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Thomas Jefferson School of Law slashes jobs, salaries, and budget

[ 42 ] December 12, 2013 |

The new dean at TJSL has apparently been brought in to clean up the mess created by his predecessor, and he’s not being too shy about the fact:

I do not know how Thomas Jefferson became the whipping boy for critics of legal education. We must, however, be honest with ourselves; many of our troubles are the result of our own missteps, our own failure to plan, and our own failure to address problems in a timely fashion. My immediate plan and promise to you is that we will take aggressive and transparent action to confront these challenges. Since July 1, we have taken what I think are positive, though at times painful, steps to address the most critical challenges, whether self-imposed or systemic. Let me give you three examples.

First, while a general decline in enrollment is a systemic problem, we did not help the situation by allowing an unsustainable growth in the administrative structure of the school or building a facility as grand as ours. But, as you may have seen in press reports, the law school made severe cuts to its budget in response to the nationwide decline in applications. The reports did not paint the full nature of those cuts. For fiscal year 2014, the law school made cuts, totaling $4,798,081. Among other things, we layed-off 12 staff members, eliminated many more unfilled open positions, cut staff salaries by a minimum of 5%, cut faculty salaries by a minimum of 8%. In spite of these cuts, I am proud to say that 100% of the faculty contributed to this year’s annual fund.

Skimming TJSL’s tax filings for FY2012, it appears the new dean has cut the school’s operating budget by nearly 10%. As of 18 months ago TJSL’s balance sheet looked pretty shaky: the school appears to be almost 100% dependent on tuition, with a bit of rental income thrown in (if it has an endowment I can’t find it in its financials).

The school’s only significant asset is an extremely expensive and very heavily leveraged new law building: the institution’s net worth, as of 18 months ago, was equivalent to about five months of its current operating costs. Its bonds have been downgraded to junk status. (Per S&P, “management does not anticipate meeting the [school’s] financial covenants until 2018.”)

Even by today’s grisly standards, employment outcomes for TJSL grads are almost unbelievably bad: a glance at its NALP report suggests that perhaps a quarter of the 2012 graduating class got real legal jobs, very loosely defined (21 of 260 graduates were reported to be making salaries of $56,750 or more nine months after graduation). Almost all these jobs were with tiny law firms (ten or fewer attorneys); only seven graduates got government positions, four as PDs and three as DAs. More than a third of the class was simply unemployed nine months after graduation.

TJSL doesn’t give out much in the way of tuition discounts, with the average student paying around 85% of the school’s $47,300 nominal sticker price (current nine-month cost of attendance is estimated at $72,000 by the school). If you include accrued interest the 98% of the 2012 graduating class with law school debt had just under $200,000 in such debt. This doesn’t include undergraduate debt (Again, the federal government will loan $216,000 over three years to anyone TJSL chooses to admit, assuming that person has not already defaulted on other loans.)

Obviously, even the most mild reform in the absurd process by which higher education in general, and post-graduate education in particular, is funded in America would put TJSL out of business immediately. (The school’s enrollment is shrinking very rapidly, with the last three first year classes featuring 440, 387, and 265 students respectively, despite moving to a quasi-open enrollment policy. While the school traditionally admitted about 45% of applicants, that number was up to 73% in 2012. And since a very large number of TJSL students transfer or flunk out after their first year, graduating classes tend to be only about two thirds the size of entering classes). Even without any reform, it may well be the first ABA law school to keel over, in which case the votaries of “the market” will undoubtedly celebrate another triumph of their mysterious god.


Law school applications continue their steep decline

[ 119 ] December 11, 2013 |

Last year at this time I noted that law school applications were in something of a free fall. LSAC has just released its first data for this year’s applicant cycle, and it appears the decline continues more or less unabated.

Total applicants to ABA law schools:

2010: 87,900
2011: 78,500
2012: 67,900
2013: 59,400

As of December 6th, 14,171 people had applied this cycle, which is down 13.6% year over year. 28% of all applicants had applied by this time last year; if the latter figure remains constant, that projects to 50,500 total applicants in this cycle. This would mean that 16.6% fewer people will apply to law school this year than were admitted three years ago. Indeed, if 100% of applicants were admitted and 100% enrolled, that would still produce fewer matriculants than were in the class of 2010. Of course not all applicants are admitted, although the percentage of applicants that are admitted to at least one school to which they apply has been climbing rapidly:

2004: 55.6%
2005: 58.6%
2006: 63.1%
2007: 66.1%
2008: 66.5%
2009: 67.4%
2010: 68.7%
2011: 71.1%
2012: 74.5%
2013: 76.9%

Meanwhile, the percentage of admitted applicants who end up enrolling has remained stable at between 86% and 88%. If we assume 75% of applicants are admitted in this cycle and 87% eventually enroll, this would produce a national first year ABA law school class of 32,950. Even if we assume 80% of applicants are admitted to at least one school to which they apply (this would be a fairly astounding figure, given that many applicants only apply to highly-ranked schools), that would still yield a first year class of just 35,150.

