Prof. Bainbridge takes up the cause of faculty in his own way by a post with the ill-conceived title "Dean Dan Rodriguez Thinks Making the Faculty Work Harder is the Solution." Uh, no, not exactly. But I'll leave y'all to decide whether my various posts suggesting ways of getting a handle on the too-high costs of legal education can be read as such.
But Steve nonetheless raises a serious point, a point made frequently elsewhere, and one which deserves serious scrutiny. What are we going to do about high administrative costs and the impact on law school budgets and, thus, student well-being?
First, some essential points of agreement:
One, in this new environment, law schools must be prepared to justify thoroughly and concretely existing administrative costs -- and, indeed, we should do so with a dose of skepticism about whether the current configuration of administration can be sustained in a period in which students are suffering and in which our basic economic model (albeit at some places more than others) is in jeopardy. Two, any augmentation to administration must be justified in clear terms and with compelling evidence that such initiatives are directly tied to student well-being, both with respect to the learning environment and with respect to expanding professional opportunities after graduation. And, third, tuition revenues should be a last resort for these (if any) augmentations. As we ask, and even press, our alumni for financial support of our respective law schools, we should be looking to them to support infrastructure where we can explain and justify it as contributing directly to the law school's ability to (a) improve student learning; (2) enhance professional opportunities; and (3) ultimately reduce student debt.
Now, to those insistent that administrators are the main (sole?) problem here. The claim that law schools are filled with "administrator bloat" is not an argument, it is a slogan. Responsible analysis of our current situation requires information and perspective. Faculty members have long looked around their law school and wonder what all these "administrators" are doing. "I remember the good old days when the dean ran the law school with the help of his cheerful secretary, Mrs. Jones, a librarian, a couple admission folks, and a guy who made sure the podium and chalk was set up in the classroom. Ah, those were the days . . . " Yadda, yadda. Not only were the good old days not unequivocally good, but let us take a step back and look at what the increase in law school administration over, say, the past quarter century has brought us:
(1) Student services. The expansion in academic support as law schools looked to broaden their scope to historically disadvantaged students and, unlike the days in which they simply flunked out under performers, actually committed to the success of these students. Counseling services and more sophisticated exam administration (that the guy moonlighting from Star Market who has hired to proctor several exams when I was in law school) is one example. Specialized student support for foreign students is another. Administrator bloat here? Perhaps so. But the expansion of student services and recognition that this is a career path and not simply something to be outsourced to overworked legal writing instructors has been a cost driver;
(2) Techology. The need for specialized expertise in and with regard to technology has pushed law schools to make investments. Most law schools have separate IT departments; and, to a greater or lesser degree, these investments have enhanced students and faculty work. Current law students don't remember and can't easily fathom when technology support was the part-time person in the library or, even worse, was someone on central campus who might return your phone call and get to your law school problem as she went down her list;
(3) Career services. Can anyone doubt that law schools ought to invest significantly in job placement and advising services for their students, especially now? To be sure, law schools often do this inefficiently and haphazardly. But the single biggest complaint from involving administration is that there isn't enough effort and energy (all requiring resources) mobilized in the service of expanding professional opportunities for students. At Northwestern, for example, we have created an office of external partnerships, designed to increase opportunities -- that is, paid jobs -- for our law students by tactical and targeted networking. Career services in the new normal is not just advising; it is outreach and it is placement-centered. Lumping such efforts into the bromide "administrator bloat" doesn't capture it.
(4) Alumni relations & development. One commenter noted that NYU has 32 individuals devoted to ARD. I don't know whether that number is correct, but I do know that they were able to increase their endowment by over one half a billion dollars in the past few years. Increases in endowments decrease student tuition pressure; it's that simple. So, the significant augmentation in ARD within law schools have enabled law schools to continue to support their alumni communities, to enhance the reputation of the law school by strategic communication and marketing, and to raise money.
This all said, there is no doubt that there are serious inefficiencies in how law schools configure their administrative efforts. (Some of the administrator expansion has accompanied regulatory pressures, but that is a subject for another day). That there are such inefficiencies and that it is incumbent upon law schools to continue to look for ways of doing more with less and, to Steve's valuable point, to make sure that administrative enhancements are not coming at the expense of actual education. Moreover, none of the above -- let me say this in bold font, none of the above -- is intended to justify by its own terms the present (unsustainably high) level of law school tuition.
But the notion that any serious law school leader would suggest that budgets should be balanced and even reduced on the back of faculty members while administrators run riot is a foolish one. That is not my point. There are myriad places to look for meaningful changes to the economic model which is causing significant challenges to our students. The modern law school is made up of many "houses." We should be looking at getting all of them in order, no?