A Purpose-Driven Law School

The University of California is preparing to squander tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a brand new law school for the University of California, Irvine, even though the new school has received a negative recommendation from the state's official California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC). CPEC found:

The UC Irvine proposal does not satisfactorily meet:
1.The industry and occupational demand component of the commission's social needs criteria;

2.The program duplication component of the Commission criteria regarding the number of existing and proposed programs in the field;

3. The Commission's total cost criteria.
Translated into clear English, the program is not needed, duplicates existing programs, and costs too much.

Yet, according to UCI spokeswoman Susan Menning last Friday, following the negative report, "It's a done deal."

There is a clear reason for flouting the experts: the new law school has a mission near and dear to the hearts of liberal elites. So taxpayers be damned; full speed ahead.

The UCI Law School is set to train "public interest lawyers", a euphemism for left wing activists. The code words appearing in the CPEC report give away the game:
...the proposed UC Irvine Law School is intended to challenge students to think more deeply and critically about a number of complex social issues regarding: (a) equal opportunity; (b) racial and national identity; (c) minority rights; (d) civil and individual rights; and (e) social justice
CPEC itself does not find against the law school on the grounds that this is an unworthy mission. Far from it; CPEC accepts with a straight face the idea that California might benefit from more "public interest lawyers." The problem with the new school is that there are plenty of other options for people to receive such training in California, no evidence of a present or future shortage in the field, and no reason to waste tens of millions of dollars on the effort.

Writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune  prior to CPEC's final finding, former UC Regent Velma Montoya pointed out:
...neither CPEC nor Irvine present evidence that the current supply of public interest lawyers is insufficient to serve California's underrepresented populations. CPEC is wrong to infer "a well documented shortage" of public interest lawyers from the relatively low salaries paid by their competing employers, such salaries being only about half those of graduates who opt for private practice. These relatively low salaries are accompanied by a relatively moderate public-sector work pace.
Low salaries indicate a large supply relative to demand for any kind of service. If low salaries are a problem, the solution would be to cut supply, not augment it.  By increasing California's supply of "public interest lawyers", UCI Law would further depress pay in the field, and widen the gap with private practice lawyers.

The Commission reviewed the existing UC law schools and found,
"...each UC law school has a comprehensive public interest law option, complete with internships for second and third year law students."
Moreover, UC Irvine was playing fast and loose with its argument that the poor underpaid future "public interest lawyers" need state-subsidized legal education, Dr. Montoya wrote:
UC Irvine's proposal is disingenuous in promising that its law school would be more affordable than independent regional law schools. UC law school deans have been pressuring the regents to raise UC law fees to near market levels of comparable national law schools. The additional funds are for salaries of professors and administrators, with about one-third for student scholarships. UC law school fees have doubled in the past six years. Berkeley's law school now costs two-thirds of Stanford and Harvard law schools; a decade ago, it cost only a third of the top privates. If UC law deans prevail, the cost differential between UC's and other [private] California law schools would essentially disappear.
In addition to the UC law schools, there are nine private California law schools offering "public interest" law training.

So why would a University of California campus in Orange County work so hard to circumvent the CPEC assessment and go ahead with an unneeded facility?

One has to understand the way the prestige system works in American academics. UC Irvine is a comparatively young campus, sandwiched between and operating in the shadow of world famous UCLA just up the freeway to the north, and not quite at the level of UC San Diego just down Interstate 5 to the south. It desperately needs to distinguish itself in as many fields as possible, earning the coveted title of "one of the top schools in [fill in the blank]".

In law, it is probably a hopeless task to take on the more established fields like Constitutional Law or Securities Law. But a brand new school in a beautiful setting, convenient to the beach and to the media-intensive world of Southern California, has a good shot at attracting "cutting edge" thinkers in "public interest law". The faculty to be recruited as "experts" in the field would themselves be no doubt heavy on those pursuing the most radical agendas, for they attract the most attention and commentary.

When any new program opens at the University of California, it must recruit nationally and offer high salaries to lure the most "distinguished" faculty to its service. In fact, unconstrained by fusty old law professors, with an institutional mission focused on themselves, there is every chance UCI Law could attract the leading lights [such as they are] of the field.

When it comes time for U.S. News and World Report and other surveyors of academic opinion to rate law schools, a purpose-driven law school like UCI's is close to a sure thing for widespread approval by other legal educators, especially deans who themselves struggle with meeting affirmative action and other "social justice" goals. Having a "top" program in a trendy field, one that "protects" the benighted groups presumed to be in dire need of succor by benevolent academicians, is a ticket to high scores from the sort of academics who are consulted in and bother to fill out these surveys.

Being located in Orange County, California, one of the costliest places to live in America, means that lavish funds will be required to fulfill its mission as a "world class" training facility. Watch for ample foundation money to flow freely, which will then be used as justification for even more state funding, with the Democrat-dominated legislature eager to comply.

Liberal elites have general contempt for ordinary people, never more so than when posing as their saviors. They may preen as backers of "experts" when it suits their agenda, but such opinions are brushed aside whenever they become inconvenient. So California taxpayers, recently called upon to give $500 to every child born in the state, including those children whose mothers illegally cross the border, had better dig even deeper. An unneeded, wasteful, future stronghold of leftist academics is on the way.

It's a done deal.

Hat tip: Susan Lewis

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.