New York magazine has just published a long article about the lawsuits against law schools for deceptive reporting of job prospects. This is the most radical (in the sense of challenging what “every reasonable person knows”) article I’ve seen in a major magazine in a long time. Gary Taubes’s article (“What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?”) is a good example of such an article. It was published in 2002. Long long ago The New Yorker published a series of articles by Paul Brodeur (published as a book in 1989) arguing that power lines cause cancer. So long ago that Brodeur has retired. Unlike what Taubes and Brodeur wrote, the New York article is not investigative journalism. It was much easier to write. But that does not change the similarity of basic message — that powerful respected people have been lying to us.
Beyond the sheer existence of this article, it’s also interesting that nobody interviewed for the article said the allegations were false. For example, here’s a dean at New York Law School, one of the defendants:
“We teach critical thinking, and writing, and so forth,” Buckler said. “And that’s always been the case, and those skills have always been useful. I guess I would say that it’s never been a good reason to go to law school or any grad school, because you think there’s a guarantee at the end. Whether that was twenty years ago or ten years ago or this year.”
In other words: It doesn’t matter if we publish false or misleading data because (a) we teach useful skills and (b) the data don’t matter — right-thinking people ignore such data (“it’s never been a good reason to go to law school” because you think it will provide a job). Recent graduates of New York Law School do an even worse job of defending the school:
“Mathematically, it’s a ton of graduates, yes, and no, there aren’t enough jobs for them,” Daniel Gershburg, a 2006 graduate of NYLS and an attorney with a successful practice in Manhattan, says. “At the same time, what are schools supposed to say? ‘No, no, don’t come here! Run for your lives! . . . ’” [That is: Of course they lied.] Julia Shapiro, who graduated from NYLS in 2007—and who works as a lawyer in Los Angeles—puts it this way: “Suing the school is not going to help them find a job. I would not put my energy into wallowing in my sorrows.” [That is: Get over it.]
In contrast, it’s easy to make a case that the schools intentionally deceived prospective students. One of the lawyers behind the lawsuits said:
“NYLS [New York Law School] has to put students in seats,” Strauss said. “That’s the system they set up for themselves. They’ve got a huge new building, gleaming classrooms, but they’re cutting corners on transparency. They’ve created this reality where the only way they can put [enough] people in seats is by misleading them.”
A commenter put it like this:
Over the past 20+ years (since the advent of the U.S. News Rankings, really), the non-elite law schools have perpetrated a pervasive and dynamic fraud aimed at luring unsuspecting college students to throw away their financial futures [due to] reliance upon utterly fraudulent salary-and-employment data. The goal is obvious: to keep the student-loan teat gushing into administrative pockets.
As I said earlier, there’s an old joke: Why do students go to law school? They’re bad at math. Apparently law school administrators are also bad at math. The existence of this story suggests that average reader of New York magazine is not inclined to forgive them.