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Law school denialism


david irving

Updated below

Denialism, by which I mean the denial or unwarranted minimization of a disturbing reality, usually comes in several forms.

For example, Holocaust denialism covers a spectrum of arguments, ranging from:

(1) The whole idea of a “Holocaust” is a hoax from beginning to end.

(2) While it’s true Jews were targeted for imprisonment in labor camps, and many died there because of harsh conditions, the existence of death camps at which millions of Jews were systematically murdered in gas chambers is a Zionist myth.

(3) While several million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, including millions in the gas chambers at the various death camps, a lot of other people died in World War II, plus what about Stalin and the kulaks, and this doesn’t make the occupation of Palestine legitimate, so shut up already.

Moving on to racism in America:

(1) The blacks were better off as slaves.

(2) While slavery was bad, Jim Crow remains a reasonable social system, all things judiciously considered.

(3) The 1964 Civil Rights Act ended racism in America, so shut up already.

What about climate change?

(1) The climate isn’t changing.

(2) The climate is changing, but sunspots.

(3)The climate is changing because of human activity, but all proposed interventions will do more harm than good, especially to my position in energy funds, so shut up already.

We’re now having our own little bout of denialism in the law school world. It should be unnecessary to say that lying to a lot of college graduates and leaving them worse off economically and psychologically than they would have been if you hadn’t lied to them isn’t as bad as genocide or slavery or wrecking the world’s environment. On the other hand, “it’s not as bad as the Holocaust” isn’t what one would call a spirited defense of a social practice, plus we must all cultivate our own gardens etc.

Anyway, the denialism busting out among defenders of the law school status quo is a bit unusual, in that most species of denialism tend to manifest themselves as a series of rearguard actions, politically speaking. That is, the dominant form of denialism at any one time tends to move from the strongest forms to weaker ones, as the strongest forms become increasingly untenable.

By contrast, in the law school world, denialism has gone in the other direction. Thus when the law school reform movement first started to get cultural traction a few years ago, the reaction of the denialists was to deplore the use of obviously fake employment stats, but to minimize the extent to which schools were engaging in such practices, while at the same time emphasizing that “the ABA” was already cracking down on the handful of schools that had strayed from the path of righteousness.

Now that applications have cratered, the denialists have decided that the whole so-called law school crisis was just a big hoax from beginning to end. Bernie Burk (Burk himself is not in the denialist camp), describes the current party line:

[Michael Simkovic’s] recent posts have taken the strong and categorical view that law schools, NALP and the ABA ought to report law-graduate employment the same way the U.S. government reports on employment generally, and that any other view is ignorant or misinformed. Board of Labor Statistics and Census data (among others) report people as “employed” if they have any kind of work at all, including work that is part-time, short-term, or (in the case of law-school graduates) entirely unrelated to their legal education; and as “unemployed” only those who are actively looking for work. The widely articulated criticism “that law schools behaved unethically or even committed fraud . . . by presenting their employment statistics in a misleading way,” says Simkovic, “comes down to this: The law schools used the same standard method of reporting data as the U.S. Government.”

A correspondent writes:

Does Simkovic actually exist, or is this is all just a big troll job by Brian Leiter or Steve Diamond? I really can’t believe we’re here 5 years later still debating whether “99% EMPLOYMENT AT GRADUATION” is logically or morally justifiable. I thought we’ve moved on to the “transparency will cure all ills” phase of things.

Simkovic’s position is not merely that there was nothing wrong with law schools touting their graduates as “employed,” without further explanation, even when that employment included a large number of people doing things like working part-time stocking shelves at Lowe’s: he actually takes the position that it’s preferable for law schools to use the generic BLS definition of “employment,” rather than confusing potential law school applicants with more specific information, such as how many of a law school’s graduates are getting jobs as lawyers, as opposed to baristas etc. Any disagreement on this point, he claims, is “based on an incorrect belief that law school only benefits the subset of graduates who practice law . . . .”

I mean really, what is there to say about this kind of thing? In the end it should be allowed to speak for itself.

Update: Much pearl clutching and couch fainting at The Faculty Lounge. The important question isn’t how many lives law schools have wrecked with their deceptive practices, but whether somebody wrote something about legal academics that was unfair and hurt several peoples’ feelings.

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