The controversy died down a bit in 2016, but it is still out there: unemployed young lawyers are still blaming their law schools for the fact that their degrees didn’t deliver riches and success in a competitive field. When a ballyhooed lawsuit by one such lawyer failed last April, it briefly muted the howling, but the central misconception is still virulent. From the Ethics Alarms post about that law suit:
The rejection of Alaburda’s law suit sends a message that young lawyers need to hear, and heed. If they thought a law degree was going to guarantee their success, they have been tragically confused by the culture’s hucksters and politicians, not the law schools. For too long, education has been sold as the key to income and jobs, when it is nothing but a process designed to make more competent, able, creative and responsible human beings. By itself, a degree proves nothing. It only signifies that its owner has had access to useful knowledge and the chance to develop useful skills. It is up to graduates to use that knowledge and those skills to make a life for themselves. If they fail to achieve their goals, they cannot blame the law school because they perceived a promise that was never made.
One failed suit, however, couldn’t undo the destructive false message society and its leaders have been issuing for decades: “the purpose of earning a diploma is to get a good job.” As more and more young men and women are steered into college and a college degree becomes symbolic of nothing, there will be more law suits by college graduates like the one currently being fought in Great Britain, where Faiz Siddiqui, an Oxford graduate, is suing his alma mater for not giving him a first-class degree 16 years ago. (In British universities, graduating with a “first class degree” is roughly similar to graduating “with honors” in an American college. Based on a student’s grades, Oxford gives out three classes of degrees, first-class being the highest.)
Siddiqui is now 38 years old, angry and disillusioned. In his suit, he alleges that his life and career were stunted because he didn’t earn “a first,” as the degree is called, when he studied modern history at Brasenose College and graduated from Oxford University in June 2000. “Negligent teaching” in a course on Indian imperial history, he says, pulled down his overall grade and ruined his life. Now he’s asking for a million British pounds in damages for his lack of lifetime earnings in a legal action against the Oxford chancellor, masters and scholars. His barrister, Roger Mallalieu, also claims that Oxford is responsible for Siddiqui’s insomnia and depression.
Apparently the history module was less than optimum while Siddiqui was a student, because half of the teaching staff responsible for Asian history were on sabbatical. Mallalieu told the British high court that the inferior teaching resulted in his client’s lesser grade and thus “denied him the chance of becoming a high-flying commercial barrister.”
The obvious hooey of this suit is that it is the consequentialism complaint of the century, making the self-ratifying argument that if a student fails at his career objectives, his or her education is at fault, but if he or she succeeds, then everything must have been fine. It took this guy sixteen years to figure out that he wasn’t getting the brass ring he wanted, so rather than be accountable for his own choices and performance, it’s all Oxford’s fault.
Ella Whelan at Spiked perfectly sums up what’s wrong with this, and though she is speaking of British society, her words are equally forceful as the apply to ours, and the similar law suits to come in the States. She writes in part…
This is absurd. By the same logic I could sue my primary school, St Joan of Arc, for removing the monkey bars when I was in Year Three, thus thwarting my potential as a gymnast. I could take my GCSE teacher to court for telling me I couldn’t sew straight and in the process killing my dreams of being a designer.
[ An aside: A less extreme analogy occurred to me while reading about the suit, for my college studies were seriously hampered by constant student unrest on campus that led to days of class cancellations in two of my four years. It never occurred to me to blame my relative lack of fame and fortune on this, but if Siddiqui succeeds, I may take a shot. We’re talking about a bit longer than 16 years, but…]
Siddiqui seems incapable of accepting that it was most likely his own failings as a student, or perhaps his choices as an adult, that prevented him from getting his dream job….A little self-awareness would serve Siddiqui better than a court case against Oxford.
…[T]his is the logical outcome of the commercialisation of education. When university is presented as little more than a stepping stone to a career and the thing that keeps the British economy going – that is, in narrow economic terms – it is hardly surprising that, like customers, students ask for money back when they don’t get the product they wanted…Increasingly, students are encouraged to see education as something to put on their CVs….It’s rare and refreshing to find a student spending long hours in the library simply because they love learning rather than viewing their degree as a ticket to a corner desk at Goldman Sachs…
We should encourage people to go to university, not as the default step between school and working life, but as a way of broadening their minds, challenging their preconceived opinions, and learning new things about a subject they’re passionate about. Yes, if you do well, it might give you an advantage in certain areas of employment, but this shouldn’t be the reason for university; making it the reason is robbing university life of its purpose.
Read her whole article, please. What Whelan describes in Great Britain is also is one of the primary forces making American education worthless and American students stupid. If the creator of Trump University is able to recognize the seriousness of the problem and do anything substantive to address it, I will be very, very pleased.
(And even more surprised.)