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Tuesday, March 08, 2005
  Curriculum Ridiculum : Thanks for sharing your space here, Brian. I'll try to say thing to excite your readers!

I think you have to take it as a given that the law school can't be all things to all people, though it is certainly helpful to be reminded of this from time to time. This view is emphasized by viewing the curriculum as a question of resource allocation, as does Dean Kidwell. And you are right, Brian, to put this in the context of this being a state school. In fact, it is the only state law school in Wisconsin (the only other law school at all is Marquette University). The UW has an obligation to the state even greater than most state schools because of the "Wisconsin Idea"

This obligation suggests (perhaps) that we should look at the obligations of the law school to the state as our primary guide rather than the desires of the students. I think this gets missed when discussing the curriculum because no one is really speaking for the state except for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules and law school accreditation associations and UW policy. But these are never seen by the several constituencies as being "players" in the debate, but rather as bureaucratic limitations on change. (In a curriculum meeting I've heard faculty say that because a certain curriculum change would require a Supreme Court Rule change, they'd rather just not do it for fear that the Court would change a bunch of stuff once they got started.) And, of course, I should point out that the interests of the state are not necessarily accurately articulated in any of these sources – and law professors might be the primary experts on where lawyers are needed (though the clearly have no clue how normal human lawyers from a state university are going to earn a living and raise a family while cause-fighting).

All the interests of students and faculty and administrators will still get in when we see that the state has an interest in developing good policy people as well as good attorneys who practice in a variety of areas. And the state has an interest in having good faculty teach law students as well as having a diverse student body, and thus the state will want to satisfy the curricular demands of the faculty and students. But maybe we shouldn't let these interests overrun the evaluation of the state's need for legal education. Or, maybe we should see this as a complex balance of various state interests. Regardless, none of this changes the fact that the law school must periodically ask itself whether it is being effective in teaching whatever it is trying to teach. I mean, whatever it is trying to do, it would be a shame if it failed to do even that.

There are some things that are clearly badly done, and if it is being done badly because it is trying to serve too many constituencies at the same time, then it seems to me that it might be better to do one thing well than three things very badly. And the guide to choosing should be the public obligation. And, for people who are going into public policy work I'd say that the law school has to remember that there is a public policy institute at the UW, not to mention a variety of other graduate departments, which have the primary responsibility for that sort of education. Thus, a serious question seems to me to have to be, "what are the interests of the people of the state of Wisconsin in providing legal education, and how is that different (if at all) from what is provided at Marquette or by other law schools?"

But I don't mean to sound so authoritative because my thinking is still in flux about this, and I'd love to be convinced that there is a better way of thinking about this.
From the perspective of one who paid out of state tuition for three years, I couldn't disagree more (to the extent that I can understand what you are trying to say).

Wisconsin rarely makes an exception to the rule that students from out of state can establish residency. The people of Wisconsin save tax dollars when I pay twice the tuition. Why should they be benefited again?

If Wisconsin recruits and admits students from out of state, and then refuses to grant them residency during their education, you cannot with a straight face make the argument that the law school has a greater obligation to the state than to these students, who will be paying for their education for the next 30 years.

Forget about the bar privilege, which is hardly an incentive to stay in Wisconsin unless you can't pass another state's bar exam.

Here is another way to think about this: law school is a business. There is a supply of entering students who demand legal education. Any business that loses sight of what its customers want (by, for example, having the state's interest in mind), will lose its best customers to competitors. Do Wisconsin taxpayers agree to pump money into a failing business venture?

As an aside, I don't think states should be in the business of higher education in the first place. It is a waste of taxpayer money, especially for those in-state students who leave the state and never come back. States certainly have an interest in a highly educated citizenry, but it does not necessarily follow that states should foot the bill or be the service providers. Can you tell me how the state benefits by subsidizing the education of attorneys, considering that an education that does not pay for itself might not be worth the expense? Spend some time defending the state of Wisconsin in the DOJ and you might conclude that attorneys are not so good for the state after all.
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