous in your explanations. My dad is an English professor who also grades AP English exams, so we heard lots of entertaining gems at the dinner table.
12.25.2007 1:07pm
Kenneth Anderson (mail) (www):
As it happens, Joyce Carol Oates has a very lovely review of the new biography of Malamud in the Times Literary Supplement of December 21 and 28, 2007. Online here at the TLS
12.25.2007 2:07pm
anon123123:
I don't think it's such a terrible wrong to note an exam mistake without naming the person who made the error (whose identity, by the way, is unknown to me as well, due to blind grading). This one was made repeatedly throughout a moderately long essay, so it wasn't merely a random gaffe. Many professors and teachers have noted similar mistakes in articles and blog posts over the years.

That's because you've been divorced through enough years that you can't relate to the anxiety of 1L exams — let alone the impact your few words could have on a student struggling to find his way during the first semester in law school. Especially the day before Christmas. Nice work.

Your comparison of a blog post (let alone a legal publication) and writing a time-sensitive exam seems too thin to warrant a response.

Take note dear law student. I still remember the very first sentence I wrote in a law school exam: "The UCC wood apply. . ." This stellar beginning has had no impact on any part of my legal career.
12.25.2007 10:28pm
Ilya Somin:
That's because you've been divorced through enough years that you can't relate to the anxiety of 1L exams — let alone the impact your few words could have on a student struggling to find his way during the first semester in law school. Especially the day before Christmas. Nice work.

1. These students aren't 1Ls, but 2Ls.

2. I was a student as recently as 6 years ago.

3. Lots of people are harshly criticized for many things BY NAME in online publications, including on the day before Christmas.
12.25.2007 11:03pm
tvk:
I don't think criticism is the problem. Exam answers are there to be criticized, and the student is protected by anonymity so the blog posting is unproblematic. Sure, we are all having fun at this student's minor mistake, but in the end it will be rather harmless.

My only point of concern is that law students have the understandable but unfortuante propensity to obsess over the smallest errors, magnifying them out of all objective proportion, until they see their exam grade. Somewhere, an unfortunate law student will be convinced that he would have got an A in Property if he had only brushed up on the names of Second Circuit judges.
12.26.2007 12:38am
Stephen M (ethesis) (mail) (www):
Hmm, btw, of the D&D writers I know personally, Gary Gygax is a bit of a libertarian, Sandy Petersen is LDS/Mormon (as am I), Greg Stafford is a practicing Shaman, and I guess I'll have to ask some of the others.

John T. Sapienza, Jr., a critical designer who is relatively unknown, in spite of his contributions to D&D and Runequest, was on law review at George Washington and had a career in the IRS.

But FRPGs seem to draw in, as designers, some varied political types.
12.26.2007 12:57am
TomH (mail):
It's not funny until sombody gets hurt
12.26.2007 2:05pm
Ilya Somin:
My only point of concern is that law students have the understandable but unfortuante propensity to obsess over the smallest errors, magnifying them out of all objective proportion, until they see their exam grade. Somewhere, an unfortunate law student will be convinced that he would have got an A in Property if he had only brushed up on the names of Second Circuit judges.

This is not an unreasonable point. Perhaps I should have been more careful. However, I don't even know yet whether the person will get an A anyway (as the scale is not quite done yet), and in any event it's highly unlikely that a small error like this will make a decisive difference on an exam.

I should also make clear that this is not a matter of knowing the names of all the 2nd Cir. judges. It's a matter of knowing the name of a fundamental theory in this field that you have to know in order to understand major debates over a variety of property issues. As a grading matter, it's not much different from a situation where I would have to penalize a Property student for not knowing what a "fee simple" or a life estate is. Like Calabresi-Melamed, these are insignificant esoteric terms to laypeople, but very important for students who wanted to be educated in the subject to know.
12.26.2007 2:19pm
wgsalter (mail):
I once wrote on the great mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, labeling the poor man "Grauss". My tutor was similarly kind.
12.26.2007 3:11pm
Thinker:
Just one word, Ilya, Mnemonics....you have students who are studying together and one of them, clearly, kept the Bernard Malamud thing going. .
12.26.2007 3:13pm