We know that tuition keeps going up at American law schools. And, for the most part, we know where the money goes. Law schools use tuition money and alumni donations to fund capital projects and law professor salaries. And, at some schools, the law school kicks back some money to the larger university. Law schools are cash cows, and everybody likes money.
Who is to blame for this? It’s hard to say. I tend to blame the American Bar Association, since the ABA is one of the few entities with regulatory authority over legal education (some law students are trying to get the Department of Education involved).
If the ABA will not act, it’s only natural for people to make as much money as possible, with reckless disregard to who gets trampled along the way. But one can find other culprits if you look hard enough. You could blame law school administrators, who are more concerned with money than education. You could blame the students themselves, for willingly forking over all of this cash. You could blame the federal government, for seemingly giving away money without making sure the taxpayers are getting a return on their investment.
But you know who you shouldn’t blame? Law school faculty. That’s right — they might get fancy new buildings and make six-figure salaries, but it’s not really their fault that the cost of a legal education has outstripped its value.
Who among us would not take more money and more perks for doing our same job?
Today is a big day at Stanford Law School. They’re opening their new law building today, and Attorney General Eric Holder will be speaking at its dedication. It sounds like a beautiful space. From the SLS website:
Stanford Law School today announced the opening of the William H. Neukom Building, the new central hub of the law school, which will transform the existing campus into a collaborative, open space to stimulate interdisciplinary studies and help cross-pollinate ideas among faculty and students — all in support of the school’s vision to transform legal education.
Riiiight… Stanford Law School, they of the because we can tuition hike, will be “transforming legal education,” one multimillion dollar building at a time.
As an outside observer, I’d like to see Stanford keep tuition down instead building new palaces to itself. But it seems to me that this SLS recent graduate/tipster misplaces his outrage:
Classic. Let’s do something that makes life better for the professors and better for the deans and much much worse for any student trying to go to law school on a budget. Professorial greed is going to ruin it for everybody.
This really isn’t about “the professors,” though. I mean, who says “no” if somebody comes and tells you they are going to build you a new house? These decisions are made on an administrative level. There are presidents and treasurers and other people who are deciding how to spend Stanford’s millions. That decision is way above the pay grade of the new assistant professor who got stuck teaching 1L contracts.
If anything, I bet many of the professors — especially junior ones still fighting for tenure — would just as soon make more money than have a new building, but just like the students, nobody asked them for their vote.
SLS is, of course, a private institution. At public schools, there are even more layers of bureaucracy surrounding these decisions.
Because the University of Texas School of Law is a public school, we get to know how much their professors make. The numbers have been posted in the Texas Tribune — and yeah, at the top, UT law faculty members make a lot of money.
But when you look at this list, remember that you yourself wouldn’t turn down more money for doing your same job if somebody was willing to give it to you:
You can read the full list on the Texas Tribune.
Clearly, the high compensation of law school professors is one of the reasons law school tuition is so totally out of control. Clearly, any serious approach to cost-effective legal education must deal with professorial salaries.
Just don’t blame the professors for maximizing their earning potential. You would do the same thing. Lord knows I would take a six-figure teaching job at UT Law, and if I didn’t want it, they could easily find a few thousand qualified individuals to fill the spot.
Sure, professors could do some things to help, but at the end of the day it’s not their fault. If you want to fix this, you need regulatory control.