Total first year enrollment at ABA law schools:

2010: 52,500
2011: 48,700
2012: 44,500
2013: 39,675

As a financial matter, these effects are of course strongly cumulative. A first year class of 35,000 next fall (and note this is at the optimistic end of estimates given the analysis above) would mean that the total national enrollment over the previous three years will have been around 119,000, as compared to 153,700 from 2008-2010, i.e., there will be 22.6% fewer law students than there were four years earlier, despite a radical decline in admissions standards. Given continuing sharp increases in discounts over nominal tuition (indeed a few schools have now actually cut even nominal tuition), the decline in tuition revenue may be even greater in real terms.

World Cup Draw

[ 107 ] December 6, 2013 |

The World Cup draw takes place at 11:30 eastern on ESPN2 and Univision. A quick preview from the perspective of the US team:

Pot 1:

Teams to avoid

Spain: Best team in the world over the past six years.

Germany: It’s Germany.

Argentina: Much more dangerous than in 2010 now that they have a real coach.

Brazil: I think the home team is actually the fourth worst option out of this pot. Brazil hasn’t been impressive in international play for a long time now, leaving aside the Confederations Cup, which is a glorified friendly tournament. Also the enormous pressure on the home team could cancel out much of the advantage of being the host.

Best draw for US: Easily Switzerland. Got a #1 seed because of strong play in qualifying, but was in the weakest European group, and has no history of success in high level international play.

Pot 2:

Teams to avoid:

Chile: Will be a tough out in this tournament

Nigeria: Most talented African team

Cote d’ Ivoire: Also very talented and tends to play well in on big stages

Also a team from pot 4 is going to be randomly placed in this group to avoid having three European teams in any group. So a worst case scenario for the US would be something like Argentina, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Best draw: Algeria. Clearly the weakest team in this pot. Cameroon hasn’t been playing well recently but has talent

Pot 3: The US is clearly the toughest team in this pot, which is a sign of how far the USMNT has come. There’s about a 50/50 shot that whatever group includes the US will be considered the proverbial group of death.

Pot 4:

Teams to avoid:

Italy: It’s Italy

The Netherlands: They’re going to win this thing one of these centuries

Portugal: Ronaldo

Best draw: One of the Balkans would be best, but there are no weak teams in this group.

Update: Very bad draw for the US, although it’s a close call whether they’re in the toughest group (B with Spain, the Netherlands and Chile is arguably tougher). The US also has the worst travel schedule, having to cover 9000 miles during group play. Also, very easy groups for Brazil and Argentina. Argentina in particular has an apparent cakewalk to the semis. Brazil will probably have to play the Netherlands or Spain in the round of 16.

What the world needs now is another good lawyer

[ 22 ] December 5, 2013 |

Excellent post from Dybbuk at OTLSS on a new “initiative” from the Law School Admissions Council –the agency that administers the LSAT — designed to entice high school students and first and second year undergraduates “particularly but not exclusively those from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds” into eventually enrolling in law school, via images suggesting that they’ll be able to save dolphins, fight environmental racism etc.

I have thoughtlessly compared the law school scammers to Bernie Madoff, but these images make me realize how unfair that is to nebbishy old Uncle Ponzi, rotting away in federal prison. Madoff scammed the wealthy, and he scammed institutional investors who should have known better. The law school racketeers operate from a lower circle of depravity, luring social justice-oriented kids into life-destroying debt by promising to provide the foundation for a career that will allow those kids to fulfill their highest ideals.

I know that this blog mostly involves preaching to the converted. However, I hope readers will explain to youth of their acquaintance, who may be vulnerable to this kind of law school marketing approach, that public sector and public interest jobs are few in number, especially now that public sector austerity has taken on cast of permanence. Moreover, the structure of student debt forgiveness programs has made these jobs, which were once practically consolation prizes, highly desirable and competitive on purely economic grounds. And that means, in all likelihood, that a law grad will not have the opportunity to use the law to effect social change, represent indigents, or save the dolphins, unless he or she is willing to do so pro bono. . .

The images below all bear the slogan: “Actually, the world DOES need another lawyer.” Maybe so, but the world DOES NOT need another scammer.

Naturally legal academics are outraged by comparisons to Madoff et. al., despite the striking practical similarities between Madoff’s activities and initiatives such as LSAC’s newest propaganda campaign. That outrage is a consequence of their genuinely sincere belief in their own probity. And that belief is a prime example of the power of ideology:

Very frequently such views systematically distort social reality in much the same way that an individual may neurotically deny, deform or reinterpret aspects of his life that are inconvenient to him . . . In such analyses the ideas by which men explain their actions are unmasked as self-deception, sales talk, the kind of “sincerity” that David Riesman has aptly described as the state of mind of a man who habitually believes his own propaganda. In this way, we can speak of “ideology” when we analyze the belief of many American physicians that standards of health will decline if the fee-for-service method of payment is abolished, or the conviction of many undertakers that inexpensive funerals show lack of affection for the departed, or the definition of their activity by quizmasters on television as “education.” The self-image of the insurance salesman as a fatherly adviser to young families, of the burlesque stripper as an artist, of the propagandist as a communications expert, of the hangman as a public servant — all these notion are not only individual assuagements of guilt or status anxiety, but constitute the official self-interpretations of entire social groups, obligatory for their members on pain of excommunication.

