This week I published two posts related to the sad Whittier Law School story. The first laid out the argument that Whittier's closing could have been avoided had other law schools responded appropriately to market demands in the years following the application decline after 2010. The second responded to one professor's suggestion that a prominent law school dean had a secret motivation to destroy Whittier, and instead laid the blame on other law schools for eroding Whittier's applicant base.
Today, Professor Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago Law School took to his blog to call me "ignorant," "egregious," "presumptuous," "blowhard," "guilty," "bloviating," and "audacious," all in two short paragraphs. Unfortunately, once you strip out the name calling, the small substantive part of Leiter's argument showed that he didn't understand the relatively simple point I was making. Here's Professor Leiter's assertion:
But far more egregious is the presumptuous intervention of Robert Anderson, Associate Professor of Law at Pepperdine. Faculty members at Whittier are going to lose their jobs, and some may never work again as law teachers or work again at all. Yet Anderson has the audacity to scold them for not having taken an early retirement in the financial interest of the school. Seriously? ... I'm sure Anderson doesn't know any of these things, he's just another blogging blowhard who has decided to use someone else's misery as an opportunity to attract some attention to himself. Anderson is guilty of far worse than unknowing hubris.
I'm sorry to have to say that Professor Leiter has completely mischaracterized the two posts I wrote. The point of my original post was that Whittier should not have needed to close, and to lament the fact that faculty and students were left out in the cold. Indeed, the entire point of my post was that the Whittier Law School demise was "unnecessary" and not the fault of Whittier or its faculty.
Contrary to Professor Leiter's assertion I did not blame the Whittier faculty for the school's demise; I blamed the faculty and administration of other California law schools that have eroded Whittier's applicant base as they lowered the admissions standards of their own schools. I wrote:
The story could have turned out differently. When the contraction began, law schools should have reduced class sizes to maintain their traditional standards for admission ... If the law schools had simply maintained existing admission requirements, all schools could have contracted in size in response to market pressures. This would have prevented the cascading degradation of admissions that tumbled down the hierarchy of law schools.
I think it's obvious that when I say "all schools" and "cascading degradation of admissions that tumbled down the hierarchy of law schools," I am referring to problems caused by schools other than Whittier that "tumbled down" to Whittier. In case there was any doubt about where Whittier's problems came from, I was crystal clear that the mechanism that brought Whittier down was external to Whittier:
As applications to more competitive (but not elite) schools began to decline around 2010, the number of applicants in Whittier's traditional applicant pool remained relatively strong. The response of these more competitive schools to the decline in applications was to lower admission standards and enroll weaker and weaker classes, enrolling the students who would have otherwise chosen a school like Whittier. This caused a cascade downstream that left less competitive schools with too few applicants to operate sustainably as they traditionally had.
Furthermore, I do not "scold" faculty members at Whittier as Professor Leiter asserted. Indeed, in the post I specifically wrote "And the culprits are not even at Whittier specifically ... the insatiable appetite for tuition of vulture professors up the food chain from Whittier is what scavenged Whittier's applicants and picked its bones clean." I then wrote, "It is the fault of the rest of us in California law schools who have not responded responsibly to the decline in law school applications, decreased employment prospects for our students, and increased debt. "
The use of "up the food chain" and "us" make it perfectly clear that I was not blaming the Whittier faculty for the calamity that befell the school. Indeed, it is obvious that I am lamenting the fact that other law schools "scavenged" Whittier's applicants. I think this is sufficient for any objective reader to determine that Professor Leiter mischaracterized my argument. I don't know why he would do that, but I will assume that it was just the time crunch of the end of the year.
As for Professor Leiter's name calling, I will let readers determine what relevance that has, if any, to the relative merits of our arguments.