New Hampshire legislators have approved a new two-year college for students who want an accelerated path to law school. I am steadfastly opposed to such abbreviated undergraduate programs and believe that law schools should oppose such efforts — as they should oppose proposals for two-year law schools. It is part of the “cheaper, faster” approach to American education that is destroying our intellectual foundation. It is treating education like instant cream of wheat.
The new two-year college is the brain child of Lawrence Velvel, the dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, here. He is not alone. Deans and University Presidents are eager to cash in on abbreviated law school training, including Dean David Van Zandt at my own alma mater Northwestern University. While I have great respect for Van Zandt, it is in my view a market-driven as opposed to an education-driven innovation, here.
This trend is, in my view, a dangerous one. It treats law school as little more than a bar training course. If you cut out a full year, you are left with a majority of basic courses with little room for legal theory or history or a broader curriculum. Students are likely to focus on their expected area of practice as opposed to experimenting with a wider range of subjects.
The abbreviated undergraduate is even more worrisome. It is in college that people are exposed to a wide range of ideas and disciplines. It allows for development of not just broad thinking but ideally an intellectual curiosity and tolerance. With pressure from remote learning colleges, universities are moving toward trade school models to stay competitive. Underlying the moves on both the law school and undergraduate levels is a certain dismissal of the educational and intellectual foundations for such degrees. We do more than teach the bar courses at law school. We try to produce lawyers with a broad understanding of not just the law, but an inter-disciplinary knowledge of history, philosophy, and science. We already have too many lawyers who view the law as merely a meal ticket and little more. These proposals are likely to produce more lawyers with fast degrees and little knowledge.