Chicago’s Brian Leiter piles on in the great Whittier Debate – but questions remain unanswered!

Chicago’s Brian Leiter weighed in today in the great Whittier Debate on the side of his north side colleague Dan Rodriguez.

He endorses Rodriguez’s claim that blogging about the shutdown of Whittier can only be based on ignorance because, well, we don’t know what we don’t know. I gather neither of them spend too much time talking to their law and economics colleagues about bounded rationality but there will always be things we do not know. But, of course, when it comes to law schools and to Whittier, we know quite a lot. I think we know a lot more about Whittier right now than we do about Chicago or Northwestern.

For example:

1) We know Whittier has a greater than 60% diverse student body (in Orange County which is 60% white; fwiw, [**ad hominem warning**] Chicago and NU are in the low 30’s in a city that is 55% non-white). Thus, we know the loss of Whittier will have a disparate impact on minority JD aspirants. And yet, all we get out of Rodriguez on the race question is a lot of white noise.

2) We know that until a few weeks ago there was a deal on the table to sell the school to a non-profit thus suggesting the school remained both educationally and financially viable.

3) We know that the land on which the school sits was sold to a limited partnership for $35 million netting the school some $13 million in cash.

4) We also know that the school was NOT in an operating deficit.

5) We know that law school faculty contend that there was no proper exercise of shared governance as required by the AAUP Statement to which Whittier is a signatory.

6) We do know that Whittier has struggled with its bar passage rate which is why I wrote in my original blog post that Whittier “does not have the best track record of late with respect to bar passage.”

7) We also know that ALL California schools have struggled with bar passage (even Rodriguez has admitted there is a California problem) and that ALL schools nationally have suffered with employment outcomes in the last several years.

8) Brian claims I ignored the relevant facts about outcomes for Whittier graduates. That is not true of the original post where I said that Whittier is a “gateway” for minorities into the legal profession, certainly true and certainly relevant.

If he had looked at the reported employment data himself – perhaps he did and “politely ignored it” – he would find out that (as I observed in the recent debate) the numbers have hovered around 30% for Full Time Long Term JD required jobs – not great but not horrible in light of the general economic situation. (Figures back to 2012 below.)

But they also show that there was a significant improvement over the prior year consistent with the BLS data about an improvement nationally and in Orange County.

(One myth out there is that lower ranked schools have somehow turned into horrible schools once the credit crisis hit – in fact, lower ranked schools have always had much lower placement rates – applicants certainly know this despite paternalistic claims that they are too stupid to understand the challenges.)

9) Speaking of the OC, one fact that I raised that no one – not in the media accounts, not in the terse Whittier announcement, not in the “ignorant bloviating” (to borrow a felicitious phrase of Prof. Leiter) of Rodriguez – paid any attention to is that the employment situation in Orange County, which Whittier serves, is improving significantly (employment growth for lawyers is up 22%). Thus, it suggests that Whittier is exiting a market (perhaps under severe political pressure) just as it is improving – a classic cognitive mistake.

And that was the major point of my original post. The post was based on a simple and readily ascertainable fact and was not an “unknowing” act of hubris, as Rodriguez claimed.

He was so off base with his intemperate remarks that his (hubristic and unkowing?) intervention raises as yet unanswered questions: why did Whittier really close? If it was a rational act, then why not engage the faculty as required? If closing was rational, why did someone want to buy the school until just a few weeks ago? What happened at the last minute to scare that buyer away?

Rodriguez may be right – it may take litigation to answer these questions. But I have a better idea – I think the State Bar should investigate and report to its membership what happened here. And I think the state legislature should monitor that investigation as should the California Supreme Court. Whittier is a canary in the coal mine for the critical question of legal education, access to legal services and access to legal employment for California’s increasingly diverse population. At the end of the day this is as much a political and social question as it is an economic one.

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Whittier’s Full Time Long Term Employment Outcomes (reported to ABA/2016 is preliminary):

2016 Graduates:

FTLT Bar: 29%

2015 Graduates:

FTLT Bar: 21%

2014 Graduates:

FTLT Bar: 27%

2013 Graduates:

FTLT Bar: 26.6%

2012 Graduates:

FTLT Bar: 34.7%

Detailed actuals here.