August 16, 2014

What's the whole story behind the anecdote that begins Paul Campos's Atlantic article "The Law-School Scam"?

Here's the article, which is subtitled "For-profit law schools are a capitalist dream of privatized profits and socialized losses. But for their debt-saddled, no-job-prospect graduates, they can be a nightmare." That's a story we've seen many times, from Campos and others, and it's a common journalistic practice to begin with an attention-getting anecdote that's supposed to set up the sober, evidence-based analysis to follow, even though it's often not all that connected. But this anecdote is just so weird, and it's lacking in the details I would need to make sense of it even aside from whether it has much to do with the "law-school scam" topic.

Last April, David Frakt, a candidate for the deanship at the Florida Coastal School of Law was giving his job talk, we're told, discussing "what he saw as the major problems facing the school: sharply declining enrollment, drastically reduced admissions standards, and low morale among employees."
But midway through Frakt’s statistics-filled PowerPoint presentation, he was interrupted when Dennis Stone, the school’s president, entered the room. (Stone had been alerted to Frakt’s comments by e-mails and texts from faculty members in the room.) Stone told Frakt to stop “insulting” the faculty, and asked him to leave. Startled, Frakt requested that anyone in the room who felt insulted raise his or her hand. When no one did, he attempted to resume his presentation. But Stone told him that if he didn’t leave the premises immediately, security would be called. Frakt packed up his belongings and left.
First, we're seeing the way social media can work within an institution. A speaker may be in a room, experiencing dominance and control over the group by standing and lecturing while they silently and seemingly politely listen, and yet a whole revolution could be going on in text. Objections to phrasings can be texted and twittered about. No one includes the speaker, who rambles along according to his plan. The audience — instead of interacting in the normal manner of human intercourse through the ages — summons an authority from outside the room, and this clownish character rescues the passive-aggressive audience from their oppression.

(If the lawprofs are modeling this insidious new form of classroom participation, they will get their comeuppance when students use it on them. The professor attempts to conduct a discussion, perhaps of some touchy issue like affirmative action or abortion, and the students look disengaged, but they are really having an intense discussion, hurling accusations around. The professor is a racist. The professor is a sexist. Next thing you know, the dean has been summoned, breaks into the classroom, and conducts and on-the-spot trial. Whoa! Get ready, lawprofs.)

Second, what did the faculty find so insulting that they demanded an intervention from an outsider? What would have been enough to propel Stone into the room to interrupt a candidate — mid-presentation — and kick him out? To threaten to call security?! It doesn't make sense to portray this — as Campos does — as distress over the same old "law-school scam," which is about the ratio of jobs to students and the high tuition, and so forth. Even if Frakt presented the statistics vividly and the economic situation at the Florida Coastal School of Law is dismal and disturbing, it would not justify the weird drama. The normal response would be to push the candidate with questions or to look at him blankly and, after the time for the talk was over or close enough to over, drift out of the room having decided to vote against him. It must be something more, and I'm irked at Campos for sticking this anecdote at the top as if it will make readers see the dreadful emergency that is the "law-school scam."

Can somebody email me about what really happened that day? Without more, I would hypothesize that Frakt said some things about race and/or gender that got texted into what felt like a realization that racial/sexual harassment is going on right now. I would guess that Stone got a message that the school itself was condoning some kind of harassment and that he had an immediate duty to end it. Am I right?

Somebody talk to me.

UPDATE: David Frakt has a long blog post at The Faculty Lounge detailing what he said that day he was so rudely interrupted. Does it answer my question? He doesn't know what the faculty were texting and emailing or what Stone was thinking. What could have been perceived as "insulting"? In his account: "I explained that, according to my interpretation of LSAT scores... over half of the students in the 2013 entering class at FCSL [fell] in the 'extreme risk' of failure category." I don't know the precise words or tone of voice he used, but conceivably, the statistics are so horrible that it felt intolerably insulting just to hear the facts stated. Frakt said he "suggested that it was unfair, ethically questionable, and a potential violation of ABA standards to admit students with such poor aptitude for the study of law," and he predicted that the ABA might put the school on probation, which would drive students away and exacerbate the problem. That's pretty frightening, but it's still not enough to justify cutting off his talk. It may nevertheless make Stone's unwise reaction comprehensible.


Anonymous said...

