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Is any UC-Irvine administrator going to suffer any consequences for this?

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ozymandias

“This” being saddling Orange County’s UC-system campus with a serious long term financial disaster, in the form of an extraordinarily expensive and radically underfunded law school.

UCI’s law school is now in its seventh year. This past fall it pretty clearly threw in the towel in regard to Erwin Chemerinsky’s idiotic goal of creating a “top 20” law school ex nihilo, as it admitted a class with a median LSAT a full four points below the entering classes at UCLA and USC. UCI is now the sixth-most selective law school in California, and the notion that any prospective student would consider going there at any point in the foreseeable future rather than to UCLA or USC (let alone Stanford or Berkeley) at anything like a comparable cost is as dead as Jacob or Bob Marley.

UCI has found itself in a situation where it has to offer big discounts off its preposterous sticker tuition (nearly $45K for CA residents and $51K for non-residents) to more than 90% of its matrics, even as it continues to cut enrollment standards. Its latest 509 disclosure reveals that the school will be pulling in around $9.5 million in net tuition this year, which, given Chemerinksy’s willingness to continue to expand UCI’s stupendously well-compensated faculty (most particularly including himself and his wife) means that the school’s tuition revenue might just barely cover the costs of faculty compensation this year, although it probably won’t. Note that’s just faculty (not including staff) compensation, which at the typical law school accounts for somewhere around 40% of operating costs.

Since the seven year old law school doesn’t have an endowment or an alumni base, tuition money is pretty much the sole source of income, which means this absurd enterprise is bleeding off somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 to $15 million per year from the campus budget, and will continue to do so, even if central administrators finally come to terms with the grim facts and put the kibosh on any further empire-building by the last king of Irvine.

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  • Morse Code for J

    How will Erwin Chemerinsky cope with the disappointment, being only $4M richer than he was starting this law school?

    • Nobdy

      I think this enterprise was about ego rather than money. Chemerinsky is the author of the conlaw treatise that pretty much every law student has at least heard of, if not bought themselves. I have to think that racket, plus the textbook, already gave him an excellent income.

      Sure this is MORE money, but I also think he is one of the few law professors who actually COULD open up a boutique firm, or join one, and make bank that way, based on his reputation (though who knows what his actual litigation skills would be like.)

      Irving was about establishing a lasting monument to his greatness, not about the cash, though I’m sure the $$$ didn’t hurt any.

      Of course I’m sure in his mind the enterprise isn’t failed at all, just behind schedule.

  • Nobdy

    Who (with any power) has any interest in holding anyone accountable for this?

    Since UCI is not a private enterprise it’s not like there are shareholders, or any chance of going bankrupt, so there’s not really a constituency for accountability.

    The taxpayers might theoretically care, but if you’re looking for political graft in a state the size of California $15 million is a laughably low amount, and it can be written off as mismanagement rather than actual theft.

    Chemerinsky might have ‘bought’ at the very height of the law school bubble, but founding a public, rather than private, school was a very smart hedge.

  • Justaguy

    Being an incompetent UC administrator means never having to say you’re sorry. Having been in the UC system for several years, my sense is that if they fired everyone who was incapable of doing their jobs, there’d be nobody left.

  • burnspbesq

    The out-of-control ego responsible for UCI Law isn’t Erwin’s, it’s Donald Bren’s.

    It’s easy to get this wrong if you don’t live (and practice) here.

    • Francis

      To echo atty burns, the Board of Regents of the UC System approved the plan for forming the law school back in November of 06. The plan languished until Bren came through with his gift in August of 07. Once it was clear that Bren’s gift would come through, Erwin was recruited by the Regents over the summer of 07 from Duke (although he had made his name in the Southern California community from his time at USC) and was hired by the Regents in September of 07. The Chancellor of UCI tried to renege, but that attempt backfired.

      Bren and the other boosters of UCI were the ones who pushed the Regents into approving the law school. Good lord there was a lot of stupid press at the time about Orange County needing its own law school. USC is about 25 miles from the border between LA and Orange county. Too many liberal law students graduating from USC? Needed those good conservative OC values embedded in the students? Who knows. It is awfully funny, though, that the UC campus in the most conservative county got one of the most liberal law professors in the country.

      Erwin certainly gets some blame for how he’s running it, but from what I’ve heard the Regents of the UC System and the individual Chancellors really do wield a great deal of power over budgets.

