Oregon Supreme court to hold properly noticed public meeting on Bar exam, today

Elevator version: The Oregon Supreme Court tells the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners that they must add a new at-home bar exam for October, and give “diploma privilege” to all Oregon and most other law school 2020 grads, allowing them the right to practice law in Oregon if they can find a job.

Live-blog: It took a while, but I finally got connected to this meeting. The Court first voted in favor of allowing an October on-line (at home) exam as an optional substitute for the in-person one scheduled for July.

2:03 PM: – they’re now debating a motion from one of the judges to allow diploma privilege. But they don’t actually have a written motion. The other judges are throwing out questions, she’s saying things like “oh, right, the motion also would …, or maybe it should say….” Pretty amateur.

From what I can tell, the motion would give all those graduating this spring from Oregon law schools Bar admission without having to pass the bar exam. It would extend the same “privilege” to graduates of all ABA accredited schools with a first-time bar pass rate of 86% or better.

Why 86%? The judge says because the bar-pass rate is the best metric of law school quality, and the average national pass rate is 85%. The later is a mathematical fact, the former is nonsense. In 2017 Oregon lowered the cut-rate and the average pass rate for Oregon’s schools suddenly jumped from 60% to 84%. This improved the quality of an Oregon law school education?

As it happens, the ABA has recently released the latest pass data, and all three of Oregon’s law schools are below the judge’s magical 86% threshold:

UO: 85.86%

Willamette: 82.28%

Lewis and Clark:  80.98%

No one points this out. They do ask the Bar guy how many new lawyers this motion will produce – ones that would normally be screened out by the bar exam. His response doesn’t really makes sense to me. Maybe a hundred from Oregon, another hundred or so from other states? So maybe a 40-60% increase?

Still no written motion, but the court passes it anyway. So what did they pass? (They’re not sure either, so in the end they give it to their clerk to write up.)

Another judge then proposes a third motion – a lower cut rate for the July exam. Another surprisingly ill-informed and predictably innumerate discussion ensues. This also passes.

More confusion among the judges abut what exactly they did with motion 1.

Then UO’s Dean Burke asks the court to modify motion 2, to also extend the diploma privilege to students who have not yet graduated – i.e. summer 2020 grads. Still more confusion amongst the judges about what the motion originally said. They think it said Spring 2020, so they think they need to change it. Another dean tries to chime it. Eventually she figures out how to unmute herself. Asks about Winter 2020 grads. Why don’t they get privilege too? Sure, someone says – all 2020 graduates. Done.

Chief Justice Waters asks the court if they want to throw privilege at anyone else while they’re at it. Philosophers? Will no one move to give the PhD philosopher’s diploma privilege too?

Apparently not. Court adjourns.


In what may well be a first for the court:

WWeek’s 2017 story on the last time the Court met to goose the exam is here:

… UO Matters reports that Board of Bar Examiners held a closed door executive session to vote on whether it would recommend changing the passing bar exam number to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The board did not respond to UO Matters’ request for records of meeting material. It settled on a passing bar score of 276.

The deans’ letter, along with a letter of recommendation to change the bar score from the board’s chairman, Jeffrey Howes, was sent to Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer.

On May 3, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the request to change the requirement for becoming a practicing attorney.

The court voted on the score change during a 70-minute public meeting, where it was one of 30 agenda items. The Daily Emerald requested transcripts of the meeting and were provided a “non-specific page of minutes detailing the events of the meeting,” and no record of whether votes where cast.

It seems the Bar and the Court had no idea what they were doing, and increased the pass rate by far more than Oregon’s law deans had led them to expect. Which probably explains why the Bar is taking a hard line this time.

6/18/2020: Deans want to give law grads a free pass on bar exam, Bar objects

Back in 2017 the deans of Oregon Law Schools were upset by the fact that so few of their graduates were able to pass the bar exam. So they did what any business whose product failed to pass quality control would do – they asked the Oregon Bar and Supreme Court to make the exam easier.

After a bunch of meetings that probably violated Oregon’s public meetings and records laws, the bar and the court agreed to relax their standards, and the pass rate (for first time takers in the regular summer exam) has since jumped from 58% to 84%. (The UOM post on this, based on a series of public records requests, is here.)

Dumbing down the bar exam was good news for the deans, because the pass rate is part of the US News rankings they are evaluated on. It was also good news for the marginal students who otherwise would have failed, but bad news for the good students who could have passed the harder exams, because it devalues their credential and means more lawyers competing for the small pool of job openings. It was also bad news for the Oregon Bar’s current members, who don’t want competition from new lawyers driving down their earnings – but they went along anyway. (From what I could tell from the records the Bar eventually released they thought they were increasing the pass rate to about 68%, not 84%.)

