Law School Deans, Law Schools, Student Loans

What, You Thought Law School Deans Worked for Free?

The internet was awash in outrage this weekend after a Boston Globe report revealed that John F. O’Brien, dean of the New England School of Law, makes an obscene amount of money.

And it is obscene. O’Brien makes $867,000 to run a law school so bad it is not numerically ranked by U.S. News. It’s an embarrassing figure for anybody who runs a non-profit educational institution that claims tax-exempt status. Really, somebody should look into that tax exemption, and ask a court to do the same.

It’d be pretty easy to sit here and jump up and down on O’Brien. Again, he makes an obscene amount of money for selling a substandard product. I assume he pays somebody to go around collecting the tears of his recent graduates so he can drink them at parties.

But how much did you think this guy made? Only $400,000? A mere $250,000? New England School of Law charges people $40,904 a year for an education. Where did you think that money was going? The students? Don’t be as naive as the people who actually go to New England School of Law. If I may quote Judd Hirsch from Independence Day: “You don’t actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?”

Let me ask the question this way: How much do you think Case Western Reserve School of Law Dean Lawrence Mitchell makes?

The dean of Case Western Reserve School of Law has recently been running around the internet talking about how he’s “proud” to be a law school dean and thinks that going to law school is a good career investment. Did you think his opinions were altruistic? Of course not; he’s got skin in the game. The public IRS tax form finders haven’t updated their records for Case Western Reserve School of Law’s most recent tax filings. But the last time this non-profit filed, we saw that Barbara R. Snyder, president of the entire Case Western University, made $778,874 in 2010. In a 2011 article, Dean Mitchell bemoaned the $134,000 average salary of a Case Western Law professor as “very low.”

I can’t tell you exactly what Dean Mitchell makes, but I fail to see a qualitative difference between his salary and O’Brien’s. O’Brien undoubtedly makes more. But O’Brien argues that his job is more like Barbara Synder’s more “presidential” functions. He claims he’s more than just a law dean, and his salary reflects that.

Whatever. You take my point: while John O’Brien has disgustingly profiteered on the backs of students who cannot get jobs — the Globe reports that only 34 percent of 2011 New England graduates have employment in a field that requires a J.D. — we live in a world where law deans’ profit is not tied to the employment outcomes of their students. Whether one or two outliers are more obscene than others seems to me to miss the point. O’Brien has just worked the system better than anybody, and his grotesque salary is simply our system of legal education taken to its logical extreme. The highest paid law school dean that we know of works at a school that doesn’t crack the top 150 out of 200 law schools.

At some point, the question needs to move from “OMG, look at how much these people make” to “Who are the freaking nimrods who keep paying their salary?” Every time some guy like Lawrence Mitchell or John Freaking O’Brien tells you that law school is worth the money, remember where the money is going. O’Brien is just taking advantage of the system, and until somebody tries to claw back the non-profit status of law schools (don’t hold your breath), nobody should expect law school deans to take a voluntary pay cut.

If you pay into the system through tuition that you’ve borrowed from the government, you are just as much a part of the problem.

New England Law head draws scrutiny for his pay [Boston Globe]

Earlier: Law Dean Takes to the New York Times Op-Ed Page to Blame Media for Declining Law School Applications

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