A few years ago my wife hosted a conference on education reform here in Silicon Valley. After she gave her opening remarks she was approached by an urbanely dressed man speaking with a foreign accent. He complimented her on her remarks and asked if he could speak with her at some point on the phone the following week about a project she might be interested in. I thought the encounter a little odd and asked her what his name was. She could not remember but fished out his business card for me. It turned out he was the Provost from an east coast Ivy League campus.
To the say the least I was taken aback. I explained that the idea of a provost of a major school like that flying out to California just to introduce himself was an exceptional event – roughly equivalent to an emissary from the Vatican coming out to my Jesuit campus to exchange a few words with one of my Jesuit colleagues.
Today I got the same reaction from my wife that she got from me back then. I told her that the Dean of Northwestern Law School, a stalwart top-20 law school for decades, had taken to a leading law school blog to attack me for my alleged “hubris” and ignorance (he used a somewhat nicer sounding word I had not heard before in this context, “unknowing,”) because I had the temerity to blog recently about the closing of Whittier Law School in southern California.
Now, I teach at a law school so obscure most people at most conferences I meeet tell me how nice it must be to teach so close to the ocean – clearly they mix Santa Clara up with UC Santa Cruz. We are ranked 132 in the country and it takes an hour to get to the beach even without traffic, and there is always traffic. And Whittier, well, it’s not ranked at all, but it is only ten minutes to the sand.
So you would hardly think this discussion to be of any concern at all to the Dean of one of the country’s best law schools, right?
And, of course, there is no basis at all to the ad hominem attack of Dean Rodriguez. I simply pointed out what is obvious to anyone willing to pay attention – as I have paid, quite closely now, for several years – to the legal employment market. That market is continuing its longterm expansion with more jobs and higher incomes than ever before. Any law school that closes down now is admitting it does not know how to run a law school. And since the ABA has accredited Whittier and it has something like $13 million in the bank from a recent real estate deal then it is perfectly reasonable to call into question – as I did – the logic of the Whittier Trustees’ decision.
Dean Rodriguez seems to think that I should wait – years? – until the matter is fully litigated between the faculty and the College before weighing in.
I think, on the other hand, the University should have stuck to its bargain with the faculty to include them in shared governance mechanisms to deal with either the financial problem or the future educational strategy of the College. In other words, use the mechanisms set up in 1940 by the AAUP and the American Association of Colleges and Universities to avoid litigation.
Perhaps Dean Rodriguez – who admits he is, in fact, “unknowing” about the situation he is weighing in on – is unfamiliar with the past behavior of Whittier. Only a few years ago they were sued successfully for defrauding faculty during a buyout. So he may be right – they may be lying to the faculty once more, although their disclosures have been quite limited.
So given the track record of the University and the readily available and reliable data from the BLS on employment in Orange County, what is wrong with expressing an informed opinion on the decision of the Trustees?
Of course there is nothing wrong with that. So that leaves the question open – why does the dean of Northwestern Law School care? I know why that Provost came all the way to California to meet my wife – in retrospect, it made perfect sense and it almost worked (although if it had, I would have had to leave my near-oceanside professorship). But what is the bug in Dean Rodriguez’s craw that he has to take to attacking a faculty member whom he does not know, has never met, whose work he does not read and has never seen presented, whose career and reputation are otherwise irrelevant to him?
The only explanation is that something is going on at his own institution that is of relevance to this kerfuffle. So if I were a member of his faculty, I would be paying very careful attention because it seems the dean is suggesting that deans and universities withhold critical information from their constituencies when they make major decisions. Well, maybe they can just litigate and we can see what he is and is not sharing with his own faculty.
UPDATE: Dean Rodriguez has replied to this post on Prawfsblawg – apparently my sense of humor is not to his taste. No substance in his reply, of course, just more ad hominem attacks: I am now “sad” “peculiar” and “defensive” as well as “hubristic” and ignorant. I used to get more substantive and direct (if rude and inaccurate) responses out of Paul Campos!
The mystery as to why a Dean of a major law school – who presumably has more important issues to deal with – is paying attention to this and going out of his way to dismiss someone defending those who are trying to keep an ABA-accredited law school open remains unaddressed.
One possibility has occurred to me. It is a bit cynical but it does pass the test of Occam’s razor. Dean Rodriguez may be trying to go out of his way to denigrate backers of the Whittier faculty and students because he thinks the closure of Whittier is a good thing. He is, after all, concerned about the pressure from the ABA to increase bar passage rates. He applauded the delay in that effort at a recent ABA meeting. One way to alleviate regulatory intervention is market exit. Hence, if Whittier closes, the AALS feels less heat. Yeah, cynical, I know. But, believe me, it’s the friendliest explanation I could come up with – after all, if I were really being cynical I would point to this blog post and the comments of Whittier professor William Patton who basically suggests that Dean Rodriguez is backing a tougher national bar passage rate that would have a racially disparate impact on minority law school graduates.
If anyone else can come up with an explanation as to why the good Dean would care about my blog post about Whittier, then let me know. Comments are opened if signed and constructive. Meanwhile, I have asked the Dean this very question at Prawfsblawg. We will see if he can provide a straight answer without additional personal insults.