Northwestern Law hits a wall – Whittier of the midwest?

Back in 2017 I wrote several blog posts and a guest column in the Daily Journal raising the possibility that the shutdown of Whittier College’s law school was premature in light of the growing demand for law school among undergrads and continuing improvement in the job market for lawyers in southern California.

Oddly, one person who paid very close attention to my comments about a small unranked California law school was the Dean of a top tier midwestern law school, namely Dan Rodriguez of Northwestern. He attacked me personally in a clear attempt to get me to stop paying attention to what was going on at Whittier. 

Naturally, that made me curious as I explained in a second blog post here. There seemed to be very little reason for someone like Dean Rodriguez to lash out the way he did from so far away. At the time I speculated that perhaps there was something going at his own law school:

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.

Since I could not quite believe that he would do something like this I struck thru the lines of the original quote. But the possibility stuck with me.

We learned this week that, in fact, Northwestern’s Law School has been going through its own budgetary crisis. Above The Law – citing a report – reports that the school has announced cuts of staff and non-tenure track faculty. The cuts appear to be fairly significant. 

We don’t know how long the crisis has been developing prior to becoming public knowledge. But, of course, the process that leads to cuts like this is a long one – very likely reaching back to (at least) the last year of Dean Rodriguez’s tenure (he left his position as Dean this past summer), i.e., just as I was coming out publicly in support of Whittier’s faculty fight against that school’s budgetary problems.

The heart of my comments about Whittier which so animated Rodriguez revolved around transparency from the College to the Law School’s faculty and students as well as how faculty might be able to respond. 

Now that he has handed the baton of leadership to a new Dean and returned to the faculty perhaps Rodriguez will have a different perspective. Heck, he might even want to join me as a member of the AAUP. (I am not holding my breath.)

More importantly, he might be more sympathetic to those of us who believe in shared governance and accountability of University administrations.

For example, two questions might be reasonable to raise at NU to both the former Dean and the current Dean are:

  1. why are they in such trouble after securing a major gift from billionaire J.B. Pritzker?
  2. And why are they cutting back in the face of a 19% increase in applications to the law school?