July 20, 2018

Which law schools could merge? (Michael Simkovic)

There are economies of size in legal education.  Larger law schools can support a more highly specialized faculty, offer students a wider range of course offerings, amortize fixed costs over a larger number of students, and negotiate better terms with their vendors.  As some law schools have shrunk to below efficient scale, mergers may offer an opportunity to quickly increase size and improve quality without increasing local capacity beyond sustainable levels.  As Stephen Bainbridge has previously noted, many industries respond to declining markets with a wave of mergers.  Law schools could follow suit.

Thus far, there have been mergers between (1) Mitchell and Hamline and (2) the two campuses of Rutgers (Camden and Newark).

Cornell has put together a Google map showing all of the ABA-approved law schools in the country. 

The map is a bit out of date--U.C. Irvine is missing, and Mitchell and Hamline are still separate law schools.  Nevertheless, the map is useful for thinking about which law schools could potentially pool their resources because:

1) They are geographically proximate

2) They serve a reasonably similar profile of students

3) They are organizationally similar (public vs. private; standalone vs part of a university; secular vs. religious)

The map only shows 1 (it would be nice to have color coding for other info), but those who are familiar with law schools can fill in the blank information.  In areas like Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and the Greater New York City area, which have a high density law schools in close proximity to one another, to my mind there are possibilities that suggest themselves.


July 20, 2018 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

July 19, 2018

University of Illinois, Chicago Board proves acquisition of John Marshall Law School in Chicago

A big moment for the legal education landscape in Chicago if this goes through and if the new UIC John Marshall Law School offers state resident tuition discounting comparable to that at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  While Urbana-Champaign won't be much affected, there will be considerable pressure on the private law schools in Chicago, namely, Chicago-Kent, DePaul, and Loyola-Chicago.  (Northern Illinois, another public law school in the far suburbs of Chicago, won't be helped either.)   The real pressure will be on DePaul, which has suffered from years of mismanagement and turmoil, and is the lowest rank of the three in the USNews.com rankings (#128 most recently; Loyola-Chicago and Chicago-Kent are solidly in the top 100).  

One unknown is how much of the John Marshall law faculty will be taken on board by UIC; in terms of scholarly prominence, it is clearly weaker than the faculties at Chicago-Kent, DePaul, and Loyola-Chicago.


July 19, 2018 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Rankings | Permalink

The trouble at Vermont Law School isn't due to "unsustainable" debt levels for students--but it might be because of unsustainable tuition discounting and underinvestment in outreach (Michael Simkovic)

Vermont Law School recently stripped many of its tenured faculty of tenure.  A recent article in Forbes by Mark Cohen, a lecturer at Northwestern, claims that Vermont's financial problems are a sign that tuition is too high and student debt is unsustainable. 

The data doesn't support his contention.  When student debt levels are unsustainable, student default rates are high.  But at Vermont--and at most law schools--default rates are low.  Vermont Law School's 3-year cohort default rates over the last 3 years available (classes of 2012-2014) are between 0.3 and 1.2 percent, while the national average cohort default default rate across educational institutions is close to 11.5 percent.  Nor are Vermont graduates defaulting in large numbers on their Perkins loans.  The 2016 default rate, the most recent available, was 3.5 percent for Vermont, versus an average across all educational institutions of around 11.5 percent.  Perkins loans are not eligible for Income Based Repayment, so Vermont's relatively strong performance is likely not due too a disproportionately large share of its graduates enrolling in IBR.  (Not all Vermont grads will practice law in Vermont, but lawyers in Vermont are actually paid reasonably well--around 120,000 on average according to the BLS).

Vermont Law School's problem is not that tuition is so high that student debt levels are unsustainable relative to students' post graduation income and other financial resources.  Rather, Vermont's problem seems to be that there are too few students, and because of aggressive tuition discounting intended to attract them, the students who matriculate are paying too little to make the school financially healthy.  Vermont Law School's  2016 529 shows that around 90 percent of incoming students received some scholarship, and half of students receive half tuition scholarships or better.  

Vermont Law School could try to respond by offering even more scholarship, but its competitors have deeper pockets, and can outspend Vermont until it runs out of room to maneuver.  Escalating a price war that Vermont will surely lose would be foolish. Degrading the quality of its education by relying on more lecturers and adjuncts risks causing a death spiral in which quality, enrollments, reputation, and revenue per student all continue to drop.

To be successful and sustainable in the long run, Vermont may need to find a way to attract students--not just from Vermont, but from across the region--other than offering a cut-rate price.  Rather than compete on price, Vermont should find a better way to reach out to those students who are most likely to find Vermont's offerings appealing.


July 19, 2018 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

July 18, 2018

New York Times contributors get an unpleasant surprise when they try to write about higher education without bashing it (Michael Simkovic)

Ellen Shell, a journalism professor at Boston University, recently wrote an article for the New York Times arguing that while higher education confers vitally important advantages in the labor market,[1] education alone is not enough to overcome the disadvantages of childhood poverty and to promote greater equality.[2]  The purpose of Shell’s article was apparently to advocate for more comprehensive efforts to overcome poverty, above and beyond greater investment in higher education.[3] 

In the hands of editors at the New York Times, the title of Professor Shell’s Op Ed became "College May Not Be Worth It Anymore."

