It is often said that “academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”[FN1] Some may view the recent dust up between University of Colorado Paul Campos (left) and University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter as such an example. However, there are some important issues raised in the controversy over the writings of “ScamProf.” Campos recently admitted that he is the anonymous law professor who created such a stir with a criticism of law teaching and law schools. Critics say that Campos only came forward after various bloggers had deduced his identity. However, Leiter and others went further and challenged Campos personally and professionally.
Previously adopting the pseudonym of “ScamProf,” Campos described himself as a tenured law professor “located within a good regional university with some nationally recognized departments.” I am not sure how his colleagues at Colorado feel about being described as a regional law school, but many professors took offense at his attacks on law professor as spending little time on teaching and having only shallow knowledge of their teaching subjects. He also called law schools a “scam.”
In his original anonymous criticism, Campos wrote:
[O]ver the past few years, a dark cloud, wispy at first, yet slowly and inexorably growing, has appeared in the azure skies of my professional life. Now, a couple of weeks before the beginning of another school year, it has grown to thundercloudish proportions.
It is this: I can no longer ignore that, for a very large proportion of my students, law school has become something very much like a scam. And who is doing the scamming? On the most general level, the American economy in the second decade of the 21st century. On a more specific level, the legal profession as a whole. But on what, for legal academics at least, ought to be the most particular, most important, and most morally and practically compelling level, the scammers are the 200 ABA-accredited law schools. Yet there is no such thing as a “law school” that scams its students — law schools are abstract social institutions, not concrete moral agents. When people say “law school is a scam,” what that really means, at the level of actual moral responsibility, is that law professors are scamming their students.
Leiter was one of those bloggers who said that they had figured out the identity of ScamProf and launched into an attack on Campos as a “failed academic who has done almost no scholarly work in the last decade, teaches the same courses and seminars year in and year out, and spends his time trying to attract public attention, sometimes under his own name, this time anonymous, . . . [Campos is] just doing what he always does, trying to surf the wave of the latest fad and attract attention to himself.” Here is the thrust of Leiter objections, which notably include the effort of Campos to have Ward Churchill denied academic freedom:
Paul Campos is, of course, most notorious in the legal academy for going on the O’Reilly Factor–yes,the O’Reilly Factor–to call for Ward Churchill to be fired for his offensive political opinions (long before any allegations of academic misconduct arose). And this wasn’t an anomaly: he also called for Glenn Reynolds (Tennessee) to be sanctioned by his university for his offensive political opinions. Fortunately for Professor Campos, his contempt for the First Amendment rights of state university professors do not constitute binding precedents on the courts, and I am confident his university won’t sanction him for his irresponsible speech. They should, however, launch an investigation into whether he is performing his duties, since his blog is tantamount to an admission of dereliction of duties and his ‘scholarly’ record is prima facie evidence of failure to do his job as a professor at a major research university.
But back to the fact-free smear. Among the gems: (1) denying that he’s met me, when we’ve met more than once; (2) attacking me for running law and philosophy blogs and rankings (despite my cyber-hobbies, I’ve produced more scholarship in the last five years than he’s produced in twenty); (3) stating, falsely, that “law school costs have increased exponentially, even as the job prospects of law school graduates have declined” (law school tuition, like all higher education tuition, has increased exponentially for thirty years, and during most of that time the legal job market was strong; tuition increases have slowed considerably since the downturn in the job market that began with the Great Recession in 2008); (4) stating, falsely, that I’ve never held a job for which a law degree is required; and so on. And then, of course, there’s the pitiful anti-intellectualism, worthy of Rick Perry’s approach to higher education, but there’s no need to belabor that for this audience. Given that Professor Campos’s “scholarship” would not survive his Rick Perry approach to scholarship, perhaps it’s time for him to resign? …
It is unfortunate that some victims of the recession think, falsely, that ScamProf Campos is doing something courageous on their behalf. He’s not, he’s just doing what he always does, trying to surf the wave of the latest fad and attract attention to himself. For years, I’ve pressed for better job placement data and cautioned students about the reality of the recent job market and relying on the data in US News. There’s no dispute about the importance of that. There’s no dispute that some law schools have misled prospective students; some are now being sued, and we will see what facts come to light. There’s no dispute that some faculty, in all disciplines, abuse the privilege of tenure–Campos is a prime example. None of this warrants the absurdly offensive description of American legal education as a “scam.” The American legal system is one of the best in the world–did that happen despite American legal education? The leading law firms continue to recruit at the leading law schools, the ones that produce all the scholarship ScamProf Campos derides. Are they simply benighted? Law professors, at least the good ones (like most of Campos’s colleagues at Colorado that I know), teach substantive doctrine in many areas of law as well as analytical and dialectical skills that lawyers need. (My teaching evaluations, by the way, are a matter of public record, will ScamProf Campos share his?) There’s been debates for years about the relative balance of doctrinal, theoretical, and clinical teaching in legal education, and those will no doubt continue, independent of ScamProf Campos.