Peter Berger (1963)

Determinants of student debt

[ 26 ] December 5, 2013 |

The Project on Student Debt has just released a study, indicating that 71% of 2012 graduates of non-profit colleges and universities graduated with student debt, and that on average these students borrowed $29,400 over the course of their college attendance (This figure does not include accrued interest on debt. It is also an underestimate, since the methodology the study employed could not account for all private loans. Approximately 20% of the reported debt was in the form of private loans, although with the 2010 changes in higher ed financing this figure is probably declining going forward).

The Project’s web page allows you to look up debt totals for individual schools, and it enables the following striking comparison:

Colorado College

Average amount borrowed of 2012 graduates with debt: $19,970

Percentage of graduates with debt: 32%

Average amount borrowed of all 2012 graduates: $6,390

Current total nominal cost of attendance: $208,000

University of Colorado Law School

Average amount borrowed of 2012 graduates with debt: $100,813

Percentage of graduates with debt: 86%

Average amount borrowed of all 2012 graduates: $86,699

Current total nominal cost of attendance: $156,000

What accounts for such remarkable disparities? Possible explanations:

(1) Differences in socio-economic status of families of graduates. My semi-educated guess is that this is a factor, but a relatively minor one. While the student body at CC, like that at all elite liberal arts colleges, is dominated by people from rich and upper middle class families — with the emphasis on upper — this seems to be increasingly the case at CU Law, from my impressionistic sense of the marked change in the demographics of students over the past 20 years (during which time resident tuition went from $4,000 to $31,500 per year). In sum the average CC student probably comes from a wealthier background than the average CU Law student, but not drastically so.

(2) Differences in levels of financial aid. This is probably a big factor. The CU Law class of 2012 got about $4,000 per year, on average, knocked off the nominal price of attendance. I don’t know what the comparable number is for CC, but I would imagine it is much higher. (The respective endowments of the two schools in 2012 were $47 million and $573 million).

(3) Differences in the willingness — as opposed to the ability — of families to contribute to the cost of student attendance. I suspect this is by far the most salient factor. It seems to now be the cultural norm among the lower upper class/upper middle class in America that it’s expected families will pay for all or most of the cost of undergraduate degrees, but will contribute little or nothing to financing the cost of graduate and professional school. (A common arrangement seems to be that families will contribute toward the cost of living while their children are in the latter institutions, but will require students to pay for — or more accurately borrow from the federal government — all of the cost of tuition).

That certainly seems to be the case at CU Law, given that it appears the average undergraduate debt of our students is somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000, with the median being zero. (This figure is of course relevant to interpreting (1) above).

This cultural norm is probably a product of, among other things, a semi-conscious assumption that the point of a college education is to provide one’s children with the benefits of general edification, i.e., the classic liberal arts ideal, while at the same time engaging in a powerful form of social signaling (It’s further assumed that this social signaling can to some extent be monetized). Meanwhile the function of graduate and professional education is to produce an enhancement in future earning potential that has a positive net present value in straightforward pecuniary terms, when measured against the cost of attendance.

To say these assumptions are becoming problematic would be something of an understatement.

The greatest Mexican baseball player of all time

[ 46 ] December 3, 2013 |

As a kid, I could fairly be called an obsessive baseball fan. Among many other useless pieces of information I could have told you Ted Williams’ lifetime batting average, home run total, number of batting titles, and other bits of arcana which were much more impressive to know in the days before Google. I owned a copy of The Science of Hitting. I learned, courtesy of Ball Four, that the main labeled by the Boston press (whose members he generally despised, and who generally returned the sentiment) employed a striking ritual when preparing to ply his craft:

In the bullpen tonight Jim Pagliaroni was telling us how Ted Williams, when he was still playing, would psyche himself up for a game during batting practice, usually early practice before the fans or reporters got there.

He’d go into the cage, wave his bat at the pitcher and start screaming at the top of his voice, “My name is Ted fucking Williams and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball.”

He’d swing and hit a line drive.

“Jesus H. Christ himself couldn’t get me out.”

And he’d hit another.

Then he’d say, “Here comes Jim Bunning, Jim fucking Bunning and that little shit slider of his.”


“He doesn’t really think he’s gonna get me out with that shit.”


“I’m Ted fucking Williams!”


When I put aside childish things, I read some classic essays about the man, including Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” and Richard Ben Cramer’s “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?

Here’s what I didn’t know about Ted Williams until today: he was half-Mexican (with some Basque heritage thrown in for good measure).