Several readers who contacted me about this article assumed that Professor Shell was an elitist who believed that the poor did not deserve to be as well educated as her own children.[4]  Apparently so did the author of the study she cited.  He says that to the extent that Professor Shell may have intended to downplay the benefits of education to poor children, she misunderstood his work.[5] 

I contacted Professor Shell to ask about the discrepancy between the contents of her article and its title, and whether New York Times editors had changed her title.

She wrote back that she was surprised by the title, that it did not match the contents of her article, that it must have come from the editor, and that it did not endear her to the administration at her university.

I knew to ask Professor Shell before jumping to conclusions because I have also been surprised to find that New York Times editors attached inapposite, critical titles to my work.[6]  And I have repeatedly heard similar complaints from other professors who have written Op Eds for the New York Times and from sources who have been misquoted by the New York Times and had their professional reputations damaged as a result.

Most readers of newspapers assume that the writer listed in the byline of a newspaper article or Op Ed is responsible not only for the text of an article, essay or Op Ed, but also for the lead or title that appears at the top. 

At the New York Times, that is not the case.[7] 

Editors choose the titles of Op Eds or articles.  Because many readers only read the lead or title, and not the full article, this gives senior management at media companies an enormous amount of power.  This power comes without public scrutiny, since usually only the name of the “author” (and not the editor) appears in the byline of the article.  

Continue reading


July 18, 2018 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Science, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

July 15, 2018

More fun with Akhil Amar

Several readers sent me this (a propos this).


July 15, 2018 in Law Professors Saying Dumb Things, Legal Humor, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

July 13, 2018

How secure is tenure? (Michael Simkovic)

Colleges and universities typically pay educated professionals a fraction of what similar individuals earn in the private sector (typically around 60 to 80 cents on the dollar) in return for greater job security and academic freedom.  In recent years, some law schools have effectively reneged on this bargain, slashing compensation, de-prioritizing research support and/or accepting outside funding that compromises academic freedom, and terminating even some tenured faculty members.

Recent reports suggest that Vermont Law School has taken this to the extreme.

According to the ABA Journal, Vermont Law School recently stripped tenure from 14 of its 19 tenured professors.  This was done without a formal declaration of financial exigency, and according to faculty members and the AAUP, apparently without the consent of faculty members typically required for such decisions. 

Professors were reportedly offered severance equal to 6 months salary and health benefits, but only if they agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement and full release of all legal claims.  This package is no more generous than severance pay routinely offered to long-serving (but untenured) employees of for-profit corporations. 

Continue reading


July 13, 2018 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink

July 12, 2018

Yale Law alumni, students, and some faculty issue "open letter" about Judge Kavanaugh

From the letter:

We write today as Yale Law students, alumni, and educators ashamed of our alma mater. Within an hour of Donald Trump’s announcement that he would nominate Brett Kavanaugh, YLS ‘90, to the Supreme Court, the law school published a press release boasting of its alumnus’s accomplishment. The school’s post included quotes from Yale Law School professors about Judge Kavanaugh’s intellect, influence and mentorship of their students.

Yet the press release's focus on the nominee's professionalism, pedigree, and service to Yale Law School obscures the true stakes of his nomination and raises a disturbing question:  Is there nothing more important to Yale Law School than its proximity to power and prestige?

Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination presents an emergency — for democratic life, for our safety and freedom, for the future of our country. His nomination is not an interesting intellectual exercise to be debated amongst classmates and scholars in seminar. Support for Judge Kavanaugh is not apolitical. It is a political choice about the meaning of the constitution and our vision of democracy, a choice with real consequences for real people.


July 12, 2018 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

July 10, 2018

Akhil Amar shores up the clout of his SCOTUS clerkship recommendations going forward

June 25, 2018

Middle Tennessee State University enters negotiations to acquire Valparaiso's law school

An announcement from MTSU here.  MTSU is located in the Nashville metropolitan area, and is the second biggest public university campus in the state.


June 25, 2018 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

June 22, 2018

The continuing University subsidy of the U of Minnesota Law School

This story is certainly indicative of the depths of the decline in law school applicants especially in the Midwest.  That the flagship law school, long one of the top twenty in the United States, should still be facing these difficulties is sobering.  And, of course, since USNews.com runs American legal education, the school faces a stark choice:  lower admissions standards (and scholarship offers) to take more paying students with lesser numerical credentials, and the school's USNews.com rank will drop; if the school's USNews.com rank drops, some number of out-of-state students who might have paid to go there, won't, and the cycle will continue.  Some clever state AG needs to find a way to take Bob Morse & co. to court for consumer fraud, and end this misery for everyone.

UPDATE:  There's a comment from Bill McGeveran over at the Blog Emperor's post about this story that deserves notice:

First, of the 11 public law schools in the top 30, the only ones to get a lower percentage of their revenue from state support are Berkeley, Michigan, and Virginia -- all with endowments 2 to 4 times larger than ours. The so-called "subsidy" is actually bringing us into line with our peers.

Second, our applicant numbers, yield, and class size have all increased significantly for the entering classes of 2017 and 2018, without any sacrifice in the credentials of our incoming students.

All law schools need to be conscious of costs today, and we're no exception. But there's no dire crisis at Minnesota, even if that's a less interesting news story.


June 22, 2018 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Rankings | Permalink