Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm the Villain

Brian Tamanaha

Two weeks ago SLU law school was shaken by the sudden resignation of its dean and very public recriminations between the dean and SLU's president, followed by the immediate appointment of an interim dean who is a partner in a local law firm.

Matters apparently took an even darker turn for SLU law school, according to a blog post by Associate Dean for Research Anders Walker (see Caron):

Tamanaha's Revenge

[O]ur interim dean recently read Failing Law Schools … and liked it.

Oh shit.

Brian’s sacred cow killing polemic boasts a new convert … and soon they’ll be lunching. Now what? For those of us scrambling to keep things afloat here, what began as an ugly dispute between the Dean and the President is now morphing into something very different, a Tamanaha-esque audit of legal education in its current state, including questions about tuition, faculty resources, and the merits of scholarship. ... The solution, argues Tamanaha, is for law schools to adopt a tiered approach, with elite institutions like Wash U continuing along the scholarly model and non-elite schools like SLU adopting a low tuition, practical skills approach. How convenient. ...

Thus far I have refrained from responding to critiques of my book, but this one is too personal to leave unanswered.

First let me make clear that I have had no contact of any kind with SLU's new dean and have no plans to "lunch" with him; nor will I meet with him if he reaches out to me, given Walker's insinuation, because I do not want to fuel any suspicion that I might be behind the dean's actions going forward. That's probably too bad because had we spoken I would have tried to persuade the new dean that one of SLU's core strengths is a terrific young faculty (including Walker himself).

Walker's second cheap shot--"How convenient"--also misses the mark. I have been arguing for years--long before I moved to Wash. U.--that non-elite law schools should not emulate the academic model set by elite law schools; see Why the Interdisciplinary Movement In Legal Academia Might be a Bad Idea (for Most Law Schools) and Is there an Impending Crisis in Non-Elite Law Schools? These posts, which seem prescient today, raising issues of cost, debt, and jobs, were written four-and-a-half years ago, when I taught at a law school much like SLU. At the time I was sharply criticized on legal academic blogs for being anti-intellectual, but no one charged me with making a self-serving argument.

As for reform, I believe every law school (from Thomas Jefferson to Harvard, to SLU and Wash. U.) should carefully examine tuition, debt, and the allocation of resources, and every faculty should strive to find ways to operate in a more cost efficient fashion. If that's "Tamanaha's revenge," then I'm guilty as charged, and legal educators across the country can throw darts at me.

With respect to the unfortunate events at SLU, the law faculty has my sympathy.

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