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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tamanaha: UC-Irvine's Original Sin: Chasing Prestige at the Expense of Public Service

UC-Irvine LogoFollowing up on Friday's post, Chemerinsky Dismisses Tamanaha's Call for High-Quality, $20,000 Per Year Law Schools: Balkinization:  Why UC Irvine Went Wrong: Chasing Prestige at the Expense of Public Service, by Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.):

In Failing Law Schools, for one critical reason I argue that, despite creating an excellent law school, UC Irvine went wrong: it is now among the most expensive law schools in the country (2012: $47,000 resident, $53,000 non-resident). When you add estimated annual living expenses of about $20,000, students will pay $200,000 for an Irvine law degree, and the average debt of the class of 2015 will exceed $100,000.

Students with debt that large are compelled by financial necessity to pursue corporate law jobs. ... Irvine law professors can saturate the atmosphere and curriculum with public service—it doesn’t matter. Irvine students will be forced to work in corporate law—and the many students who don’t land these positions will struggle under a huge debt. That is the reality of it. The “public service” goal was doomed, I argue in the book, by Dean Chemerinsky’s determination to create a "top 20" law school right out of the box. To achieve this goal, he recruited law professors from top law schools, who come at a high price.

An op-ed in the LA Times penned by Dean Chemerinsky in 2010 explains Irvine's high salary scale:

Over the last few weeks, I have negotiated salaries with superb professors we are attempting to recruit who are currently teaching at Harvard, Northwestern and Yale. The University of California must match their current salaries or they will not come. As much as I love living in Southern California, I could not have afforded to leave Duke University if it meant taking a substantial pay cut.

If you are recruiting against top law schools, you pay top dollar for professors. Publicly available UC salary records reveal that Irvine law professors are very well compensated (two received gross compensation topping $300,000 in 2011). Under the current economic model of law schools, I wrote in the book, “affordability and elite status are mutually exclusive.”

Understandably upset by my critical comments about UCI, Dean Chemerinsky has made two recent rebuttals: You Get What You Pay For in Legal Education and Law Prof’s Ideal, Affordable Law School Not Possible. In neither response does he contest my assertion that UCI grads (class of 2015) will be forced by their debt burden to seek corporate law jobs regardless of a desire they might have to work in public service.

He insists that tuition must be in the $50,000 range if UCI is to land in the top 20. On that point, he and I agree. What Dean Chemerinsky does not explain, however, is why it was necessary to create a “top 20” law school. ... I am skeptical of his suggestion that there were only two options: create a “top 20” law school or a “fourth tier” law school. One way to have kept costs down with no significant loss in faculty talent would have been to recruit top professors from excellent law schools with a lower pay scale (Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, North Carolina, William & Mary, etc.) rather than from Harvard, Northwestern and Yale. But he went for the prestige.

[T]here is something vaguely discomfiting about a law school that urges its students to engage in public service—which requires a significant financial sacrifice on their part—while professors are paid their market value; high professor pay adds to the debt burden, making public service work that much harder for graduates to manage. Although Irvine professors are fully entitled to earn market value, what results is in tension with their advocacy of public service.

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The public interest angle that Chancellor Drake and Chemerinsky took to sell the U.C. Regents on the school was a clear joke from day one.

Everyone knew it at the time, but it's even more evident given the ridiculous in-state tuition that Irvine charges (as Tamanaha points out, and no, IBR is not an acceptable rebuttal).

A report conducted by the California Postsecondary Education Council in 2007, assessing whether the U.C. Regents should approve the creation of Irvine Law(linked below), advised against it.

The Report clearly showed, way back in 2007, that California did not need another law school (top 20 or otherwise) as the projected need for lawyers in the state was already being met, and would continue to be met (indeed, exceeded) by existing schools.

Further, the report specifically refuted Irvine's public interest ploy, and referenced Berkeley, in particular, as doing more than enough to address the public interest needs.

From the report:

Based on a review of proposal data, documents, and
analyses provided by the University of California,
Irvine (UCI) and the University of California Office
of the President, including recently submitted supplemental
information, the UC Irvine proposal does
not satisfactorily meet:

1. The industry and occupational demand component
of the Commission’s social need criteria;

2. The program duplication component of the
Commission criteria regarding the number of
existing and proposed programs in the field;

3. The Commission’s total cost criteria.

Although California could benefit from a higher
proportion of law school graduates pursuing careers
in public interest law, this issue is being addressed
by the California Bar Association and by a number
of existing public and independent law schools,
most noticeably the UC Berkeley law school.
These collective efforts, which appear quite promising,
greatly lessen the need at the present time to
establish a new public law school to increase the
supply of public interest lawyers.
Given the above findings, the staff recommend that
the Commission not concur with the proposal to establish
a public law school at the University of California,

Again, there was clearly no need for another "top 20" law school in California. Southern California alone already had two (UCLA and USC), and the state overall already had 4 top 20 schools (Stanford, Berkeley, USC, UCLA), and probably 5 soon if U.C. Davis continues on its current trajectory. that's the highest density of top 20 schools in the U.S. (New York only has 3).

Nor was there a need for 5th faux-public school in California that costs more for in-staters than many privates, the state already had 4 (Berkley, Davis, Hastings, UCLA).

So why did they proceed, in the face of the Report? Ego, that's why Irvine was needed, logic and reason be damned.

The school was snake oil forced upon a cash-strapped public university system, and strapped California taxpayers, who don't give a damn about citation counts.

But the good folks at Irvine Law simply cannot fathom that a group with their citation count could possibly be questioned. Their existence is inherently justified!

Posted by: Anon | Aug 28, 2012 12:25:03 PM

UCI has failed to attract top students especially with the way they innitaily handed free rides.

Posted by: zman | Aug 28, 2012 3:43:36 PM

It is commonly assumed that private sector or corporate careers are less worthy than "public service" positions - and that the altruistic thing for young people to do is to turn their back on corporate America - especially if it is offering a lot of money - and to instead engage in "public service", which very often means working for the government or at a foundation that has received a grant.

Maybe we shouldn't be so ready to presume the "public service" choice is in the best interest of society. Maybe we should not be so ready to discount the possibility the higher pay that comes with some private sector opportunities may reflect the very high value services rendered in the private sector have, not just for the immediate bidder, for the larger society (the customer base) that bidder confronts in his/her business that encourages such high bidding.

Maybe the social utility of many of the "public service" opportunities are over-rated - such that the truly altruistic thing for an idealistic young person to do in many instances would be to take heed of market signals and to take to heart the sincerity with which those willing to pay more vie for services. This would mean, in many cases, that an altruistic young person should accept a "boring" corporate job in the belief that, just possibly, those bidding with their own money have reckoned value more accurately and with more care and thought than those bidding with the government or grant money.

How much of our resources have been badly allocated by virtue of a reflexive over-encouragement of young people to follow their "dreams" rather than society's signals as sent though the marketplace?

Posted by: Joseph W. Mooney | Aug 29, 2012 7:01:58 AM

Can I sue the scam blog poster "Anon" above for trademark infringement? The real Anon loves you, UC Irvine.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 31, 2012 4:18:55 AM

"Students with debt that large are compelled by financial necessity to pursue corporate law jobs"

No, they're not. They can use Income Based Repayment and get full forgiveness of their debts after 10 years of public service. They aren't forced to work in the private sector if they don't want too.

They choose to work in the private sector because they want to be surrounded by smart people, live in a nice part of town, drive a luxury car and dress well.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 31, 2012 4:21:45 AM