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And the grift goes on: Scott Brown and New England Law

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Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown is going to be the next dean of the New England School of Law. Brown, who was the very first senator or ex-senator to endorse Donald Trump for president (he did so in February of 2016) was rewarded with the ambassadorship to New Zealand, where he will remain until the end of next year.

A current student at the school writes:

The announcement was made yesterday and, as your readers would probably expect, there’s already a lot consternation among students and (anecdotally) the faculty. The student body is beginning to organize against Brown’s appointment.

The opposition to his appointment is for a myriad of reasons. While I personally was opposed to his votes, policy positions while in office, etc., I don’t think one’s political record should necessarily be dispositive of one’s ability to serve as a law school dean. But to willingly endorse Trump the way Brown did in February of 2016, and to hold onto that endorsement throughout the 2016 campaign, only to go on to serve a president and administration that daily wipes its ass with the Constitution, and then to be welcomed back into polite society as the head of an institution devoted to legal education is a bridge too far for me.  

LGM and others who occasionally analyze the law school industry have criticized NELB’s administration in the past. See here: https://lawyersgunsmon.wpengine.com/2013/10/bad-publicity-leads-to-tragic-consequences-for-law-school-dean. It’s not lost on us students that we’re attending a low-ranked school that has struggled to perform up to expectations, and that we face an uphill battle entering a job market that places an absurd amount of emphasis on elite credentials. But while we’re embarrassed by the school’s bar passage rate and the general lack of respect for the school in the broader legal community, we nonetheless work hard and try to make a difference where we can. The school’s reputation in the greater Boston area, where most of us expect to end up, is much different than that in the rest of the country. 

I don’t see how Brown’s appointment is going to change any of that for the better. Putting a Trump supporter and appointee at the helm of a law school that aims to attract young, ideological (read: liberal) students to Boston of all places seems like a recipe for disaster in the long run. Even in the short term, there’s no way this appointment is going to go over well. In this entire ordeal, I’m struck most by just stunningly naive the Board of Trustees seems to be. Did they not think students would protest Brown’s appointment? If and when this shit hits the fan and Brown’s appointment and the blowback to it garners more media attention, it’s only a matter of time until Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity start plastering our faces on Fox News as yet another example of campus PC run amok. (Brown is a former Fox News contributor, I don’t think this hypothetical is that unlikely.) Soon enough, we’ll be doxxed, harassed, threatened, and otherwise exposed to the mindless hordes that garble Fox’s garbage on an hourly basis.

I’m hoping you can share this with your readers.

As far as I can tell, Brown has had nothing to do with law schools, let alone legal academic administration, since he attended a couple back in the 1980s, between modeling stints.

Indeed, Brown seems to have been largely unemployed since Liz Warren took away his Senate seat seven years ago, although his experience hawking a multi-level marketing diet drug scheme probably counts as the kind of work experience that has some relevance to running New England Law, as it now styles itself.

NEL is an almost perfect representative of the law school scam in its most florid form: a once financially modest and socially defensible institution (it was started in 1908 as a law school for women, at a time when there were almost no women lawyers in the country) it mutated over the course of the last couple of decades into a personal ATM machine for its dean, while charging increasingly absurd tuition to its students for increasingly dismal employment prospects.

Speaking of John O’Brien, Esq., let’s take a look at what happened to his compensation over that period.

2001: $261,600

2005: $346,000

2009: $614,982

2011: $867,358

To be scrupulously fair, O’Brien has insisted on quite a bit of belt-tightening for himself since then, with the result that he was paid only $799,365 in fiscal year 2018. Other belts have been tightened as well: O’Brien fired more than a third of the tenured faculty back in 2014, when enrollment at the school began to crash, in the wake of various people pointing out that lots of graduates of law schools like NEL weren’t getting jobs, and were ending up with six figures of educational debt for often worse than useless degrees.

The wave of firings managed to keep the wolf from the door for only so long: NEL’s revenues fell from $48.2 million in 2013 to $26.8 million last year, and what was once a money-printing machine ran an $8.2 million operating deficit.

Any enterprising journalist who explores the school’s financial statements will find, in addition to O’Brien’s obscene compensation, all sorts of other fascinating arcana. Here are just a couple, that will hopefully get somebody started:

(1) Why does the school’s current $87 million endowment never seem to generate any income? (The endowment averaged an annual return of barely more than one percent for the five years between 2014 and 2018 inclusive, while the stock market went up by nearly 50% over this same time).

(2) Why does fundraising for the endowment appear to be almost literally non-existent in recent years — less than $80,000 was raised for it in each of the previous three years?

(3) Why does the school pay an “associate dean” more than $300,000 per year — more than anyone at the school other than O’Brien himself — when this person is a non-academic administrator with no advanced degree, who began working at the school as a secretary?

(4) Why is John O’Brien leaving his fabulously profitable position, and what will the school pay him once Scott Brown takes over?

And of course all these questions and many more are related to the most interesting questions of the moment, which are: What NEL’s board thinks its accomplishing by naming a particularly egregious Trumpster hack as dean of this floundering operation, and what current NEL students and the school’s alumni are going to do about it?

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