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A Minority Review on TJSL Restructuring

October 16, 2014

Interpretation is at the heart of the law. It is the task, we soon-to-be attorneys, must master in order to communicate the law and effectively represent our clients. But what happens when there is a breakdown in interpreting what our client communicates? Our ability to make considered decisions and sensible conclusions becomes skewed in the absence of successful interpretation.

Much has been written lately about law schools facing sky rocketing debt, including ours truly, Thomas Jefferson. Most of this press has negatively represented the “current state of affairs” at our school. It has continued to bleed negativity throughout news and social media networks. After all, negative press is always easier to “sell.”

But perhaps, the reason for the press’ success in diminishing our school’s reputation is because readers lacked the ability to appropriately consider and interpret the events surrounding our school. Judgment has become one-sidedly skewed. Alleged holes in the school’s response to the situation have been filled with fears and outcries about what to do if our school closes. But not much has been said with regards to interpreting the positive opposition – that our school’s financial difficulties may not be as bad as the media would like to portray. We have been trained to always consider and conclude for both sides of the argument; in other words, to be well rounded and prepared. And this teaching should be fittingly applied to this situation.

At the Dean’s Forum, on September 17th, many students attended with the hope of getting an opportunity to “fact-check” statements made in the media and to interpret our school’s debt restructuring. Founder of the Business Law Society and current advisor, Jeremy Elias, and myself, have found sensible conclusions to the Dean’s answers that account for the other side of the dispute. Despite the majority of students who still convey a negative opinion of the forum, we share a minority interpretation:

It is important to relay that the Dean was (and still is) optimistic about the negotiations, and that he is steadfast on making sure the outcome is favorable to students.

As Mr. Elias agrees with the Dean’s position, he also shares his business belief that “it’s in everyone’s best interest to restructure.” Bondholders are not in the business of re-selling real estate for an expensive building that has one purpose: to be a school.

In business negotiations, it is important to keep some details confidential. Perhaps, part of Dean Guernsey’s approach in keeping conversations confidential is to avoid announcing details that can create unnecessary panic.

Doing so only “hinders the negotiation process, ” Mr. Elias commented.

We may question, whether as students we have a right to transparent communication from school administrators. To some extent, this may be true. However, consider the fact that when details are released they are then irrevocably plastered over social media, expanding their reach and creating interpretations far beyond the true nature of events. One little detail can turn into something wholly different, as if we are playing “Telephone” as a child. Perhaps, pure transparency from our school may not be in our best interests. Furthermore, the school is likely being strategic in withholding generally confidential facts about its debt negotiations.

Unfortunately the media, and comments made in the Above the Law article, have impacted morale at TJSL. It is understandable, considering its sudden release without the school having an opportunity to properly respond. But articles, such as Above the Law (which are purely blogs in nature) have only unnecessarily placed our school at a disadvantage. Now, it is being forced to respond publically and exclusively address the immediate fears of the students that grow exponentially with every bad article posted. Public forums become breeding grounds for negative judgments and conclusory interpretations of what was – and may still be – happening. Suddenly a spotlight has been placed, front and center, on Thomas Jefferson.

But what we should consider is by reposting such articles, and
panicking or bashing the school, we only make the school seem less desirable/reputable to outsiders. Thus, we intensify the spotlight and negative interpretations.

“That lowers the probability that an incoming 1L would want to come here,” Mr. Elias stated. We shouldn’t actively be trying to make it harder for our school to increase enrollment, and thus encumber its ability to rebound after this recession.

Mr. Elias furthered his opinion by stating “the most important thing that students should remember is that we are on the same team as the Dean. He is on our side, and we need to be on his.”

The best way to support our Dean is to focus on doing well in our studies, gaining relevant legal experience, and pass the bar. We have the opportunity to interpret a negative event and turn it into a positive reflection of the great potential we, as students, have and are about to bring into the profession.

Circling back to the theme of a well-rounded argument, I ask my fellow students to actively consider the good things about our school, our Dean, and our futures. We have just as much impact on our school’s ability to succeed as our Dean does through his difficult decision-making. We should trust our school to do what is necessary to protect our interests and the value of our degrees. So, interpret sensible conclusions about the arguments against our school and communicate a more positive image.

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” – William Butler Yeats