Malthaus the Too-Serious Blogger says:

It was about race and gender because everything, at its root, is about race and gender. We cannot live outside of race and gender: it is the context in which everything necessarily transpires. Furthermore, the law exists only to codify paradigms of race and gender: we can work to alter these paradigms but all the work we do will exist only as actions of race and gender. Also: female law students in short skirts should sit at the front of the class.

Anonymous said...

Malthaus the Too-Serious Blogger says:

Properly understood, economics is not about money, but rather the distribution of resources through race and gender; the law exists to either encourage or frustrate this distribution. Also: female law students in short skirts should stand up to ask questions.

Anonymous said...

Malthaus the Too-Serious Blogger says:

Although there is only race and gender it is perhaps illustrative that race cannot be seen solely through only gender, nor gender solely through only race: the axis of each must inherently intersect. As such, our personal beliefs come down to a basic predictable geometry rather than the illusory perception of personal discovery. Also: female law students in short skirts should shake it like a Polaroid picture.

Anonymous said...

Malthaus the Too-Serious Blogger says:

When understood that there is only race and gender the particular details of an interpersonal situation do not matter: it is simply a matter of two-dimensional location, and the accolades or condemnations associated with that particular intersection point. Indeed, the concept of an enlightened third dimension can only be a fanciful artifact of denial, predictable by the aforementioned location. Also: female law students in short skirts should open another button on their fitted blouses.

Anonymous said...

Malthaus the Too-Serious Blogger says:

To those that argue that there is more to a civilization than race and gender: you are in the bottom left quadrant (BLQ). You are there for a reason. Also: female law students in short skirts should not bend their knees when retrieving an item from the floor.

Anonymous said...

Malthaus the Too-Serious Blogger says:

Those that are BLQ must realize the deficient location from which they operate. This deficient location becomes obvious when matters of personal property and personal responsibility are discussed. Also: female law students in short skirts really rock the naughty-librarian-eyeglasses look. Office hours are posted on the door.

Anonymous said...

I know: too much Betamax. Apologies. Someone who actually knows what they are talking about: please answer the Professor's questions.

Heyooyeh said...

Althouse is a law school truther. No scam, no emergency in the industry, there must be something else up, something racist or mysoginst.

In the meantime, just keep putting that fat student-and-taxpayer funded tenured paycheck in her bank account while she spends the overwhelming majority of her time running an amazon portal.

Michael K said...

At least colleges are doing something about the law school problems with jobs by generating all these Title IX lawsuits from men who have been damaged by lunatic sexual assault charges. This should keep a few thousand new lawyers occupied. Maybe the crisis is not as bad as alleged.

Anonymous said...

Female Law Student in Short Skirt says:

The length -- or lack thereof -- of my skirt has no bearing on my abilities as a law student, and my eyeglasses are solely to correct my near-sightedness. When I pensively place the end of my pen against my lower lip it is a sign that I am contemplating a complex issue, not that I am deliberately trying to be seductive. I can, indeed, shake it like a Polaroid picture but that has nothing to do with my studies and as such should not be viewed in the context of my being a law student. And -- yes -- sometimes I do need to massage my bare thighs in class: my exercise regimen causes uncomfortable cramps on occasion, and long slow strokes upward on my thighs helps alleviate the discomfort. Also: my wearing a thong is personal choice. Back to race and gender, people.

Anonymous said...

Female Law Student in Short Skirt says:

Sometimes I indeed open another button on my fitted blouse but that is due to the classroom's faulty air-conditioning, and is simply an attempt to stay cool: the fact that sweat drips slowly down my chest between my breasts in their slightly exposed push-up bra is beyond my control. And I admit it: I am clumsy, and i do happen to frequently drop my pen to the floor. I simply choose these moments as opportunities to perfect my yoga stretching techniques: it is your eyes on my buttocks, not mine.

Ann Althouse said...

I'd really like to hear more specific responses that try to understand the incident (and the social media context).

Anonymous said...

Female Law Student in Short Skirt says:

Just because I am a law student doesn't mean that I can't look good, naked. However, that is not for the class to attempt to mentally divine. Race and gender, people: race and gender.

john said...

Frakt is probably a galvanizing sort of fellow and may even make his audience bristle. His defense of Guantanamo prisoners as an Army officer would have endeared himself to faculty, but the fact he is a lieutenant colonel in the Reserves would have likely upset the tender sensibilities of those bench sitters, too lazy to engage him personally, but adept at anonymous tweeting.

John Lynch said...