Other bloggers have criticized Leiter for a “smear” on Campos while others have piled on Campos. Over at Simple Justice (an excellent blog that covers criminal issues), Scott Greenfield observed Campos “was far more popular with practicing lawyers and law students, but then, we don’t get a law school paycheck or judge our manhood by the number of articles published in law reviews.” Over at Constitutional Daily, they note that “[l]ooking at the discussions about LawProf (now known to be Paul Campos of Colorado) on other professorial sites, the need for more serious logical reasoning in legal academia becomes clear.”
Campos then published a reply and further mocked Leiter’s own work “on such complex and important subjects as those explored in ‘Rorty and the Philosophical Tradition: Comment on Professor Szubka’ … and in ‘Explaining Theoretical Disagreement.’” His longer reply read in part:
It is thus with a certain sadness that I note one of the leading lights of contemporary legal academia, Professor Brian Leiter, the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director, Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Value, at the University of Chicago Law School, has, I have been told, chosen to point out to the world that, in comparison to himself, I am a poor scholar and have reprehensible work habits, rather than responding to any of my arguments about the state of the contemporary law school. This is unfortunate, as who could doubt that someone with Professor Leiter’s extensive training in the analytic philosophical tradition would not have many valuable contributions to make regarding such questions as precisely why law school costs have increased exponentially, even as the job prospects of law school graduates have declined? (When I was doing background research for this piece I was reminded that the law faculty on which Professor Leiter currently serves includes several legal academics whose own professional work is in every sense admirable. I can only imagine how pleased they are to have acquired someone with Professor Leiter’s unique set of talents).
Nor can anyone doubt that Professor Leiter would add a valuable voice to the debate regarding how much contemporary legal academic scholarship is actually worth the remarkably high price students are required to pay for it. One must admit that it would be unrealistic to expect someone as busy as Professor Leiter to take time away from the rest of his many professional obligations to note the substance of this blog, let alone that he should be expected to put in the effort necessary to evaluate the academic talents and personal character of its author. Professor Leiter already makes a significant sacrifice of his time and talents by maintaining a blog that catalogs in exquisite detail the professional comings and goings of legal academics and professors of philosophy. He also devotes his remarkably wide-ranging abilities to constructing and maintaining a set of law school rankings (as well as another one for philosophy faculties), that does a far more rigorous job of determining the precise academic quality — or at least prestige — of the publications of law school faculty than the rightly-reviled set published by U.S. News & World Report.
Without Professor Leiter’s exemplary work on the subject, legal academics and the world at large would both find it much more difficult to determine whether, for example, the faculties of the NYU and Columbia law schools have had the fifth and sixth greatest scholarly impact on their fields over the past five years, or vice versa. (Professor Leiter’s deans and faculty colleagues must find it especially gratifying that his rankings consistently discover that whatever school currently employs him deserves a a higher spot in the legal academic hierarchy than is assigned to it in the USNWR rankings).
Nor can anyone blame Professor Leiter for refusing to bring his expertise and experience to bear on such matters as the extent to which law schools actually train students to engage in some aspect of the practice of law, given that he has never held any professional position for which a law degree (let alone bar admission) is a requirement. On this subject, his silence reflects a becoming and characteristic modesty.
