Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Simkovic: Conservative Media Critique Of Deans' Circumvention Of Supreme Court's Affirmative Action Ban May Exacerbate Decline In Law School Applications

Michael Simkovic (USC; Google Scholar), Law School Deans Become Target of Conservative Media Ire:

Washington Free Beacon 3[L]aw school deans' discussions about ways of continuing affirmative action after the ban are providing fodder to conservative media organizations who are attempting to depict academic institutions as lawless, duplicitous, and hostile to poor whites (and Asians).  Most law professors and most deans probably don't regularly read such publications, and so are unaware of them. I only became aware of the criticism after a friend sent the information to me.

But many people apparently do read these sites, and their talking points often spread to mainstream media organizations with a broader reach.  That's what happened in the 2010s, when the Cato Institute's Walter Olson's "School for Misrule" depicted law schools as far left organizations that emphasized ideological indoctrination over nuts-and-bolts legal education and left their students heavily indebted and unprepared to practice law.  Olson's criticisms, and similar criticisms from others—though wildly underestimating the economic benefits of legal education, both in ordinary times and during recessions—set off a flurry of mainstream media criticism of law schools that went on for years.

Media attacks, and law schools' belated, at times clumsy, and often uncoordinated responses to them, ultimately led law school applications to fall off a cliff from which they have never recovered.

In 2004, 105,000 prospective JD's applied to law school. By 2010, it was 91,000, and by 2016 it had fallen to 57,000.  As of 2022, it has recovered only slightly to 64,000, still down 42 percent since 2010. ...

While it's hard to know precisely what is driving the decline in interest in law school, it seems plausible that the criticism—that law schools place too much of an emphasis on political indoctrination and not enough on preparing all of their students for professional and financial success—has resonated with prospective students. ...

What obscure conservative papers are saying today could end up on Fox News or ABC or in the WSJ or the NY Times next month.

Although many law school deans will disagree with conservative criticism, responsible leaders of law schools nevertheless cannot afford to ignore them.

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