Frakt represents two Gitmo detainees. That's primarily what he's known for.

He was also up for a deanship at the university where his talk was ended so abruptly. Hmm.

Bruce Hayden said...

I have long seen the quest by Campos against for-profit law schools as a bit hypocritical and a bit self-serving. He is, of course, employed by just the opposite, a state university law school. And, presumably, it just isn't fair that for-profit companies are allowed to compete with noble government entities such as his employer. Never mind that CU hasn't appreciably increased its law school class sizes, despite the state population doubling, tripling, etc., since classmates of mine went there after receiving their undergraduate degrees.

I do get a bit knee jerk when it comes to Campos. There is a law school bubble, and it is starting to deflate. His employer though is pretty well exempt from it, being the low cost provider in the state (since they are partially publicly funded). Other than this issue, he has been reliably knee jerk liberal in the most illiberal way for a long time now (I will admit having sent letters to his law school and university president concerning how embarrassing many of his Denver Post editorials were to his employer).

Anonymous said...

For lack of a more legalistic term, I viewed the room in question as a collection of weenies. Texting complaints that they were being insulted, then lacking the courage to honestly answer the speaker's question about anyone feeling insulted. Social media simply allows the passive-aggressive to perfect their neuroses in real-time, without any pesky controverting context. Althouse already said this better.

John Lynch said...

Larry Summers?

Kieth Nissen said...

A question: how many messages did Stone receive? it could have been as few as one. That one could have come from a plant, someone beholden to Stone. A forbidden topic was raised and Stone made his move. I note that no one raised their hand when Frakt asked who was offended by his presentation.

john said...

There is not a high school girl in the western world (indeed maybe the entire world) who has not been blindsided and personally devastated at least once in the "social media" (more correctly, "non-social media"). What is but should not be surprising is that social media, the most immature form of social interaction, would be used by otherwise adults to malign and smear the speaker. Weanies for sure. The Academy must attract that type of person.

Jupiter said...

(When The Atlantic reached out to InfiLaw for comment, the company said that Frakt’s presentation was “based upon clearly erroneous information about the school’s accreditation status and key data points,” and that Stone decided “to end the presentation rather than put up with further insults to the faculty and school from a candidate who had no chance to obtain the position.”)

Ann Althouse said...

"(When The Atlantic reached out to InfiLaw for comment, the company said that Frakt’s presentation was “based upon clearly erroneous information about the school’s accreditation status and key data points,” and that Stone decided “to end the presentation rather than put up with further insults to the faculty and school from a candidate who had no chance to obtain the position.”)"

I have been to so many job talks over the years, and I cannot imagine this scenario. Frequently, you can tell the talk isn't going well, but at the job talk stage, the person has already gone through several filters. His credentials have been read, references checked, and there's almost always been a preliminary interview. You wouldn't waste the whole faculty's time otherwise.

Once he's there and doing the speech, you don't know what everyone else is thinking and, even if you were sure everyone in the audience knew he had no shot at the job, it would be so rude and horrible to just announce that he had lost, like it's "The Gong Show." You'd let the person finish and that's that. Send him a polite letter. There needs to be a good reason to do anything else.

But there were "insults." What insults? Frank presentation of the economic woes? It has to be something more insulting, something where keeping silent has more meaning, where you have to speak up lest something be pinned on you. Stone must have perceived an emergency of some kind.

What happened?

Jupiter said...

Actually, the article is quite clear, and makes excellent sense. Consider;

"A glance at New England Law’s tax forms suggests who may have benefited most from this trajectory [large increases in tuition]: John F. O’Brien, the school’s dean for the past 26 years, whom the school paid more than $873,000 in its 2012 fiscal year, the most recent yet disclosed."

What this is about is the fact that higher education in the US is utterly corrupt. Faculty and administrators pay themselves gigantic salaries, supported by tuition paid for with federally guaranteed student loans. When the students are unable to repay the loans, because the degrees they were sold are worthless, the government immediately repays the lenders in full, with interest. But the victims still owe the money, and even bankruptcy will not get them off the hook.

Do you suppose that universities would change their practices, if they were required to make the student loans themselves, from their endowments, and there were no federal guarantee of repayment? If the only way they could support themselves was from the earnings of their alumni, how many degrees in LGBTQ Studies do you suppose they would be willing to finance?

The Godfather said...

