Following up on my previous posts (links below): TaxProf Blog op-ed: Whittier’s Big Mistake, by Stephen Diamond (Santa Clara):
Inevitably law school critics are crowing over the recently announced closure by Whittier College of its 50 year old ABA accredited law school. The news shocked and angered students who appeared to have no advance notice. Faculty immediately filed for a TRO (represented by a recent star graduate of their own law school, by the way) which was denied but they no doubt intend to respond with a full lawsuit.
And they should.
As to the legal issues, the closure arguably violates the only two bases allowed under the AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure to which Whittier is a signatory for firing tenured faculty, financial exigency (there is none) and educational considerations (this has to be a conclusion reached after meaningful consultation with the faculty as a part of shared governance).
As for the actual impact of getting a JD at Whittier, while the unranked school does not have the best track record of late with respect to bar passage, it has been a gateway school into the legal profession for a diverse array of students for many decades. In a state like California that is very important, particularly in the era of Trump when racist and anti-immigrant messaging is making life even more difficult for black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American students to enter the most rewarding professions.
And the decision is remarkably short sighted. It appears as if the trustees are suffering from a kind of cognitive disability — they are exiting a market that has shown steady improvement over the past five years. I have already blogged here on the recent new national data showing that the employment opportunities for law students have improved steadily for the last two decades. But that is just as true for the Orange County area, a market that Whittier has served for many years.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of lawyers employed in that area has grown from 5910 in May, 2013 to 7570 in May, 2016. (BLS data is published every spring for the data from the prior year – so that is the latest info we have.) That is a 22% rise in employment. And that number does not include solo practitioners and partners. Incomes have improved steadily as well, growing from $149,000 in 2013 to $161,000 in 2016, a 7.5% increase.
In other words, Whittier College is exiting an expanding market for its own graduates. No wonder the students and faculty are upset.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage: