Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Paul Campos's final bit of revisionist history

Several readers have written to alert me to the fact that apparently even Paul Campos has realized that his blog didn't have much content, apart from insulting and deriding Deans, faculty and anyone else who contested his claims.   But, true to form, he can't say goodbye without just making things up out of whole cloth.  He writes:

I started [the blog] because I had something to say, and this seemed a good way of saying it. For a few days I wrote anonymously – something I had never done before – more as a stylistic experiment than anything else.  But naturally people in legal academia instantly became more concerned with Who Was Saying These Outrageous Things than in whether those things might actually be true.  
In fact, it was Campos himself who made a big deal out of "who was saying these things":  namely, as prominently advertised on his blog at the start, "a tenured law professor at a Tier 1 law school".  He made a big deal out of that because it was meant to lend his claims, including his false ones, credibility, and thus it was precisely he who made his identity the issue.  The fact that his initial posts, deriding allegedly lazy law faculty who produce lousy scholarship--a transparent case of projection, as I noted at the start, and which accounted for the hostile response he got--were false, inflammatory and, at best, misleading is what annoyed even those who didn't know Campos and his history of trying to garner media attention by any means possible.

But true to form, Campos now declares that "the core message" of his blog was diferent, namely,
that legal academia is operating on the basis of an unsustainable economic model, which requires most law students to borrow more money to get law degrees than it makes sense for them to borrow, given their career prospects, and that for many years law schools worked hard, wittingly or unwittingly, to hide this increasingly inconvenient truth from both themselves and their potential matriculants.
But, of course, that message (the bit in bold)--which was Brian Tamanaha's and Bill Henderson's, and was widely covered and discussed on this blog long before Campos ever came to it (though in all three cases with more nuance and accuracy than Campos ever mustered)--was a late arrival for Campos, and even when he got to it, he still muddied it with smears and insults of prospective students and professional colleagues.  (He even interfered with the operations of his own school, quite remarkably, and went so far as to exploit a student's suicide.)   The facts about the cost of legal education and the state of the job market are now widely known thanks to David Segal's New York Times series in 2011-12 which, notwithstanding, a lot of inaccuracies, made the debacle of the legal job market common knowledge, and Senators Coburn and Boxer pressuring the ABA to force law schools to report job statistics more accurately.  Sometimes Campos managed to stay on that message, once he discovered it, but much of the time he spent insulting and deriding Deans and law school administrators as sociopaths, conmen, and liars.

The key fact to remember about Paul Campos is that, in 2005, he went on Fox TV and called for a University of Colorado colleague, Ward Churchill, to be fired for his offensive political speech--not for alleged academic misconduct (allegations which came later), but simply for his political speech.  Campos (who even directed at one time Colorado's center for constitutional law), in other words, realized he could get the media spotlight on himself by calling for a blatant violation of the First Amendment.  (It's a standing problem of his.)  That was the first clear sign that this was an individual without a core, intellectual or moral.  Everything I've ever learned about Campos since (including much I've never written about) has confirmed that diagnosis.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I hope the ABA Task Force will consider some sensible changes to the status quo in legal education.

ADDENDUM:  A colleague elsewhere writes:  "I like how the lists of people he thanks includes everyone who proposed solutions and reforms to legal education, as though they were also supporters of his.  I know for a fact that some people on those lists think Campos is a disgrace."

ANOTHER:  Paul Horwitz (Alabama), ever the good, even-handed Canadian, comes to Campos's defense, and what a defense it is:

Campos seems to me to be essentially a journalist moonlighting as a law professor, and perhaps without some of the professional norms I would expect from a full-time journalist....

Many of his fans loved his writing style. I found it repetitive (how many times do you need to use the same quote from Upton Sinclair before it gets old?), self-indulgent, evasive and squirrelly, preening, and finally tedious. His analysis of the useful data he provided was often correct, in my view. But he seemed rarely content to make a basic point that would have been sufficiently devastating in itself, if the opportunity presented itself to make a far more tendentious de-haut-en-bas observation about some "big truth" that everyone but himself lacked the courage and acuity to recognize. A vivid style is one element of good writing; but so is self-restraint. Campos was much stronger on the former than the latter....

In short, there were plenty of reasons to find aspects of his blog objectionable, and his suggestion in his final post that everyone who objected to what he wrote did so either because they were angry at his intrepid truth-telling or because of personal animus seems to me badly exaggerated and self-serving. The latter seems especially silly because, judged by his writing, Campos certainly has no objection to responding to others in a personal rather than a substantive way and drawing broad conclusions about the motives of others.

The prosecution rests after that defense!

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