The elephant in the room spooks Colorado Law’s Paul Campos

Atteberry-elephantRoom721Consider for a moment, if you have the fortitude, the dismal plight of anti-law school gadfly Paul Campos, who somehow still collects a very comfortable salary from the oh-so-tolerant taxpayers and law students of Colorado despite his oft stated personal belief that he is engaged in scamming them.

Having imploded in spectacular fashion – as detailed by Brian Leiter here and by me here – on the pages of The New York Times he is now frightened that even his diehard followers in the anti-law school blogosphere will abandon him.

After all, among those who pounced on Campos for his disastrously wrong-headed critique of higher education were liberal sites Slate (“one of the worst explanations”), Crooked Timber and Demos (“terrible explanation”), not to mention Nathan Brostrom, the CFO of the University of California and Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute. In fact, it is safe to say this column generated more attention to the limited capability and insight of Professor Campos than anything he has written to date. Unfortunately for him his misguided effort all but guarantees that he never again plays any credible role in the major debates about this important and complex institution.

His fix? Ignore the elephant in the room and, instead, distract or coddle his dwindling band of followers by drudging up two year old exchanges about alleged problems with the employment data compiled by law schools more than four years ago. This despite the fact that both logic and the law made it quite obvious that that data did not cause the ups and downs in law school enrollment any more than the data collected by scientists about the weather impacts climate change.*

Oh, and while Campos was at it he threw in a few ad hominem attacks along the way.

This all may be emotionally satisfying to Campos and his gang but it won’t have much impact on the fact that he has demonstrated once again his inability to understand the basic economic principles that govern higher education and the wider labor market.

There is a final unfortunate aspect to the most recent comments of Campos that he shares with at least one other prominent leader of the anti-law school blogging world. Namely, his persistence in attacking his opponents by attacking the schools at which they teach. Campos’ comrade in arms, Deborah Merritt of Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, recently attempted the same gambit when she clearly realized her feeble efforts to undermine the solid, peer reviewed and published research of Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall) and Frank McIntyre (Rutgers) had failed. Merritt’s own “research” in this area has not survived this kind of assessment but that has nothing to do with where she teaches (even though it’s not Harvard.)

Behind this base and crude tactic appears to be an assumption that if you teach at a lower ranked law school (where employment outcomes are often weaker than those at higher ranked schools) it says something disabling about your research. The implications of this kind of argument for the integrity of academia as a whole should be readily apparent. Of course they may not be to the kind of follower that Campos and Merritt aim to recruit and so they continue this approach. In my own field, I wonder what would have happened to some of our most important theoretical insights if, for example, the world had derided the research of Michael Jensen on agency theory because when he published his landmark article while at the University of Rochester (with William Meckling also at Rochester), long before he ended up at Harvard.

In any case, I was pleased to see Ted Seto, of Loyola Marymount School of Law, call out Merritt stating he thinks “it regrettable that Prof. Merritt feels compelled to go after Simkovic’s law school. This kind of ad hominem attack has no place in respectable academic scholarship.”

It is, of course, too much to ask that Campos change his stripes but perhaps a few more of those so new to his gambit that they are tempted to adopt his views on law school will instead look for objective and reliable sources of information in the future. Those sources, including the important work of Simkovic and McIntyre, make clear that for most law students earning a JD makes more financial sense than going through life with the BA as their terminal degree. In fact, this is true even taking into account the cycles of the labor market as the most recent research straightforwardly demonstrates.

*Of course, in theory, behavioral biases of potential law school applicants might impact decisions about whether to apply to law school. “Short termism,” for example, or bounded rationality, can prejudice decision making even though the objective data on outcomes in terms of lifetime earnings have not changed. The critics of law school like this possibility since they like to invoke it to demonstrate that their minor impact on the debate about law school data changed the dynamic of the legal education market place. I have not seen any serious data to back this up, however.