It’s something that didn’t come out until a month before Ted died in 2002, the fact that he was a Mexican-American. His mother was Mexican — [she] was born in Mexico — and her parents were born and raised there as well. He was embarrassed about this and afraid that the prejudice of the day would hurt his baseball career. Even though Mexicans didn’t figure as prominently as black ball players, nevertheless he was aware of the black prejudice and feared that it could hurt him. He was advised to keep this under wraps and he did. He always spoke rather contemptuously of his extended family on his mother’s side and referred to them as “the Mexicans” in not a nice way.

There was a very telling moment in 1939 after Williams had completed his rookie year with the Red Sox and had made an absolutely smashing debut — hit well over 300 and led the league in runs batted in — and he returned to San Diego the conquering hero and was met at the train station by a gaggle of 100 or so of the extended Mexican clan. Ted took one look at them from afar and beat a hasty retreat. He didn’t want to be seen with them.

Ted Williams was one of the most famous athletes in America for 20 years, and he had to put it mildly an adversarial relationship with what used to be called “the press” and is now the media. Yet he passed with complete success; nobody outed him.

A final note: Williams’ well-known acceptance speech when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966 now becomes an even more interesting cultural moment:

Ballplayers are not born great. They’re not born great hitters or pitchers or managers, and luck isn’t the big factor. No one has come up with a substitute for hard work. I’ve never met a great player who didn’t have to work harder at learning to play ball than anything else he ever did. To me it was the greatest fun I ever had, which probably explains why today I feel both humility and pride, because God let me play the game and learn to be good at it.

The other day Willie Mays hit his five hundred and twenty second home run. (Note: Williams retired with 521.) He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, “Go get ’em, Willie.” Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.

Submitted for your consideration

[ 134 ] November 30, 2013 |

I’m not sure it would be possible to top today’s Alabama-Auburn game for a sports event that produces the combinaton of a sweeter victory for one set of fans and a more devastating loss for those on the other side of the outcome. Consider:

Alabama-Auburn is the bitterest rivalry in college football. It makes Michigan-Ohio State look like a Pinterest argument about pesto recipes. Here’s an example of the level of craziness this game elicits:

OPELIKA, Ala. — The University of Alabama fan who poisoned Auburn University’s landmark oak trees at Toomer’s Corner has been released from jail and cleared to leave the state.

Harvey Updyke Jr., 64, left the Lee County jail in Opelika on Monday morning after serving 76 days following his guilty plea. Attorney Andrew Stanley said Updyke was on his way to Louisiana where he will live with his wife, Elva.

“He’s very sincere. He wants to go back to Louisiana and never wants to be heard from ever again,” Stanley said.
Updyke also was arrested last September, accused of making a threatening remark to workers at a Lowe’s store in Hammond, La.

“Certainly, he’s got this case pending in Louisiana that he wants to take care of. I think that’s going to be one of the first things he does when he gets down there,” Stanley said.

“He doesn’t want to have to deal with this anymore. He wants to pay his money back and be done with the five years, and never be heard from again.”

Sporting a handlebar mustache, Updyke was escorted to his bail bondsman’s pickup truck outside the Lee County Courthouse by a sheriff’s deputy. A judge banned him from talking to the media, and Updyke did not respond to a reporter’s question.

Updyke pleaded guilty in March to one count of unlawful damage of an animal or crop facility. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and credited with 104 days for time already served.

Updyke will be on probation for the next five years with terms including a 7 p.m. curfew, a ban from attending any college sporting event and from stepping foot on Auburn University property.

He is also banned from that Lowe’s store under the probation terms.

Updyke was arrested after a man calling himself “Al from Dadeville” — Updyke’s middle name is Almorn — phoned Paul Finebaum’s radio show claiming he poured herbicide around the 130-year-old oaks after Auburn’s win over rival Alabama during the 2010 national championship season. The caller signed off by saying, “Roll Damn Tide.

Basically, these people are nuts.

What was at stake in this year’s game:

Alabama was on a path to its fourth national championship in five years. During last year’s run, they capped off the regular season by humiliating Auburn 49-0, the last game of an 0-8 conference season for their rivals. By winning today, Auburn could knock Alabama out of the national championship picture, get to the SEC championship game, and maintain a chance to get to the national championship game. Auburn had already put together a wildly improbable year, capped off by a miracle win last week against Georgia. Meanwhile, Alabama had pretty much destroyed everyone they had played.

What happened:

Alabama had numerous chances to end the game in the last five minutes. They failed on a fourth and one play at the Auburn 13 with five minutes to go while leading by seven, had a holding penalty call back a play that took them inside the Auburn ten with three minutes to go (still leading by seven), and then missed a game clinching field goal 30 seconds later. Auburn then drove the length of the field in the final two minutes, scoring with 32 seconds to go on a trick play in which the Auburn QB came within an inch of crossing the line of scrimmage before throwing the game-tying touchdown pass.

