[T]hose of us privileged to serve in our great law schools must be ever vigilant to keep these schools within the reach of all persons of ability, especially the younger generation’s gifted aspirants who come from modest backgrounds—the next generation’s Abe Lincolns* and Barack Obamas. That it one reason why I insisted, as a condition of my appointment, that my overall dean compensation be somewhat lower than the recent norm, both at Illinois and at other elite law schools.As Business Insider points out, the previous dean made $326,651. Amar allegedly agreed to a paltry $324,900 and declined a $25,000 summer stipend. With an estimated 450-500 students, his sacrifice would result in a savings of around $50 on each student's annual tuition bill, which starts at $40k+ for in-state residents. (Or $50 that goes straight into other expenses or school savings).
Neither of these articles points out the most significant factor in his sacrifice: cost of living. According to the U. of California's wage database, Vikram Amar made $268,419 in total compensation at UC-Davis. Using CNN's cost of living comparison tool, we learn that a comparable salary in Champaign-Urbana to making $270k in Sacramento would be around $238,000.
In other words, Amar demanded a pay cut to only be making about 35-40% more than his previous job when adjusted for cost of living. Obviously, it's cheaply-bought publicity. In the grand scheme of things, his reduction in pay won't do a damned thing.
That isn't to say his expressed intention is bad. College and law school - particularly at a "public" school - should be affordable. That an Illinois resident would have to pay $120k+ to study at the state's flagship is about as absurd as trying to pay back $120k working anywhere except the best firms in Chicago.
Problem is, it's patently insane to think a law dean making only $325k is a step towards a solution. It's sort-of like when a morbidly obese person walks two blocks, eats only one bucket of greasy fried chicken for dinner, and claims they're on a weight loss plan.
The real problem here is that the University of Illinois offered this man so much that he felt the need to ask for a reduction. According to the Daily Illini's Salary Guide, Illinois' College of Law has 19 employees who earn $200k or more, 52 total employees who earn $100k or more, and a whopping 99 total employees who earn above Champaign-Urbana's median household income of $46,000. In the top two spots are the husband-wife tandem of Michael Moore and Heidi Hurd, who show a combined income of $611,497.00. (Hurd, readers may recall, is the former dean who once called Paul Pless a "master-mind of numbers and a perfectly straight-forward guy in whom [she had] complete trust.")
That's a fat culture of hiring way too many people and seriously overpaying them, and it's not going to change with the law dean only making $325k. If Dean Amar was serious, he'd lead by example and take far, far less, and he'd demand that people like Moore and Hurd follow his lead. By accepting a $325k salary, he's tacitly endorsing the entire rotten pay structure regardless of what he says publicly. That isn't admirable; quite the opposite. The comparison shouldn't be to "the norm," but to what is "right."
Hopefully, Amar and his peers will take real steps to make law school affordable. This really isn't one.
And what of his reasons for wanting affordability? To say nothing of the ludicrous idea that Illinois is "elite," the idea that law school should especially be affordable for the Abraham Lincolns and Barack Obamas of the world is backwards and borderline delusional. The Obamas and Lincolns of the world don't go to Illinois and often find their place regardless of finances or background. The people who particularly need law school affordability are the run-of-the-mill blue-collar lawyers who didn't land BigLaw but keep the legal system afloat. That, and the people who never got into the legal system because schools like Illinois have been pumping excess supply to enrich humble public servants.
Absolutely, law school should be affordable (not "more affordable." "affordable"). But hollow, empty celebration is as foul as inaction. That Dean Amar is conscious of this problem is a fair start.
That he finds it worthy of public mention to eat his metaphorical eight-scoop birthday sundae with only 99% of the toppings suggests we still have a long way to go to make this fatass industry healthy.