      That said, Erwin could cut every professor’s salary in half, including his own. Who would quit? Where would they go? Resumes would flood in to fill any empty position.

      • DAS

        I always thought the push for UCI to have a law school was based on the idea that having a law school would increase the visibility and prestige of UCI. Perhaps I am biased as a UCI grad myself, but UCI is seriously underappreciated as an institution. Having a med school and a law school is often seen as part of being a world class institution (pace Princeton). UCI already had a med school, so why not a law school as well?

        I agree that it seems a law school is the last thing UCI actually needed, but Bren wasn’t being completely nonsensical to push for it, given the common perception that a first class university, such as UCI, ought to have a law school.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Is not SEK’s old office enough prestige?

        • Lee Rudolph

          “pace Princeton”

          And MIT…

        • Is this really a thing? Even if we presume that we’re looking only at universities (so ignoring SLACs), is a law school the difference between being seen as world class and not? By whom?

          I know the usual administrator response to something like this is to destroy the institution, but surely there are better ways to get attention!

          Manchester has this plan to be in the top 20 by some international ranking. This has been just stupid, but they aren’t entirely destructive about it. Getting close,but not entirely. It’s not clear to me that hacking such things is going to help the institution in any significant way.

          • nocutename

            Is this really a thing?

            Sadly, yes. While there are obvious exceptions, many universities in the US seem to think that the key to legitimacy is having a couple of professional schools and D-1 football and/or basketball.

  • Pseudonym

    Are they cross-subsidizing the UCI law school then from SEK’s huge alumni donations?

  • nocutename

    California now has five public law schools. This seems unsustainable, and I often wonder which would be the most likely to close. A case can be made for each of the bottom three:

    1. Davis – Not in a major legal market. Now that it costs as much as a private, its public interest focus is a bit of a cruel joke.
    2. Hastings – Not associated with a university. Lowest ranked.
    3. Irvine – Youngest and most vulnerable. Financially worst off.

    Personally, I would like to see it be Irvine just because starting a law school when they did was such a stupid idea. But I think it will most likely be Hastings.

    • Paul Campos

      Supposedly the story with Hastings is that the family that gave the money to found it in the 19th century — something like $100,000 — would be owned the gift back plus interest if the school closes, which at this point would be some astronomical sum. Sounds urban legendish but whatever.

  • jayjay50

    There are dozens of law schools in California who perform much worse by any conceivable metric than UC Irvine – bar passage rates, employment after graduation, clerkships, etc. It even ranked above UC Davis its first year in the rankings, and Davis’s law school has been around for 50 years. (Rankings, of course, being a terrible metric but one the profession seems to value above all else). The fact that that calls to shut down California law schools focus on UC Irvine and none of the others makes this seem more like a personal vendetta than a real complaint. The timing of this post is odd too – the post doesn’t link to anything relevant that’s happened recently – why bring up this dead horse again now?

    As for the facts, I would like to see how long it’s taken other public law schools to become financially self-supporting (why does a law school need to be financially self-supporting? We tend to allow Humanities schools to exist even when they’re a net drain on campus resources) and to see if UC Irvine is really that far behind. Also maybe to see why people are going to UCI – obviously something about it appeals to them (even now that they’re not all getting scholarships to go), and that fact alone seems to indicate it’s offering something missing from other California law schools.

    I don’t know whether it was a good or bad idea to open a law school in Irvine, but I’d rather think through it critically than just read hit pieces.

    • Fred

      The complaints in re: UCI are real. Unlike the other schools, UCI was created when all the available data showed clearly that there was no need for another law school, and that wasting scare tax payer resources on such an endeavor would be particularly egregious.

      It is one thing to accidentally hit the bumper of the car in front of you. It is quite another to stomp on the accelerator and ram the car in front of you at full speed.

    • PaulB

      No question that schools like Whittier, Golden Gate, and TJ should go first but Irvine is a public university that’s being subsidized out of the UC budget. Yes, there are other academic departments, most notably the PhD programs in the liberal arts and softer social sciences that are arguably even more outrageous in terms of offering ruinous prospects for their students. However, we’ve got to start somewhere and a blog like this that specializes in the law school scam has picked a perfectly reasonable target to aim at.

  • Fred

    The salaries paid to Chemerinsky and his wife and others are outrageous, as is the cost of the school.

    Responsible officials should be ashamed.

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