University of Oregon Professor Trashes School, Faculty, And Students
Before you press the send button, ask yourself: “Does this email put me in the best light?” More important: “Could it be read by anyone else (like, say, the western hemisphere)”?
Email is mightier than the machete… and nothing written ever stays private. Those were lessons learned this week by Rob Illig, an associate law professor at the University of Oregon. In a string of emails and comments that ended up in various national outlets, the now-infamous Illig managed to personify the worst stereotypes of academics and lawyers.
So what set Illig off? Turns out, his peers were attempting to (gasp) forego their raises and use the money to fund jobs for unemployed students. The horror! That’s right, these heartless scholars were willing to give up thousands of dollars so their graduates could gain experience. And they did it with no intention of fluffing their U.S. News ranking. Seems pretty noble, right?
Well, that’s where Illig comes into play. Apparently, no one ran the idea past him (even though it eventually got nixed). While his initial qualms were with the process, he quickly spun out and hit the trifecta, trashing the school, his peers, and students alike. Here are some snapshots of Illig’s epic rant:
The University of Oregon:
“(And, by the way, the complete absence of the deans and faculty at that symposium was noticeable and embarrassing. A number of the very students we are trying to support asked why their other law review advisors, their deans, and their friends on the faculty failed to show up to support them. I was, in truth, ashamed and had no good explanation – and many of the students were clearly angry and disillusioned. Expect another class to graduate with ill feelings toward us. And throwing a few scholarships their way won’t make up for our failure to be there when they need us.)”
“How can I trust the administration or any of my faculty colleagues? No wonder we’ve become a third-tier law school. Who’s going to want to come here to study or teach in this kind of poisonous atmosphere?”
“No wonder the students and faculty are disillusioned and our ranking is plummeting.”
“We are the most underpaid unit on campus, according to Johnson Hall figures. Is it possible that our third-tier status is actually related to the fact that our incomes are falling as compared to the cost of living? as compared to our competitors? Is it possible that when you pay more you get more?”
Wow! Talk about bulletin board material for rival recruiters. And Illig isn’t any kinder to his fellow faculty members:
“I’ve watched as our culture has eroded now for almost three years. Everyone is in everyone else’s business, instead of their own. Everyone is worried about what everyone else is getting, not what they can personally contribute. If some professor or professors want to donate their raise to the students – or to some other worthy charity – that’s their business.”
“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?”
“You shouldn’t be angry that I earn so much. You should be angry that you don’t earn more. Instead of trying to bring me down, let’s all work together to try and bring everyone up. We’re actually in the same boat, whether you realize it or not.”
“White man’s guilt?” Well, I guess Illig could’ve used the term “white man’s burden” and made it even more offensive. Alas, he saved his most damning comment for the students he purports to protect:
“I feel that having given up the chance at a seven-figure annual income is charity enough for the students, and I am particularly saddened by hungry children. Maybe I should move that the recipients of summer stipends donate those funds to the poor and needy?”
‘Let them eat cake!’ That’s what Marie Antoinette allegedly uttered while her peasants were suffering through a famine. In an employment crisis, Illig apparently thinks students should drink from his wisdom and be satisfied.
If you think that is out of touch, just wait until you hear his simple fix for increasing Oregon’s law school ranking:
“We are ranked 100 overall in the latest US News for one simple reason – we don’t charge high tuition.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket. And Illig’s passive-aggressiveness and logical fallacies could fill a weekend law seminar:
“We each face different financial pressures. And we each make all sorts of charitable and other contributions, in both money and kind. Should we put them all on the table? Do I get to keep more of my raise because last year I gave more to the United Way than any other dean or faculty member, even though I am by no means the highest paid? or because I gave up the most salary when I joined the academy?” (That’s wise…drag your boss into it.)
“The culprit here isn’t us. So let’s stop turning our anger and our efforts on each other.” (Wait, did you start it?)
“And what are the sponsors of the proposal doing to raise law school income? My Summer Sports Institute – which the faculty voted wasn’t a priority – is already projected to bring profit into the law school, not to mention a reputational boost.” (“Look at me! Look at me!”)
Of course, Illig never squanders an opportunity to bring up his true worth:
“In my former life, I was an M&A lawyer at a large New York law firm, where I was all but certain to be earning more that $1 million annually. No one can tell me I’m not on the students’ side.”
“And that doesn’t mean we need to be at parity with law firms (again, I would have been earning in excess of $1 million annually).”
Yeah, someone is paying a visit to the human resources department. While HR tends to look the other way when it comes to harassment, threats, and cronyism from leadership, they consistently strike the hammer down when a staffer speaks his mind or mentions salary.
And that’s too bad in this case. Sure, Illig comes across as an insulated, entitled braggart at first glance. Look below the surface and you’ll recognize a fierce student advocate who’s waging a daily battle against a lack of resources, communication, and engagement. His victories are small and tenuous… and he rarely gets the respect he richly deserves. In other words, Illig is a burnout case, no different than the beaten-down cube dwellers or middle school teachers that populate every zip code. You can almost imagine him poking his head out of the faculty lounge window and screaming, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Despite his flaws, Illig may be the type of prof we need more of. Obviously, his rant has been bubbling for a long time. But heed its warning. Chances are, Illig isn’t a lone voice. He’s just ahead of the curve.
To read the entire email string, check out Taxprof below.