Now the Deans are back, with a request that the Bar and the Oregon Supreme Court waive the bar exam requirement entirely this year, using the disruptions around the coronavirus and #BlackLivesMatter as justifications.

Nigel Jaquiss has the story in Willamette Week here, and a copy of the dean’s letter is here. Notable among the Law professors who did *not* sign on to it is UO President and Professor of Law Michael Schill.

The Oregon Board of Bar Examiner’s letter to the supreme’s is here. It’s pretty thorough, especially in comparison to the thin response the Deans put together, a month later, cited above. The Oregon Supreme Court has the final call, in what, this time, I expect will be a public meeting with minutes.

I feel sorry for all the law students – the good ones and the marginal ones – who have to deal with all the uncertainty this dispute over the exam has added to their lives.

Board of Trustees to consider unwinding Law school

5/28/2020: Actually the agenda for their June 4th meeting isn’t posted yet,  so it’s unclear if this will be among the cost-savings measures to be considered. Maybe they’ll cut baseball instead.

5/15/2020: UO Law School needs $250M to avoid financial exigency

It now costs UO’s law school about $170K to produce a law school graduate who can pass the bar exam. Over their three years they pay only about $60K in tuition – 50% off the list price. 75% of their students are from out of state.

The Law School started 2015 with a $3.3M positive carry-forward. As of March 2020 they were $5.7M in the red, on a heavily subsidized budget of $16M a year – they bring in only about $8M in tuition.

Our E&G bucket is on the hook for the $9M debt and pays for the continuing $8M deficit – including $390K for new Dean Marcilynn Burke and $290K for former Dean Michael Moffitt, who apparently knows something about contracts.

Closure can’t be far off without significant donor support. Back of the envelope it would take a $250M endowment gift, which would yield $9.5M a year after Paul Weinhold’s UO Foundation takes their cut.

Here are the numbers, from painfully drilling down into the docs on UO’s new transparency website, here.

The first thing we do, let’s cut our law students’ tuition & make the undergrads pay

UO – meaning mostly CAS – has been subsidizing our money pit of a law school since Michael Moffitt’s “business school case-study dream” turned out to be a scam. Today UO’s Trustees let them raise tuition – but instead of paying back their debt they’re going to use it to continue to give law students 1/2 off on tuition. for their new all-remote classes. Meanwhile UO undergrads are expected to pay for themselves, and for the law students.

To quote Martin Luther King, “Go Ducks!”:

From: “Oregon Law Dean” <[email protected]>
Subject: Dean’s Message about COVID-19
Date: March 17, 2020 at 9:23:49 PM PDT
Reply-To: [email protected]

Dear Alumni and Friends:
The ultimate measure of an individual is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk their position, their prestige, and even their life for the welfare of others.

– Adapted from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 book, Strength to Love
Like many of you, I have been following reports of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and reflecting on just how connected we are to one another and how our choices affect those around us. You may have received a message earlier this week from the university alumni office updating you on some measures taken by the university. I want to keep you updated on law school operations as well.

Instruction for our JD and LLM programs is being delivered remotely for the remainder of the spring semester. Classes in those programs end on April 26. Exams for our undergraduate legal studies program and master’s program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution (aka CRES) are being administered remotely this week. Instruction for those programs, which are on the term schedule, will be delivered remotely at least through April 17. The university will provide further guidance about plans for the rest of the term no later than April 10.

Per the State of Oregon’s orders and recommendations, we have and will be, cancelling many events, as well. Protecting the health and safety of our community is our highest priority. Please check our website for updates.

One of Oregon Law’s signature events, the 18th Annual Frohnmayer Public Service Award Event in Portland, will be postponed until further notice. We will be celebrating the Honorable John V. Acosta in the future. If you have already signed up, we will be sending a separate message to you soon.

To keep up-to-date on the University of Oregon’s response, here is the official website regarding information on the Coronavirus, which will be updated as needed.

Through all of these changes our faculty and staff have continued to put our students’ learning and overall wellbeing first. I am proud of the way that our community is adjusting and taking care of each other.

Please stay healthy and safe. We look forward to seeing you in person once the risks subside.

Go Ducks!

