Whittier Law School Is Closing

Let’s read a court document together!

Whittier Law School

So in the past two days we’ve had one feature about colleges struggling to hit enrollment numbers and one Doing Money interview that ends with “DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL,” and if you put those two stories into a Juicero (or squeeze them together yourself) you get this:

A Law School Is Finally Closing

As Slate notes, Whittier Law School is the first fully accredited law school to close. (The law school is part of Whittier College, and the rest of the private, liberal-arts college will remain open.) Here are some details:

Like many of its peers, Whittier Law School was rocked by the collapse of law school applications that began in 2011, after widely reported horror stories about the stagnant legal job market started driving away the country’s directionless liberal arts grads. It counted just 132 students in its first-year class in 2016, down from 303 in 2010, according to Law School Transparency. And while law school enrollment stabilized overall last, Whittier’s was down another 9 percent. Its graduates’ employment stats were fairly abysmal, too: Only 21 percent of its recent alums obtained long-term, full-time legal jobs in the months after graduation, while almost 28 percent were unemployed.

Law school faculty members are unhappy with the decision and are suing to stop the closure. The court document argues that the law school is breaching faculty members’ contracts, that faculty will suffer “irreparable injury” and that the “balance of hardships tips lopsidedly in Plaintiffs’ favor.”

Part of me is like “yeah, that’s what happens when you lose your job.” The balance of hardships is nearly always lopsided in a capitalistic society, right?

But since I’m really into reading primary sources right now, I read the whole thing. It’s a juicy tale of declining enrollment, college administrators trying to buy out tenured professors while warning that those who did not accept the buy out might receive “a 50 to 100 percent increase in workload,” and then offering a second buy out option ten years later—yes, ten years—during which faculty were “given only six weeks, which included the winter holidays, to decide whether to give up their tenured positions.”

I know that tenure is a big deal—I grew up in an academic community—but come on.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on with Whittier Law School, and I urge you to read the lawsuit just for kicks, because it’s like a soap opera. (A ten-year saga! Accusations of fraud and looting! Giving faculty members only six weeks to decide whether to give up their tenured positions!)

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