Alabama then had a chance to get the ball into position for a game winning field goal. They apparently failed to do so when on what looked like the last play of the game in regulation time, the Alabama ballcarrier went out of bounds at the Auburn 39 as time expired. But Nick Saban, the Alabama coach, claimed that one second should still be on the clock. The replay official agreed, and Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal. An Auburn defender caught the kick at the back of the end zone, and returned it 109 yards for the winning score. (The odds of this happening could be estimated as around 100 to one at best).

That’s the best win/worst loss I’ve ever seen in a sports event, considering the intensity of fan feeling, the stakes, and the combination of events that produced the outcome.

Other candidates?

The end of Dickinson?

[ 77 ] November 26, 2013 |

Over the past few weeks, a number of people employed by and connected to Penn State’s law school have helped draw the following portrait of what’s going on there:

PSU’s law school is the brainchild of Graham Spanier, who early in his tenure at the university’s president decided that the university ought to have a law school, because prestige etc. At that time, Tom Ridge was Pennsylvania’s governor. Ridge is an alumnus of the Dickinson School of Law, a small private law school in Carlisle, which is the seventh-oldest law school in the country, having operated since the early 19th century. (It’s never been affiliated with Dickinson College, the well-regarded liberal arts college in the same town).

Spanier decided that the best way to advance this scheme was to convince Ridge to allow PSU to acquire Dickinson. Over the next few years complex political negotiations — in which Ed Rendell apparently played some role as well — eventually produced the following deal: The law school would become part of PSU, and a second campus for the school would open in State College, site of PSU’s flagship campus. PSU agreed to keep the Carlisle campus open until at least 2025, or 2020 if the university declared a financial exigency. The university committed to spending an enormous sum — about $130 million — on creating the new campus and updating the old one. Consequently, PSU built a $60 million law school building in State Park, which opened in 2009, and spent an additional $50 million on a new building and the upgrading of the existing physical plant at the Carlisle campus. The new Carlisle facilities were completed in 2010.

Spanier’s “vision” called for a law school with a typical first year enrollment of around 240 students, with two thirds of these in State College and the rest in Carlisle. This exercise in classic imperial administrative overstretch began to fall apart almost immediately. Predictably, the faculties of the law school’s two campuses didn’t get along. The State College faculty wanted to chase after rankings, which meant playing the academic prestige game, which in turn meant trying to hire faculty who would publish lots of law review articles. The righteous remnant in Carlisle, also quite predictably, started thinking of itself as focused on professional training — “experiential learning” in the current jargon — rather than on “theory.” (“Theory” is the buzzword for anything smacking of academic pretentions in this thing of ours).

The spat got bad enough that, even though the State College campus had been open for just a few years, the two faculties voted to file for academic divorce, and accepted an arrangement whereby the law school would be spun off into two separately accredited law schools. The ABA is currently finishing up on giving its blessing to the split, which should be completed by next fall or shortly thereafter.

If you think this sounds like a terrible idea, you haven’t heard the half of it. While the faculty was fighting over the wedding china and custody of the kids, enrollment and revenue were both collapsing. The two campus model was premised on having around 700 JD students enrolled at any particular time, while jacking up tuition drastically (it went from $25,500 in 2004 to $42,000 this year). The school enrolled first year classes of between 205 and 230 students in the late aughts, but over the last three years enrollments have plunged. This fall PSU 132 students matriculated at the two campuses, with just 34 of those matriculants beginning their legal educations in Carlisle’s new $50 million digs. (The decline in applications has been even steeper, from 5,326 in 2010 to 1,885 in 2013. H/T JDU.)

Not surprisingly, this whole operation is currently bleeding red ink at what I’m told PSU’s central administrators consider an unacceptable rate. Student-faculty ratio has plunged from 17.3 to 1 in 2004 to 8.8 to 1 in 2013 (for comparison purposes, average law school student-faculty ratios across the nation were 25 to 1 in 1990, 18 to 1 in 2000, and 14.3 to 1 in 2012). The school is spending millions of dollars a year more than it’s bringing in — perhaps $10 million more this fiscal year — and apparently things are going to get worse before they get better, because PSU announced this week that it’s cutting tuition in half for Pennsylvania residents. This announcement provides a dire hint regarding what the school’s current application volume looks like.

Note that this $20,000 annual “scholarship” doesn’t feature any stipulations, and is granted automatically to any state resident the school admits, so it’s really nothing but a straight up 50% price cut. Note too that current PSU 1Ls and 2Ls aren’t eligible for these “scholarships,” which means that next year many if not most of the school’s 2Ls and 3Ls (only 18% of last year’s student body got tuition discounts of half or more) will be paying twice as much in tuition as the entering 1Ls.

PSU’s law school has a total endowment of only $46 million, which is currently being split up between the soon-to-be separate schools. Assuming something like an equal split, each campus will be getting about a million dollars a year in endowment income going forward.

