Thursday, March 17, 2016
The Cost of Scholarship (and Peeps)
In an article I wrote with Dean Amy Mashburn we estimated that $240 million a year is spent on legal scholarship. I am not sure if advocacy (which many articles are) is scholarship but let's say it is. There are about 8000 law review articles published every year. That means about $30,000 per article on average. Some cost more if the prof is an underachieving senior and some may be less. The assumptions underlying that figure can be found here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2569499 The 30K may be too high since in addition to 8000 articles law professors produce case books, books of readings and so on. On the other hand, it could be very low since it does not include sabbaticals, summer research grants, secretarial time, costs of law reviews, copying costs, and submission fees. And some of those 8000 are published by people other than law professors and this too raises the average cost. On balance it is probably a bit low but regardless of your own assumption it's a lot of money per article. Plus, all of this begs the question of whether income producing materials should be supported as scholarship. This is a thorny question since all the efforts are work for hire and if the universities cared to they could claim the royalties.
But let's play with the 240 million and 8000 and 30,000 per article. I read the other day that the average Habitat for Humanity House costs $85K. So the tab for legal scholarship is equal to 2800 houses per year for the less affluent. Yes, that would be just less that three law review articles. There may be three law review articles out there that are worth a house for a relatively poor person. In fact, I bet there are. None of mine are and I have a hunch that goes for about 80% or more of the articles written.
Or we could put it this way. I read that the average student graduates with $140k in debt. That is about 4.5 articles or, if all scholarship money were devoted to reducing student debt, 1700 students a year could graduate without debt. Personally, I am not that comfortable writing 4.5 articles and making the case that they are worth the same as asking a 24 year old to start his or her life with 140K in debt.
In fact, since we are all bleeding hearts, you could extend this and say starting out with that much debt means a student is less likely to take a public interest job or a job as a public defender in which case, your scholarship may be actually be making some people worse off.
I know if we stopped all scholarship today it would not mean instant houses or debt relief. Moreover, some of it is likely to be worth every penny. The point is that the cost of legal scholarship is massive and law professors often pick topics on the bases of what will appeal to 24 year old law students, or on a whim, or because they want to once again preach to choir.
I don't post many blogs in which I don't try to be funny a little bit so let me close with this. Easter Peeps are much better than any other Peeps. I am so glad the Easter Peep season is here. Cost of legal scholarship: 750,000,000 Peeps.