UM Law School: My Rebuttal Argument

July 30, 2011 Law Schools

I have gotten a lot of emails and feedback both positive and negative to my suggestions for upgrading the education at the law school. I am more interested in responding to the negative comments. I stand accused of yelling fire in a crowded theater. One angry person said I was a “dumbass” for even suggesting the school is less than perfect. Many have excuses why the rankings either don’t mean a thing, or they calculate the wrong factors, or it is not a real problem, etc. Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. The general consensus is that they are happy with the state of affairs. One graduate even soothes us with the thought that after a few years no one remembers where you went to law school. Talk about pride in your education! Image a Harvard, Yale or Stanford graduate happily telling us they hope everyone forgets where they went to law school. Even Miami Dade College puts up billboards and publishes ads touting the school and its graduates.

I can take this criticism because, as Winston Churchill commented: “Eating my words has never given me indigestion.” But I must admit, I am shocked how deep this sentiment goes. Many seem happy with the state of affairs and see no need to change. I naively thought everyone would want to improve the school. The powers at the law school must feel vindicated with so many endorsing mediocrity.

What would happen if the football team was ranked 77th? Would the fans and student body say the rankings are unimportant? Or the polls didn’t use the right factors? Or don’t worry, by summer we will go to the beach and forget it? Can you envision a stadium full of fans with orange foam fingers with #77 on them? Cheerfully chanting “we are number 77!” I am willing to bet the coach would be immediately fired. An enormous effort would go into radically changing the program. No one would stand for it. We would do a national search for the right coach and pay him several million dollars to fix the disaster. Lots of money would be thrown at the problem. The president of this university takes football personally. It is a point of pride. Too bad she doesn’t feel the same about the law school.

Some of us remember when the football team was horrible in the 70s. It took the great Gator flop to change things. The UF football team embarrassed us into improving. Maybe 77th place will do the same for the law school. Even the pathetic Dolphins are trying to upgrade.

Let me make this crystal clear — mediocre is not acceptable. I recall when G. Harrold Carswell was appointed to the Supreme Court, there was a lot of complaints that he was mediocre. Senator Roman Hruska made the infamous comment: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.” This demeaning statement backfired and the senate refused to confirm Carswell.

Well I guess the same thought applies here. Why do we need the Brandeises etc.? Why seek out the best? Because we want a first-rate education, that is why. Why should we accept second best? The school has the money to do this. The DBR reported there is $30 million in the law school building account. If invested conservatively it could return $3 million a year. Add to that the 25 or 30% of tuition money sent to other schools in the university and there is plenty of resources to upgrade the school.

There was one legitimate objection made to my plan — it wouldn’t work. Perhaps not, I am not an expert on legal education. One reason I write this blog is to put forth my ideas and start a debate. I thought this would have ignited thinking about how to improve things at the school, but there apparently is no introspection, and no interest in revamping the system. Oh well, no big deal. Why do we want to be excellent instead of good? Too much effort. Let someone else do it while we fade into obscurity. Let us wallow in mediocrity. Excellence? Save it for other law schools, we can’t be bothered. Tell Chemerinsky he is wasting his time seeking excellence.

One last point: would anyone bother to read “The Mediocre Gatsby?”