From a financial perspective this can’t and won’t work. Why then, given this ongoing collapse in law school operating revenue is, the university choosing to greatly increase operating costs, by forgoing all the economies of scale generated by being a single law school with two campuses? Now PSU will have to finance two separate law school administrations, two admissions processes, two career services operations, two development offices, etc. etc. Why would PSU’s central administration agree to this obviously untenable arrangement?

One possible answer is gross administrative negligence, which, given the current state of higher education in general, is a theory that has Occam’s Razor to recommend it. I suspect the real answer is rather more Machiavellian. On this account, the faculty divorce is providing central with an opportunity to downsize PSU’s law school operations relatively — at least from central’s perspective — painlessly. Once it has been spun off, the Carlisle version of the school will simply be allowed to die (recall that the campus can be closed in a little more than six years from now if the university declares a financial exigency), thereby permitting PSU to offload around a third of its tenured faculty all at once. The physical plant will be sold off to Dickinson College for pennies on the dollar, the university’s budget will unburden itself of about a dozen expensive faculty lines, and the Dickinson College of Law, will, after nearly two centuries, cease to exist.

It may well be that the Carlisle faculty — who are for the most part quite senior — even recognize this, and would prefer to run out the clock in this fashion, rather than remain tied to their State College brethren. We shall see.

When after all it was you and me

[ 199 ] November 22, 2013 |


I had just turned four, didn’t speak any English at the time, and my parents didn’t own a TV (although my father went out and rented one from the corner drug store that afternoon). So I don’t have any memory of the event, although I’m told I was on a swing-set on the outskirts of Washington DC when my father came running up and said in Spanish to my grandmother “they’ve killed Kennedy.”

And I suppose “they” did, if one takes a appropriately sociological perspective on the event.

Some thoughts:

(1) For today’s college freshmen, 9/11 is pretty much what the JFK assassination was to me: a historical event that occurred after we were born, but could have just as well happened 50 years before. This is one reason why the concept of the baby boom “generation” is not very useful: for people born toward the end of it, “the Sixties” — which as many people have said began that day — mostly happened for us later, when we saw the decade replayed on TV and in movies and (endlessly) on the radio.

(2) It’s also an endlessly repeated truism that the public’s eventual rejection of the official story told by the Warren Commission reflected a fundamental shift in the America people’s willingness to trust the federal government in particular and authorities in general. I wonder how much actual evidence there is for this claim?

(3) I’ve never waded into the controversy over the assassination itself, so I have no opinion regarding it, but having just watched a couple of documentaries on the subject, I’m reminded of a story about Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter, it’s said, proposed during his imprisonment in the Tower of London to write a history of the world. One day after he began this project, a fight broke out between two workmen in the courtyard below, which resulted in the death of one of them. Sir Walter tried to find out what the fight was about, and found he was unable to do so. Thereupon he abandoned his history.

(4) I will say that the Jim Garrison story ought to shake the faith of those who believe that it’s not possible for literal lunatics to ascend to important public positions inside the iron cage of bureaucracy.

(5) Oswald bought his rifle via mail order for $12.65 ($96.55 in current dollars).

Brand new Cadillac

[ 75 ] November 20, 2013 |

Matt Bodie reacts to a couple of recent LGM posts pointing out that most law schools are currently losing money because they’re spending more than they’re bringing in, which means they’re going to have to spend less:

Not to rehash these issues for the ump-teenth time, but I wish reformers like Campos would at least acknowledge some of the benefits of the current (but likely passing) model for legal education, such as smaller classes, more clinical opportunities, and more extra-educational services. Sure, that’s expensive, but is trying to provide a better product rent-seeking? Not to say that there aren’t examples of rent-seeking, such as higher salaries and cushy benefits. But smaller student-teacher ratios mean you are hiring more teachers, not more expensive ones, and tenure existed in the 1980s, too.

Campos doesn’t come out and say this, but apparently he wants to return to the days when law schools had largely big-lecture Socratic classes, a couple of clinics, and students teaching legal research and writing. If so, I wish he’d say it. I think there’s a good argument for the old method: a “VW Bug” version of legal education may make more sense for more people than a Cadillac one. (The nice cars do have Corinthian leather!) But once he came out with something concrete, people would have grounds for criticizing his approach.

This assumes that the form and substance of legal education in America today is significantly different than it was in, say, 1990, when the average student to faculty ratio was 25 to 1, as compared to the current 14 to 1 figure. But is it? I’m not aware of any studies of this question, and Bodie doesn’t refer to any. I do know that a glance at the course schedules of the two law schools I know best — the one at which I teach and the one from which I graduated — reveals that, in these two cases, there is very little apparent difference in how law school education is structured from its form 25 years ago.

For example, at the University of Michigan, all the traditional first-year classes continue to be taught, and continue to be taught in very large sections, as they were when I was a student there in the mid/late 1980s. First-year students still take Contracts, Property, Torts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, and Constitutional Law — exactly the same courses I took as a first-year in 1986. Indeed three of these courses are being taught by the very same professors I had nearly 30 years ago. (The one significant alternation to the first-year curriculum is the addition of a Legislation and Regulation class, as law schools are now beginning to acknowledge that knowing something about the contemporary administrative state may be of more practical relevance than memorizing The Rule In Shelley’s Case.)

