New Blog Airs Law Schools' Laundry
Deans aim for tough look at legal education.
The new blog would be public — and taking a public stand comes with inherent risk. No one knows that better than Lawrence Mitchell, dean of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, who received some brutal criticism online after he wrote a New York Times op-ed defending the value of a law degree in 2012. Above the Law likened Mitchell to a "sketchy used-car salesman," and Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law professor Deborah Jones Merritt said she was "ashamed" that a fellow legal scholar would publish an article that misrepresents facts.
Mitchell said last week that he felt compelled to speak up then because so many deans remained silent as criticisms mounted.
"Since nobody else was saying anything, I went ahead and did that in the hope that I would be followed by others, and that in fact didn't happen," Mitchell said. "I knew it would be controversial. That was obvious. I was a little surprised by the intensity and emotion of it, and the degree to which the responses were ad hominem. It got to me at some level."
Wu said he has been called plenty of mean names online and has been pulled aside by concerned colleagues asking why he would want to open himself up to such attacks. Still, his experience blogging has been largely positive.
"It's gratifying when one of my fellow deans says, 'Thank goodness you're out there saying these things,' " Wu said. "I will be so relieved when other deans are out there as well. Who wants to be pelted by tomatoes, literally or virtually?"
Loyola University Chicago School of Law dean David Yellen puts it another way: "If you stick your head out of the foxhole, it's impossible not to get attacked."
Yellen has been a guest blogger on The Faculty Lounge — a blog written primarily by law professors — and also wrote a guest column on Above the Law for several months earlier this year that covered topics such as the American Bar Association and declining law school applicants.
Blogging enabled him to sharpen his thoughts and reach a relatively large audience, Yellen said. "I got a lot of wonderful feedback from people who read my posts. But you have to go into it with your eyes open, knowing that many of the online comments will be negative," he said. "A lot of deans just don't see an upside to engaging — especially a couple of years ago when the discussion was at its most extreme and the intensity of the comments were at their peak."
Mitchell, Yellen and Dayton's McGreal said that some of the vitriol aimed at law deans has died down in recent months, making it a better time to engage a substantive conversation about how to address problems in legal education.
"I'm not sure law deans would have been seen as credible before, but now I think people might be more open to what we're saying," McGreal said. "I'm very interested in the issues that are affecting higher education generally and are clearly going to impact legal education, such as online learning."
McGreal has already been talking through these issues with his own faculty and campus community and now wants to take that conversation to a wider audience. The amount of time it requires to write thoughtful blog posts is yet another reason that law deans have been reluctant to start blogs, since they already have myriad responsibilities, he added.
Blogging offers another benefit to law deans who want to speak out on the issues of the day in a timely manner.