Paging Professor UJ

Back when UJ used to write for this blog, he added a tag for “happiness” because he wrote a number of posts about it.  I regret to admit that, since UJ stopped his scrivening, it’s probably the least-used tag on the blog.  In fact, this post is likely the first one with a happiness tag in months, if not years.  I consider myself a happy person, but I just don’t write much it.

Apparently, Yale students also need help with happiness.  This semester Yale is offering Psych 157, a course called “Psychology and the Good Life.”  It tries to instruct students on how to be happier — and it has quickly become the most popular undergraduate course Yale has ever offered.  1,200 students, which is about 25 percent of the entire undergraduate student population, is taking the course.  The professor posits that Yale students are flocking to take the course because “they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school” and in the process adopted “harmful life habits.”  If you read the article linked above, you’ll conclude that Yalies are a pretty sad, stressed bunch.

14344198_1067434466644984_673868475086152520_n copyWhen I was going to college, lack of happiness and “deprioritizing” personal happiness and fulfillment was not a problem.  If anything, Ohio State students of the ’70s tended to overprioritize their dedicated, incessant, deep-seated, Frodo Baggins-like quest for happiness.  The notion that fresh-faced students, still possessing the bloom of youth and newly freed from the constant supervision and irksome rules of Mom and Dad, need to take a college class to learn how to be happier would have been totally alien to the undergrads of my era.  And it’s really kind of depressing to think that, in any era, college students would need to sit in a lecture hall to get tips on how to be happier.  College must have become a grim, hellish place indeed!

But this is where UJ comes in.  He’s always got a happy grin on his face, a positive outlook, and a firm belief that “life is good.”  Sure, he’s retired, but his youthful attitude should allow him to connect with the legions of sad, beleaguered, put-upon Yalies who just don’t know where to find happiness in their soulless, barren college lives.

Hey, UJ!  Time to call that Psych 157 prof and offer a few pointers!

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Naked In The Ivy League

For decades, thousands of male and female students at some of America’s most prestigious institutions, in the Ivy League and among the Seven Sisters, were routinely required to strip down and have their nude photos taken.  Why?

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum tells the fascinating story in a long, but riveting, New York Times piece that is almost 20 years old, but new to me.  Rosenbaum himself was a student at Yale who had to undergo the bizarre ritual during the 1960s.  He appeared at a Yale gymnasium, was required to completely disrobe, had metal pins attached to his vertebrae with adhesive, and then was photographed.  Everybody had to have their “posture photos” taken, and students whose posture was deemed unacceptable had to take a remedial posture class where they presumably walked around rooms balancing books on their heads.  Similar photos were taken at schools like Vassar and Wellesley, and urban legends circulated among the Ivy Leaguers about purportedly stolen posture photo collections of young coeds being available on the black market.

But the real story runs deeper than posture and pranks and has a disturbing element.  In reality, the photographs were also part of an anthropological study undertaken to explore theories that contended that study of the human physique, through measurement and analysis of ratios, could reveal intelligence, moral worth, and other characteristics.  It was a branch of eugenics that apparently was scientifically accepted for a time, with its own scientific-sounding names for character components — “ectomorphs” for thin and nervous people, “endomorphs” for the tubby, and “mesomorphs” for the Charles Atlases among us.  Under the theory, each person purportedly had some mixture of the three components that was genetically determined and described by a three-digit code, and those components controlled your character.  The “science” was married to concepts of posture and propriety, accepted by many educational institutions as a progressive, scientific step forward, and the result was thousands of mystified, often humiliated students at elite schools being required to troop before cameras and have their nude photos taken, to be studied by practitioners of a pseudoscience.

The concept that your body shape determines the content of your character seems ludicrous now, as bizarre and unscientific as Nazi “master race” theories, phrenology, or medieval notions that good health required periodic bleedings.  The concept no doubt would have seemed ludicrous to many of the unfortunate students who were forced to shed their clothing — but of course they weren’t told.  They did it because the institution told them to do so and because everyone else did it.  No one questioned authority, and for decades no one at any of those lofty institutions asked whether there was any true scientific basis for the practice or raised any moral or ethical qualms about the “posture photos.”

The students weren’t the only ones exposed by the “posture photos” and their true back story; the schools and the scientific community were as well.  We should all think of “posture photos” the next time an institution tells us to shut up and follow along on a course that seems absurd, that the science is settled and can’t be questioned, and that because everyone else has done it we should, too.

On Applying, And Getting Rejected

Richard has begun the second year of grad school, and Russell starts his first year of grad school next week.  It got me to thinking about my law school days, and specifically about the application process.

I was working on Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie when I decided to take the LSAT and look at going to law school.  I had a solid undergraduate record, I got a good LSAT score, I had that Capitol Hill job on my resume, and I had a nice recommendation from Mr. Wylie in my application packet, so I aimed high, for Harvard and Yale among other schools.  I was a confident, and foolish, young man.

I was taken down a peg when, very shortly — embarrassingly shortly — after I sent in my Harvard application, I got the standard form rejection letter.  It hadn’t taken them long to figure out that I wasn’t Harvard material.  My rejection from Yale came a few days later.

I soon realized it wasn’t the end of the world.  I was accepted into other good schools, went to Georgetown University Law Center, got a good legal education and met some great people, and have moved on.  I now think that those once-embarrassing rejections were a good thing, because they helped to motivate me to work hard in law school and because everyone needs to experience a little humility in their lives.  And, I’ve also come to believe that it’s not where you go to school, but what you do with the education you receive that counts.

Rejection isn’t the end of the world.  Often, it’s something you can build on and learn from.

You Don’t Have To Be A Judge . . .

. . . to be on the Supreme Court, and therefore it doesn’t bother me one bit that Elena Kagan hasn’t served on the bench.  Over the years, many Supreme Court Justices, including some who had an enormous impact on the Court and its jurisprudence, had no prior judicial experience.

No, what bothers me is that the Court is populated exclusively by graduates of elite law schools and universities who have never had a private law practice.  Although there is diversity of race and gender on the Court, there really isn’t much diversity of perspective.  The Court can take only a small handful of cases each year, and it seems to devote an inordinate proportion of those cases to narrow constitutional issues, like whether World War I veterans’ erection of a cross on federal lands in the Mojave Desert violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  That may be an interesting academic question, but it doesn’t have much to do with the vast majority of Americans, or the vast majority of lawyers.

I’d love to see a President nominate a practicing lawyer who cares about resolving uncertainties about application of the rules of civil procedure and the rules of evidence, or the drafting of disclosures in SEC filings by public corporations.  We really don’t need another decision that revisits how Roe v. Wade applies in some specific factual scenario — but it sure would be nice to get a definitive ruling on how district courts should apply class certification standards.