For the class of 2014, all of these classes were taught in sections of 60 to 120 students, with the most common class size being 90. In other words, at my alma mater, the entire first year curriculum looks almost identical in all respects to what it was in the 1980s.

The situation at the school at which I teach is the same. Although our first year class is one half the size of Michigan’s, and our student-faculty ratio is quite a bit lower (9.7 to 1 as compared to 12.8 to 1), we don’t have more than three sections of any first year class (the required classes are identical to Michigan’s, which again are nearly identical to what they were at the two schools 100 years ago; law schools are not exactly hives of pedagogical innovation and experimentation), which means that first-year classes will have either 60 or 90 students in them (one class has only two sections, while the rest have three).

As for upper level courses, the situation seems similar. The classic courses which students are expected to take — Evidence, Tax, Corporations, Bankruptcy, Family Law, etc. — are being offered in one or two sections per year, which means these classes will be very large as well (at Michigan, which is twice as large as CU, a lot of these classes will have 150 students in them, as they did back when I took them).

Not everything in legal education is exactly the same as it was 25 years ago. The radical drop in student-faculty ratio probably means that there are more upper-level niche courses, reflecting faculty interests, featuring small enrollments (although since reductions in teaching loads have eaten up the functional effect of much of the decline in student-faculty ratio, even this isn’t necessarily true). Career services offices and the like are far more elaborate than they were (whether this actually helps get graduates jobs is another question altogether). And at both CU and Michigan there are many more clinical offerings than a generation ago. Yet the data I’ve seen on this subject indicate that the large majority of law students are still graduating without taking a single clinic. Clinics are extremely expensive, and they also tend to involve a lot more work for most students than intermittently coming to class for 14 weeks before “learning” the material from a canned outline for the purposes of single issue-spotting in-class exam. If you think this is a hyperbolic description of the pedagogical experiences of upper level law students, I recommend browsing through a few of the posts in this thread. Typical exchange (there are dozens in a similar vein):

Legitimate 3L question:

Really easy class, two hours long, 3 credits, all it is is a little discussion panel on law firm management and client interaction, run by the career services office with tons of guest lecturers, everyone gets an A, and the final grade is based on just doing a 15 minute presentation.

What’s the catch?

It’s on Friday, 12:30-2:30.


No. Fridays are sacred. The only way you take this is if you don’t have class on Mondays so you still get a long weekend.

Motherfuck Friday classes. But I’d take one if I knew it was a guaranteed A. Just plan the schedule around that. Frankly, a Friday class is fine if you can schedule your other classes on only Wednesdays and Thursdays (plus another Friday class).

4-day weekends every week is T[he]C[redited]R[esponse] for 3LOL, IMHO. I’ll have Th, F, Sa, Su off plus no class until Monday at 6. So 4.5 day weekend.

At this point I can’t resist quoting from the following oration, given this fall to the incoming class at the University of Chicago by a new member of the law faculty:

What differentiates good lawyers – graduates from this law school – is the ability to advise clients about what those laws and documents actually mean in the real world, how they affect human interaction, and most importantly, how those effects can be changed.

To prepare you for this – and we do prepare you for this – we will teach you to explore how rules, policy, and human behavior interact. It is precisely for this reason that law school is (more than any other area of study) so interdisciplinary. You cannot understand the rights that a lender will exercise against a bankrupt corporation without understanding finance, economics, psychology, political theory, and philosophy, to name a few.

A few? Mastering a large swath of the humanities and social sciences while learning some law and taking a lot of four-day weekends sounds like something of a challenge.

I feel my snark getting the best of me, but here we have a prime example of the real anti-intellectualism that plagues law schools, as opposed to the kind supposedly emitted by the awful scam blogs and the unsympathetic media the young Prof. Casey decries in his remarks. Does Casey actually believe that a genuine “understanding [of] finance, economics, psychology, political theory, and philosophy, to name a few,” is what his law school provides to its, as Milton Friedman would put it, “customers,” and that achieving this astonishing (and, needless to say, wholly imaginary) feat of erudition is necessary before one can become a good bankruptcy lawyer? And how exactly is this pedagogical miracle being performed, in the context of something that, from the published course schedule, looks very much like the same program that his school, and indeed almost all law schools, have been offering since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary?

In short, it appears that what law schools have done is continue to sell the same VW Bugs they were selling 25 years ago. They’ve just started charging Cadillac prices, while making increasingly extravagant claims that they’re selling magical vehicles that can take you to the Moon and back in time, not just down the Indiana turnpike. Also, the cars often don’t have engines in them any more.

Precisely what to do about this is in some ways a complex question, as the answers will vary a lot depending on the institution. But in other ways it’s not complex at all. I’ll address that issue in detail in another post.