Marcilynn A. Burke
Dean and Dave Frohnmayer Chair in Leadership and Law

Law school to raise tuition 7% – and not pay back UO debt or $10M subsidy

Dean Marcilyn Burke will ask the Board of Trustees for a 7% increase – but it’s a shell game. She will keep the money for the law school’s own budget, including more fee remissions. So actual cost will barely change, and after scholarships law students will still pay only ~50% of the listed tuition (on average). In contrast UO only has funding to give undergrads discounts of about 10%. From the Tuition Fee Advisory Board here:

A rough estimate of the current law school subsidy is $10M per year. The latest available data is 2017-18, at https://ir.uoregon.edu/files/Operational_Metrics_LAW_01092018.pdf They spent $13.2M on personnel costs. Figure another 20% for mics, you get about $16M. Add in overhead to JH, IT, Facilities etc, and you’re at at least $20M. They brought in maybe $7M from law student tuition after the discounts, and they taught another 4800 credits to undergrads at about $220 per, averaging in and out-of-state tuition. Let’s call it a total of $8M in tuition revenue versus costs of about $20M. Through in a few offsets from donations and you get $10M in subsidies.

Why are UO’s undergrads paying $10M to subsidize law students and professors? This subsidy helps the law school recruit better students, and is crucial to keeping their US News ranking high. Cutting this subsidy would of course leave the rest of UO with more money – which it could use to improve it’s over all US news ranking. But apparently that’s not important to our administration.

The huge increase in law school scholarships started with this deal cut back in 2014 between then Law School Dean Michael Moffitt, his spouse and VP for Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt, and VP Brad Shelton:

Daily Emerald on Knight Law School troubles

Point-counterpoint in the ODE here:

Background: The Daily Emerald reported last week that the University of Oregon Law School will waive the LSAT requirement for UO undergraduates who have a 3.5 GPA upon graduating and scored in the 85th percentile of the ACT or SAT. Emerald opinion columnists weighed in on the decision:

Cappelletti: The real reasoning behind this policy change

The real reason that the UO School of Law decided to waive LSAT scores is very simple: Their enrollment has been decreasing at an alarming rate since 2010. Instead of making fundamental changes to fix this decade-long problem, the school will now be accepting unqualified students in hopes of boosting enrollment.

From the fall of 2010 to 2018, law school enrollment went from 583 students to 410. In that same period of time, enrollment in the School of Journalism and Communication and College of Arts and Sciences increased. The UO Law School’s response to this has been to exploit an American Bar Association policy that allows 10% of incoming students to not take the LSATー the standardized test required for admission into law school that many students spend months studying for.  …

The reason that the UO School of Law desperately needs more applicants is that in 2014, then-Provost Scott Coltrane gave the school a bailout of $10 million over the course of five years. The law school needs to improve their enrollment in order to pay back the bailout and fund the school going forward. …

Birch: Increasing diversity at the law school

This new policy could have potential benefits, however, including an increase in the accessibility of attending law school. …

The basic cost of taking the LSAT is $200, but this does not take into account the necessary prep courses and tests that most students take. Though a few free practice resources are available, most students will choose to pay for prep courses that will better prepare them for the test. One of the most popular and highly ranked of these courses is Kaplan, which costs at minimum $799.

This price could be a hindrance for low-income students to choose to go to law school, as there are high costs before you even get accepted, if you do get accepted.

UO Law grads excited to hear lower standards will devalue their degrees

Jack Forrest has the report in the Daily Emerald here:

University of Oregon students with a 3.5 GPA upon graduation and an SAT or ACT score in the top 85th percentile will not be required to take the Law School Admissions Test to apply to the UO School of Law.

Currently, 14% of UO law school students are“double ducks,” or UO undergraduate alums, according to Assistant Dean of Admissions Sarah Keiski, who spearheaded the policy change to increase the pipeline of UO undergraduates into the law school.

“It feels great to be in law school in a place you’re comfortable in,” Keiski said. …

“Feels great” is a stretch –  maybe “feels comfortably mediocre”?

In totally unrelated news from the Emerald’s Michael Tobin, the Oregon Bar recently dumbed down its bar exam, under pressure from Oregon law deans, and the pass rate has soared. As his story explains, not all students are excited by the news that their school is devaluing their degrees in an already tough job market.

Oregon Bar Assoc moves to curtail ABA cartel and UO Law

This will not be good for UO’s law school, which has survived on the basis of the ABA’s cartel on licensing lawyers, and subsidies from undergraduate tuition. The ABA Journal has the report here.

