For-profit law schools are a capitalist dream of privatized profits and socialized losses. But for their debt-saddled, no-job-prospect graduates, they can be a nightmare.
David frakt isn’t easily intimidated by public-speaking assignments. A lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve and a defense attorney, Frakt is best known for securing the 2009 release of the teenage Guantánamo detainee Mohammad Jawad. He did so by helping to convince a military tribunal that the only evidence that Jawad had purportedly thrown a hand grenade at a passing American convoy in 2002 had been extracted by torture.
By comparison, Frakt’s presentation in April to the Florida Coastal School of Law’s faculty and staff seemed to pose a far less daunting challenge. A law professor for several years, Frakt was a finalist for the school’s deanship, and the highlight of his two-day visit was this hour-long talk, in which he discussed his ideas for fixing what he saw as the major problems facing the school: sharply declining enrollment, drastically reduced admissions standards, and low morale among employees.
But midway through Frakt’s statistics-filled PowerPoint presentation, he was interrupted when Dennis Stone, the school’s president, entered the room. (Stone had been alerted to Frakt’s comments by e-mails and texts from faculty members in the room.) Stone told Frakt to stop “insulting” the faculty, and asked him to leave. Startled, Frakt requested that anyone in the room who felt insulted raise his or her hand. When no one did, he attempted to resume his presentation. But Stone told him that if he didn’t leave the premises immediately, security would be called. Frakt packed up his belongings and left.
What had happened? Florida Coastal is a for-profit law school, and in his presentation to its faculty, Frakt had catalogued disturbing trends in the world of for-profit legal education. This world is one in which schools accredited by the American Bar Association admit large numbers of severely underqualified students; these students in turn take out hundreds of millions of dollars in loans annually, much of which they will never be able to repay. Eventually, federal taxpayers will be stuck with the tab, even as the schools themselves continue to reap enormous profits.