Law Schools

After law prof's viral rant, school nixes proposal to divert faculty raises to law grad fellowships

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The University of Oregon Law School has no plans to implement a proposal to divert faculty raises to fellowships for unemployed law grads, an idea that irked a law professor whose angry email objections went viral.

“And am I to blame for the bad economy?” law professor Rob Illig fumed in one of his emails.

The school announced on Wednesday that it won’t act on the proposal, report the Oregonian and Above the Law. “There are no concrete plans in place or action being taken on these matters,” the school said in a statement to Above the Law.

Law professors Michelle McKinley and Stuart Chin had devised the plan to donate money for planned faculty raises to a fellowship program for new law grads. Faculty members approved the idea; Illig was a vocal opponent. UO Matters published his two emails, which were also picked up by TaxProf Blog.

Illig complained that the plan was placed on the agenda for a rescheduled faculty meeting he was unable to attend because of a law review symposium. The description of the proposal didn’t amount to notice, he wrote.

“What did the agenda say?” Illig wrote in his first email. “ ‘Discussion of Graduate Fellowships.’ Pardon my French, but this is absolute bullshit. Colleagues do not ambush one another like this.” Illig says he already donates to three charities, and “I feel that having given up the chance at a seven-figure annual income is charity enough for the students.”

Then, in a second email, Illig writes that he can’t stop thinking about the proposal.

“As I learn more of the details of Friday’s proposal, I am even more perplexed by its logic and frightened by its poison,” he writes. “Is this some kind of faculty version of white-man’s guilt? We see students without jobs and think that if we throw them a few of our dollars we can go back to our scholarship and not worry about whether they are getting real careers and real training? We can study the 17th Century and believe we are preparing them for the 21st?

“What we owe them is our time and effort and skill, not our paltry raises (which, by the way, don’t even cover the increase in the cost of living). …

“And am I to blame for the bad economy? Are my efforts so lacking as to make the difference between students with jobs and without? Is my teaching and mentoring so deficient as to merit what is essentially a pay cut, given that Johnson Hall has already approved the monies?”

Illig did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. The Oregonian was also unable to reach him for comment. Above the Law says he was a former associate at Nixon Peabody.

According to the Oregonian, just 57 percent of 2013 University of Oregon law grads found jobs that required a law license. Twelve percent were unemployed and seeking work. The average debt of the grads was $105,000. The school is at No. 100 in the rankings by U.S. New & World Report, down from No. 94 the year before.

A student posting at OregonLawBlawg points out that Illig’s emails were intended to be read only by faculty, staff and two third-year law students. Illig’s emails contained “inflammatory language,” student Tom Marshall acknowledges, but “they do not appear to me to be anything other than a difference in opinion on the best way to run the law school.”

“We might not know who initially leaked the email to UO Matters,” Marshall says, “but I hope whoever the culprit was is aware that they have likely hurt our law school.”

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