Law Professors, Law Schools, Student Loans

Celebrity Law Prof Death Match: Paul Campos v. Brian Leiter

In this corner, fighting for truth and transparency in legal education, we have University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos. In that corner, fighting for the glory of legal academia, we have University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter. LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!

Those of you who don’t regularly follow law professors’ blogs might be surprised to know that they can get catty sometimes. But usually in a subtle way, like: “Hence we can clearly see that the FRCP does allow for the conduct described supra, infra, inter alia, and in FN-3,756. The seminal treatise on this point is not only mistaken, it was written by a colleague who I think we all know has two testicles, but no penis.”

But the fight between Paul Campos and Brian Leiter seems altogether different. Both claim that the other one has “completely lost it.” Campos writes that Leiter is “an obsessive, vindictive cyber-stalker.” Leiter counters that Campos is “a pathological liar.”

Most everybody else is just running through the hallways screaming, “fight, fight, fight, fight,” because it’s the internet, and that’s what we do….

I will quickly summarize the details in a way that is probably unfair to both parties: Leiter criticized Campos. People on the internet criticized Leiter’s criticism of Campos. Leiter went on some kind of crusade to out at least one commenter who said ouchy things to him. Campos wrote about this. Again. And again. Leiter got back from an international conference and blasted Campos again last night (see update).

Still with me?

Arguably their fight started over whether or not Campos was a good or bad voice for legal education reform. In fact, Leiter has been a critic of Campos almost from the moment that Campos started blogging about law school under his real name. That makes sense, because if you believe that law schools are fundamentally flawed and are in need of massive reform, the cherished position of law professors that Leiter generally supports comes under almost immediate attack. And while Campos’s views get a lot of play on this blog (you know me: I’m the “The Tuition Is Too Damn High” guy), I think there are a lot more law professors that sympathize with Leiter’s point of view than want to hear Campos all up in their face.

But at some point, it looks like things got personal between Campos and Leiter (though I imagine both men would say, “I have nothing against the man! Just the feces he throws up online like a chimpanzee who has been given too many typewriters.”)

This fight then wasn’t really about “legal education reform.” Instead it devolved into how people, or at the very least, the subset of people engaged in writing on the internet, should handle criticism on the internet from anonymous commenters.

Handling criticism for anonymous commenters just happens to be my specialty.

Leiter’s view is best expressed here, during a bit where he calls for the outing of an anonymous commenter:

I do think we law professors, and especially those with blogs, have been far too tolerant of malicious and unprofessional conduct by usually anonymous or pseudonymous lawyers and students… I’ve generally let most of this garbage pass in silence, but in the coming weeks I’m going to be posting a bit more about some alleged legal professionals whose on-line conduct deserves to be aired in public. I especially welcome more information on a sick individual using the pseudonym “dybbuk,” who is, among other pathetic characteristics, obsessed with the appearance of female law faculty, and who fantasizes on-line about spanking them with wet slippers (though that is only the tip of the iceberg of his malevolent conduct towards and harassment of individuals behind the cloak of pseudonymity).

Leiter did successfully out one of his anonymous critics, which didn’t sit well with Paul Campos:

To recap, Leiter, who has a long history of obsessively pursuing his on-line critics, (as well as, it turns out, engaging in egregiously fraudulent sock puppetry; “PhiloStudent” is Leiter pseudonymously encouraging people to attend U of C because of the presence of legal-philosophical luminaries such as Brian Leiter) has over the past week been cyber-stalking and harassing at least four people I know of, both under a pseudonym and under his own name, while at the same time threatening at least two web sites with negative repercussions, perhaps including legal action, if they did not remove certain posts critical of him (In at least one of these cases Leiter did not even allege that the posts in question were legally actionable – merely that they were viciously mean-spirited, and ought to be removed for that reason. This is akin to be accused of financial fraud by Bernie Madoff.)

The most disturbing aspect of Leiter’s latest outburst of cyber-harassment is that it was made possible because at least one other legal academic revealed confidential information about Leiter’s critics to him. Both of these critics posted messages at The Faculty Lounge – a web site run by Dan Filler, a Drexel University law professor who co-blogs with Leiter and Leiter’s law school site. People who comment at TFL are required to submit an e-mail, and their IP addresses are recorded by the blog’s tracking technology.

The personal attacks between the two have been more vicious than most anonymous commenting. From Campos:

In sum, any visiting assistant professors, present or former, who posted anonymously in the VAP thread on TFL would do well to assume that Brian Leiter – an obsessive, vindictive cyber-stalker, who boasts openly about his attempts to damage peoples’ careers – knows your identity, and will do with it what people like Brian Leiter do with information of this sort.

From Leiter:

Oddly, Campos, who is now waging a jihad against Faculty Lounge, doesn’t realize why no one will return his e-mails, and it’s the same reason almost no one signed his petition for law school transparency: his colleagues consider him a creep and untrustworthy, and so they just steer clear. Indeed, “dybbuk’s” identity was volunteered by someone Campos pissed all over during his little scam jihad, so, ironically, he has only himself to blame for the mess his cyber-friend is currently in.

This seems like a good time to mention to both Leiter and Campos that A) I don’t want to be a law professor, and B) I’m black and so attacking me is RACEIST. (Just kidding: I’d love to be a freaking law professor).

Dan Filler also seems to want to stay as far away from this as possible. He didn’t respond to Campos’s inferences, but he did send this statement to Above the Law:

Thanks for checking with me. As exciting as it would be to have been a character in this intriguing Whodunit, I’ve been tied up for the past week reliving the old days on the Grassy Knoll, visiting with colleagues at Area 51, and checking on my dear friend Jimmy Hoffa. Jimmy still can’t believe it’s been 48 years since Paul McCartney died.

Translation: My name’s Paul and this s**t’s between y’all.

Leiter responded to our request for comment, referring us to what he’s already written.

I think the safe, even-handed, fair approach would be to say, “Oh gosh, lots of stuff going on here, we’ll keep you posted!” But I’m not the type of guy to walk into a blood-splattered room and not have an opinion.

I think this fight between Campos and Leiter over anonymous commenting is kind of like America and Russia fighting a proxy war in some third world country instead of just getting onto World War III. I don’t think either man has “lost it.” I think Campos and Leiter think very different things about the state of legal education and what needs to be done about it.

So I’d would invite them both to come onto Above the Law and nuke each other for our amusement. But let’s talk about law school and not the fate of anonlawprof69 or whoever. I think outing anonymous commenters is wrong (I won’t do it), but I’m also not going to cry about it if some guy who keeps INCORRECTLY alleging that I didn’t pass the bar exam gets run over by a bus and then eaten by dogs and only needs me to give him his heart medication to survive but I won’t give it to him because he can go to hell.

My strategy of dealing with anonymous commenters is to ignore them. Unless I’ve been drinking. And then I to go into the comments and call them names. But I don’t out them because I think that’s wrong. Is that consistent? Do you think I care?

I’m no peacemaker, but if everybody is going to fight, can’t we at least fight about the things that matter? Let’s get these guys back to talking about which one of them is doing the greater disservice to legal education.

We Get Mail: Thomas R. Grover, Esq. Edition [Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports]
Brian Leiter’s slow-motion car crash, con’t [Lawyers Guns & Money]

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