One proposal is for the Oregon Bar to license legal paraprofessionals to do work now restricted to bar members. The second would allow people allow people without an ABA-accredited law degree to sit for the Oregon State Bar exam and become regular attorneys:

Recommended by the Oregon State Bar’s Alternative Pathways Taskforce Committee in a 2016 report (starting at PDF page 115), the proposal would allow a person with at least a bachelor’s degree, good moral character, and who has completed a four-year mentorship program in a law office, legal department or court sit for the bar and be licensed in the state.

The committee notes that taking part in the four-year program could cost between $12,000 and $18,000, significantly lower than then $35,000 per year a resident would pay at the University of Oregon School of Law. (Disclosure: the author is a non-resident graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law.) Lower costs could, the committee believes, lead to a more diverse practicing bar in the state.

California, Maine, New York, Washington, Vermont and Virginia already allow people without three-year law degrees to sit for their state bar exams.

As Illinois and Massachusetts once did.

Dean Burke welcomes Knight Law School’s most heavily subsidized class yet

About $23K each. Most of that will come from regular UO undergraduate students’ tuition payments, to discount the tuition of mostly out-of-state law school students:

According to the terms of this 2014 MOU the law school was to get a temporary bailout from UO’s general fund, peaking at $3M, then declining to $1M, with the total $10M to eventually be paid back:

This was nonsense. Not only will it never be paid back, new Dean Marcilyn Burke was able to negotiate a huge increase in the subsidy.

With listed tuition of $38K in-state, $47K out of state, and about 360 students, the law school would bring in about $15M – but their subsidy for tuition discounts will be $8.2M. Here’s last year’s breakdown:

When will this end?

Legislature to add ~$100M to PUSF, Gov Brown wants more

6/7/2019 update: Legislature to add ~$100M to PUSF, Gov Brown wants more

That’s the rumor today. According to Pres Schill’s proposal below, $120M would keep UO’s tuition increase below the 5% trigger for HECC review, and also save Duck AD Rob Mullens a couple hundred large to help pay for his new baseball coach.

5/20/2019 update: Update: Millions from staff and students, not a cent from Duck athletics or Law

President Schill has sent his tuition increase recommendations to the BOT, below. His proposal cuts TFAB’s support for low income students, keeps the LERC and museum cuts, and leaves athletic subsidies untouched. The TFAB’s proposal was for a progressive increase in financial aid as tuition increased. Pres Schill’s recommendation is for only $350K in new financial aid, and that only if the tuition increase goes above 5%, the level which triggers HECC review.

Meanwhile, the “temporary” budget funding for law school scholarships increases by $190K. Of the $44M in fee remissions President Schill mentions below, $7M or goes to UO’s ~410 law school students, for an average of $17,100 each, per year. (I don’t know how it’s split up). The other $37M is divided among UO’s 22,350 other students, for an average of $1,650.

Continue reading

Law school enrollment plummets, but faculty hiring increases

Their enrollment is down 35%, but their faculty count is up and the new hiring plan gives them 2 TTF hires. If this were the humanities, the dean would be laying off NTTF’s and freezing TTF hiring. I don’t know why the law school gets special treatment. These may be replacements for retirements, but why aren’t they facing cuts? The rest of the university is already paying $6.5M a year to subsidize tuition for law students.

UO hires new Law Dean, Marcilynn Burke from Houston


It is my pleasure to announce that Marcilynn Burke will join the University of Oregon as dean of the School of Law. She will begin on July 1.

An outstanding scholar and leader, Burke currently serves as associate dean and associate professor of law at the University of Houston, where she joined the faculty in 2002. Her experience and legal expertise are a tremendous complement to the excellent work of our faculty. As our top candidate, Burke, I believe, will have an instant rapport with her colleagues that will inspire even greater achievements in environmental and natural resources law, dispute resolution, and other areas of emphasis across the school. 

Burke received her bachelor’s degree in international studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her law degree from Yale Law School. At Yale, she was an editor for both the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism and the Yale Journal of International Law.

After receiving tenure at UH in 2009, Burke took a leave of absence to serve at the US Department of the Interior as deputy director for programs and policy at the Bureau of Land Management. 

In 2011, President Barack Obama asked Burke to serve as acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, where she helped develop the land use, resource management, and regulatory oversight policies that are administered by the BLM, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Collectively, these four agencies work to ensure appropriate management and use of federal lands and related resources.

