Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Krotoszynski: Sorry, Hugh Culverhouse. Alabama Law School Class Sizes Aren’t Your Call.

Alabama Logo (2019) (Crossed Out)Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Washington Post op-ed:  Sorry, Hugh Culverhouse. Alabama Law School Class Sizes Aren’t Your Call, by Ronald Krotoszynski (Director of Faculty Research and Professor of Law, Alabama):

The Board of Trustees at the University of Alabama recently voted to return a $21.5 million gift from Hugh Culverhouse Jr. Since this decision, a game of he-said, they-said has ensued. Culverhouse claims the university’s decision relates to his unwavering support of reproductive freedom. The university says its decision relates solely to inappropriate demands by Culverhouse to dictate key aspects of the law school’s administration.

One thing is clear: Culverhouse was insisting on Alabama significantly increasing the law school’s entering class size — and then demanded $10 million of his gift back when the law school demurred (with all of this taking place well before his highly public call for an abortion-related boycott of all things Alabama, notably including the University of Alabama School of Law). Thus, when it comes to law schools, Culverhouse embraces the idea that bigger is better. However, this simply isn’t true. What’s more, this view reflects a deep misunderstanding of the current market for legal employment.

An ethical law school has a duty to consider whether its graduates will enjoy reasonable access to good professional opportunities after they graduate — and class size has a direct, and inverse, relationship to employment outcomes for graduates. ...

[I]n the current market, it’s much easier to find good jobs for 125 law school graduates than to place 250 graduates. Many universities, including but not limited to Alabama, have forgone tuition revenue and used central university funds to permit reductions in class size, to right-size law school enrollments. It would be easy, and remunerative, to admit bigger classes — with less capable students who are less likely to find law-related employment after graduation. Law schools, however, have generally tried to do the right thing.

Rather than pushing for law schools to enroll more students, it would be better if would-be donors facilitated public-interest career paths by making it possible for current law students to graduate with lower debt loads. Taking this step would permit more newly minted lawyers to take positions that involve providing legal services to chronically underserved communities desperately in need of them. ...

It would be disingenuous to suggest that reductions in law school class sizes have nothing to do with the annual law school rankings. But it would be equally disingenuous to suggest that cuts to law school class sizes are only about gaming the rankings. There are important benefits to the students that relate directly to right-sizing a law school’s entering class size. Law schools should be given credit, not blame, for considering seriously whether our graduates will enjoy robust professional opportunities after they graduate. Moreover, regardless of whether right-sizing entering law school classes represents the best policy or not, surely the law school, and not a donor, should be entitled to make this important judgment call.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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Let's be real, the class size is more about increasing the US News Rankings than anything else for the law school.

Posted by: Chris | Jun 12, 2019 3:26:42 AM

This isn't Culverhouse's fault. Alabama has plainly been doing anything to make itself appear an “elite” law school. It simply, and predictably, hasn't worked.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Jun 12, 2019 5:34:47 AM

The question is not one of entitlement. As a matter of law, a donor can attach almost any conditions s/he wants to a gift. The question is whether the donee is willing to accept those conditions.

If Alabama really did choose to reject the gift because of the stated conditions, my hat is off to them (or it would be if I ever wore hats). I suspect, however, that at the very least Mr. Culverhouse's statements on abortion provided cover without which the school might well have kept the money and accepted the conditions.

Posted by: Theodore P Seto | Jun 12, 2019 7:13:29 AM

I agree with Prof. Krotoszynski. Honestly, this donor seems like more trouble than he is worth, like one of those loudmouths who have a lot of money and try to control an institution even though they have no idea what they are talking about. By giving him back his money, Alabama saved itself a lot of unnecessary stress.

Posted by: Adam Lamparello | Jun 14, 2019 5:13:17 PM

Ted, how do you square your suspicion with the now known timing of events?

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Jun 15, 2019 12:52:26 PM