Having now skimmed the Atlantic article, this seems a lot like the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Our Solons in Congress decide that "everybody" should have a chance to buy a home, or get a college or grad school education. So a law is passed to provide or encourage loans to people who normally would not be able to get one to buy a house or attend college. The program is sold as being for the special benefit of the underprivileged and minorities. Then the sharks in the private sector smell food, and they develop a way of getting the underprivileged and minorities to pay them that money that the federal program has made available. And because sharks are more clever than the underprivileged and minorities -- and certainly more clever than Congress -- they figure out a way to keep the money and offload the risk.

If Obamacare lasts a little longer, some smart sharks will figure out a way to make money off it, too.

Moneyrunner said...

The Godfather is right. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times and it makes me sick. Jamal get his GED, and having been taught all his life by evil capitalists that going to law school is the road to easy street he knows just what to do. The local “connection” for a college loan hangs at the same corner as his druggie. Bibbida babbida bing, and the deal’s made, money changes hands and Jamal’s on his way to law school, taking one of the slots reserved for Kenyan exchange students. Nah, we don’t need to see your student visa, kid says the Dean. Justice is served … but wait. After graduation, having been affirmatively placed on the Dean’s List and getting prominently placed in all the college literature to demonstrate their diversity, Jamal interviews Big Law. Only to find out that his target just went bankrupt. He now flips burgers at Mikey D’s in Ferguson and wonders why the reporters are hanging around his place pretending to report. He calls the cops.

damikesc said...

I'd really like to hear more specific responses that try to understand the incident (and the social media context).

I'd argue that this is sheer cowardice by the audience.

These are, allegedly, professors who are, also allegedly, really bright and articulate.

But they cannot bring themselves to ask a question or even say "I find that offensive"?

I could argue that the environment of academia is so far removed from the real world that real, basic concepts in human interaction are utterly lost on the faculty, which is sad and reason enough to end the facade of the importance of it.

I HOPE their students do this to them. They will be infuriated, no doubt, but I'll find it amusing.

And I agree that the crusade against for profit schools is insane. The "not for profit" schools do every thing they criticize the for profit ones for at a far higher level.

Fen said...

I'd really like to hear more specific responses that try to understand the incident

I am trying to imagine what words could have caused a scenario where:

1) A *civil* speaker insults the audience
2) No one in the audience will admit to him they were offended
3) But they still tattle on him

Mostly likely the speech was something pointing out systemic corruption that the audience is party to. Such as charging big bucks for a professor who's classes are mostly taught by TAs. Or saddling students with crippling debt because gov loans allow you to jack up the price to pay for faculty perks.

I find it especially interesting that no one in the audience had the balls to stand up complain directly to his face. Tells me they did not want to argue his points publicly. Why?

Douglas said...

Prof. Althouse,
I concur. The normal, polite thing to do would be to let the fellow finish, ask a few stupid questions, and send him a "thanks, but no thanks, letter" the day after. Something must have happened to short circuit that process.

David said...

"But there were "insults." What insults? Frank presentation of the economic woes? It has to be something more insulting, something where keeping silent has more meaning, where you have to speak up lest something be pinned on you. Stone must have perceived an emergency of some kind."

I am not so sure. The emergency could have been a need for self protection. Hope you get some info that you can share with us. We love a mystery.

Wayne said...

Florida Coastal appears to exist primarily to boost Thomas Cooley's place in the US News rankings. The sooner the cesspool caves in on itself the better.

kentuckyliz said...

I had no idea that lawprofs were such delicate hothouse flowers that they would get the vapors from somebody making a presentation.

It's a good thing that they are lawprofs and not practicing lawyers. How un-genteel that would be! How untastefully...adversarial.

Peter said...

"If Obamacare lasts a little longer, some smart sharks will figure out a way to make money off it, too."

Shouldn't be too difficult.

1. Preventive treatments are free of charge to the patient.
2. Chiropractic coverage is mandated.
3. So is mental health treatment.

It's too easy to complain of the perfidy of for-profit schools that fail to educate (sometimes because those who attend them are not educable), or the stupidity of those who fall for the schools' sales pitches, but the root cause is the assertion that everyone should/must go to college.

Extending "college" to "law school" is just a detail. Not everyone has the capacity to benefit from law school, just as not everyone has the capacity to benefit from college.

Therefore the only way to make law school or college available to all is to lower standards until the degrees from these schools are meaningless.

At least law still has the bar exam. Except for loopholes like Wisconsin's exemption for graduates of in-state law schools, of course.