Currently, Burke teaches courses in property law, land-use law, and federal natural resources law. Her research articles have been published in noted journals, such as the Notre Dame Law Review and the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum. Her teaching has earned accolades from students, who awarded her with Professor of the Year honors in 2013 from the University of Houston Law Center’s Black Law Students Association.

Previously, Burke clerked for the Honorable Raymond A. Jackson of the Eastern District of Virginia and spent nearly five years at the Washington, DC, office of the law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, where her practice focused on environmental law, antitrust, and civil and criminal litigation.

Our School of Law is a great asset to this university’s incredible academic offerings, thanks in large part to the steady leadership of Michael Moffitt. We will miss Michael as dean, but we are pleased to welcome him back to the faculty resuming his role as a scholar and teacher. 

Please join me in welcoming Marcilynn Burke to the University of Oregon.


Scott Coltrane

Provost and Senior Vice President

Law School commences search for new dean to replace Moffitt

The search committee is here:

And the ad:

Dean of the School of Law

Posting: 16241
Location: Eugene
Closes: Open Until Filled

The University of Oregon invites nominations and applications for the Dean of the School of Law. The Dean reports to the Senior Vice President and Provost and is the academic leader, fundraiser, and chief executive of Oregon Law. [WTF? CEO of “Oregon Law”? Sounds like a corporate start-up.]

Founded in 1884, the University of Oregon School of Law is the top law school in Oregon with campuses in both Eugene and Portland. It is the state’s only public law school, with a long tradition of training top lawyers, including judges, politicians, government officials, legal scholars, and other law professionals to serve clients, the state, the nation, and the world. Oregon Law’s highly ranked specialty programs include Environmental and Natural Resources law, Appropriate Dispute Resolution, and Legal Research and Writing. The School has a robust undergraduate program in Legal Studies, an LLM program, and a Master’s program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution. The School is well integrated into the larger University community. Building on a commitment to serve the public interest, Oregon Law prepares lawyers to become innovators, activists, and advocates for change, all working within the law to make society better.  More information about the Law School may be found at www.law.uoregon.edu.

The Dean of the School of Law will be an inspiring, broad-minded leader and legal professional with a nimble and dynamic vision for enhancing the excellence of Oregon Law.  The Dean will possess a J.D. and an academic record to qualify for tenure.  Candidates should have a distinguished record of academic achievements in a core discipline and/or interdisciplinary field and the credentials to warrant appointment as a professor within the School. The Dean will nurture high-quality research, teaching, and diversity as important components of academic excellence. The successful candidate also will have strong experience with successful advocacy and fundraising. Candidates should possess demonstrated ability and experience to manage a large, complex budget. In addition to these requirements, the Dean will provide leadership and strategic vision, work well in a collaborative decision-making environment with associates and key constituencies, and have demonstrated organizational and management skills to lead path-breaking legal education.

The University of Oregon is one of only two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities, is a member of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, and holds the distinction of a “very high research activity” ranking in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The University offers 272 undergraduate majors, minors, and graduate degree programs in a wide range of disciplines across nine schools and colleges.  The University has broad-based academic strengths with eight professional programs and 12 doctoral programs ranked among the top 20 percent nationally.

Inquiries, nominations, and expressions of interest may be sent to Werner Boel and Suzanne Teer, the Witt/Kieffer consultants assisting the Law School with this search, at [email protected].  Electronic submissions are strongly encouraged.  A complete application will include a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, and contact information for five professional references.  The anticipated starting date for the new dean is July 1, 2017.  This position is open until filled.

This position is subject to a criminal background check.

Here’s the search firm’s website:


$10M subsidy buys UO Law School a US News rank of #78

ATL has the leaked 2017 rankings here – they’re not out officially until next week.

When Michael Moffitt started as dean, UO Law was ranked #77. They fell year after year, and were tied for #100 in the 2015 rankings. (Released in March 2014). After the $10M subsidy from VPFA Jamie Moffitt kicked in they improved to #84, by waiving tuition for students with decent LSATs. Yes, that’s one of the many ways to play the USNews algorithm.

Moffitt (Michael) will be stepping down next year. His efforts to bring in still more cash for the law school by luring undergrads away from CAS with the Competition not Conflict courses – which he hyped in the NYT – turned into a disaster once the Senate saw the courses. So he’s trying again, with Undergraduate Legal Studies.

Here’s Moffitt’s $10M deal with then Provost Coltrane, signed August 6 2014, the day before he became interim President. I had to file a public records request to get this, and even then it took more than two weeks before UO would release it:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 5.54.11 PM


Full pdf here.