I am hardly in a position to dispute Professor Leiter’s evaluation of the quality of my scholarship, both because I haven’t seen it, and because, as I believe Freidrich Nietzsche observed (or perhaps it was Lord Coke), no man should be a judge in his own case. That Professor Leiter’s scholarship, touching on such complex and important subjects as those explored in “Rorty and the Philosophical Tradition: Comment on Professor Szubka.” 25 Diametros 159 (2010),” and in “Explaining Theoretical Disagreement.” 76 University of Chicago Law Review 1215 (2009) (also published in Spanish in Analisis y Derecho), neither of which I have read, but which I plan to give my full attention as soon as time permits, is of both the highest quality and the deepest relevance to the mission of the contemporary law school is a proposition that surely no one qualified to evaluate the question would bother to dispute. As for a comparison of our work habits and moral character, I have never met, let alone worked with, Professor Leiter, so I must regretfully leave such comparisons to the tools employed by others.
All of which is to say that I welcome substantive discussion and disagreement about the issues raised on this blog, but have no interest in pursuing evaluations of personal character and the like. No reasonable person can deny that, in the course of what to all outward appearances is a brilliant career, Professor Leiter has played the legal academic game superbly well, and I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors (assuming, of course, that those endeavors do not involve any actionable statements regarding the targets of his ire). For the moment, it is enough to note that the kind of work he does has its rewards, and that which I do has others.
I really do not like the personal turn of this debate and the incivility that has characterized the commentary on various sites.
I remain a bit skeptical of Campos rationale for writing anonymously. He insists that “I chose initial anonymity in an effort to keep the argument focused on the substance of the debate, rather than on the hierarchical status and personal qualities of those participating in it.” I do not see how revealing yourself would be a distraction. Instead, various bloggers like Ann Althouse wrote that she doubted it was even a law professor and was likely a student.
I share the disagreement with much of what Campos has said in his criticism. I consider the average level of law teaching in this country to be quite good. It is very difficult to get a teaching job at most schools and generally professors are quite distinguished in their academic and professional work. Moreover, I have long disagreed with those (including some of my friends) who have issued dire warnings of a collapsing legal market unable to sustain the current level of graduates. These warnings appear detached from the data. When one considers even a low to zero growth in legal business (which is unlikely given the natural increase in work on divorces, estates, crime and other areas with the increasing population), there remains a rough parity between entering graduates and departing lawyers (through retirement, death, or voluntary departures to work in other fields). This is particularly true for first and second tier law schools which have the advantage in hiring over lower ranked schools. Moreover, there are indications of even larger firms increasing their hiring rates this year. If there is continued downturn, it does not merit some of these apocalpytic predictions.
I also strongly object to Campos referring to faculty as engaged in a scam. With during the lower higher rates of the last few years (where the entire economy was down), law schools still had hiring rates that most graduates schools could only envy. First tier schools often showed 80-90 percent employment rates. Clearly, we went through a couple years where the rate was lower and it remains deflated. Our own employment rates have continued to be 90 percent, though students often took a bit longer to find work and often did not get their top choices. There was a reduction in the very top paying slots and some schools have been called out for misleading or false statistics. However, the ABA and AALS was fast to crackdown on such violations — faster than I would expect in most graduate programs. I am not belittling the experience of many of my students, who have had to work extra hard. Indeed, the writings of Scamprof could have been the basis for a welcomed discussion of these issues if it did not degrade into such personal exchanges.
The greatest threat to law in my view is not the number of law schools but the move (including among some top schools) to shorten legal education to crank out more graduates in a two-year program. I view three years as already too short and such moves would likely result in few courses on history, philosophy, and the foundations of legal analysis. It would put law school more on the footing of trade schools. There are already new schools offering short and easy tracks to J.D. degrees. The result are lawyers who learn little depth about the legacy and theories that support our profession. The graduation of such one-dimensional lawyers degrade the profession as a whole. Too many law schools do little beyond training students for the bar. If lawyers are not educated on legal history and theory in law school, it is doubtful that most will pick it up on their own later in their careers. I continue to believe that the best lawyers are those who understand not just the letter of the law but the origins and motivating principles of the law.
Absent all of the over-heated rhetoric and insults, this could have been a useful debate if it had begun with greater openness and civility. We are a profession in a most developmental or transitional stage. If we can move beyond the personalities, there is a lot to discuss.
FN1 — this statement is usually attributed to Henry Kissinger when he was a Harvard professor. That appears to be wrong. The statement is likely an observation from either Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt or Wallace Sayre, former Professor of Government and Public Administration at Columbia University.
Source: ABA Journal