More on law schools losing money

[ 60 ] November 14, 2013 |

In a previous post I estimated that the large majority of ABA law schools are running substantial deficits this fiscal year. This post is about the consequences of that situation.

As a preliminary matter, I’m going to briefly address commenter Dan’s argument that it doesn’t make economic sense to close a law school as long as its operating deficit disappears if its parent university only attributes marginal as opposed to pro rata indirect university operating costs to the school’s budget. This is a distraction. Indirect costs are real operating costs, and a school arguing that it should only be responsible for the marginal indirect costs it generates is really an argument that the school should be allowed to free ride on other schools within the university, since the university’s schools have to collectively pay for all those costs one way or another.

Basically, the bottom line question, for the 90% of law schools that have parent universities, is whether it’s acceptable to central for the law school to be subsidized by the rest of the university’s programs. (For the 10% of law schools that are free standing, the bottom line is much simpler, since they don’t have the option of not at least covering their operating costs in the long term).

The answer to this question is likely to vary a lot between institutions. Law schools have several potential arguments as to why they should be subsidized by the excess revenues over costs generated by Psych 101 etc.

(1) This is all very temporary, and one day soon demand for legal education will increase to levels that will eliminate the deficit.

(2) It’s prestigious for the university to have a law school. In its more common form this is modified to “a highly-ranked law school.” In this model, the law school is like a football team that loses money. Sure, it spends more than it appears to bring in, but that’s because you’re not taking into account the less easily quantifiable benefits of having a football team/law school in regard to undergrad applications, alumni donations, university rankings, and so forth.

(3) Legal education is a public good that should be subsidized by somebody, aka can you really put a price on the Rule of Law?

(4) Lots of politically influential people in this state are graduates of this law school. These people care a lot more about the law school than the journalism school.

Central administrations will, it’s safe to say, vary quite a bit in regard to how receptive they are to these sorts of arguments. Some law schools may actually be able to continue to operate in deficit mode more or less indefinitely, assuming argument (1) doesn’t pan out. But a lot won’t. (And again, this isn’t an option for the free-standing schools). What will happen/is beginning to happen to schools that won’t be indulged in this way?

My guess is that very few if any ABA law schools currently operating will actually get shut down. The reasons are two:

(a) Completely shutting down its law school would be embarrassing to the parent university, and it will avoid doing so if there are other realistic options.

(b) It’s not at all difficult to operate an ABA law school that doesn’t lose money, even in a world in which half as many people, or even fewer, apply to law school as was the case in the salad days (Crucial caveat: (b) only continues to be true in a strong form as long as something like the current federal educational loan system remains in place).

These reasons are obviously related, since (b) means that realistic options do exist for both parent universities and free standing schools.

Here’s a simple illustration, via one data point, of how easy it would be, in the semi-long term, for almost all law schools to get their budgets in line.

Student to faculty ratio at ABA law schools, by year (figures exclude schools with less than 300 total law students):

1980: 29 to 1

1990: 25 to 1

2000: 18 to 1

2012: 14 to 1

I don’t have comparable number for student to administrator ratios, but I would bet dollars to donuts, using 1950s prices for this now-ruined figure of speech, that the decline in that ratio has been even more extreme.

In short, quite literally the only reason law schools are spending so much money is because they can. Economic necessity has absolutely nothing to do with it, which is another way of saying that what we have here is a spectacularly successful exercise in rent-seeking.

I have detailed historical budget information for one law school that reveals the school is spending exactly twice as much money, in constant inflation adjusted dollars, as it was in the mid-1990s, despite maintaining the same size student body. This spending spree, by the way, has not resulted in better employment outcomes for graduates, or even a higher average ranking in the pestilential US News hierarchy. What it has resulted in is:

(a) Vastly more administrators, and an explosion in compensation for the top of the administrative hierarchy.

(b) Far less teaching responsibility, both in credit hours taught and average class size, for the tenure track faculty. (25% of the teaching is done by adjunct faculty who in some cases are paid literally nothing, or rather are paid in “prestige.”)

(c) Genuine Corinthian leather facilities.

The school is running a big deficit, which wouldn’t exist, holding everything else constant, if it had increased annual real spending by 60% rather than 100% over the past couple of decades.

The solution to this completely self-inflicted financial crisis, is to stop spending so much money. Maybe we could even give some of the resulting savings back to our students, in the form of lower tuition, instead of sticking them with six figure non-dischargeable debts and increasingly poor job prospects.

Borges y Yo

[ 48 ] November 12, 2013 |

um msu

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Ann Arbor and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the internet and see his name on a list of assistant coaches or in a wikipedia entry. I like the west coast offense, jet sweeps, power running games, Krispy Kreme donuts, and Youtube highlights of Anthony Carter; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor.

It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his offense, and this offense justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid game plans, but those plans cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the television rights and the tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Schembechler knew that all things long to persist in their being; the tailback eternally wants to be a tailback and the wolverine a wolverine. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his strategies than in many others or in the laborious ranting of a fan. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the message boards to the games with down and distance, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this post.

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