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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to Cut Law School Tuition

CoverNational Jurist (Mar. 2013):  How to Cut Tuition:

Law Schools are cutting expenses in expectation of smaller class sizes. While most can't think of cutting tuition in this environment, the actions they take during the next few years could determine whether legal education moves toward a more affordable future. ...

"The race to teach less has not served us well, and student-to-faculty ratios were driven more by U.S. News & World Report's [annual rankings] than by rigor," [Gene Nichol (North Carolina)] said. "Professors don't teach enough. The notion that [teaching more] would cripple scholarship is not true and we know it." ...

[T]he primary problem facing most law schools is what to do with all the faculty they have on staff. ... "Laying off untenured [faculty] would be very destructive," [Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.)] said. "They are teaching important skills and valuable classes."

Tamanaha said the better option is to offer buyouts to tenured professors. "We will see schools offer separation packages -- one or two year's compensation if you go now," he said. "The only people interested in a buyout would be people with sufficient retirement funds or professors with practices on the side." Vermont Law School and Penn State University Dickinson School of Law have discussed similar steps. ...

Brian Leiter, a law professor at the University of Chicago Law School who runs a blog on legal education, has predicted that as many as 10 law schools will go out of business during the next decade.

Rather than face closure, law schools could take more drastic steps -- even overcoming tenure. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Tulane University declared financial exigency and eliminated entire departments -- terminating tenured professors. The same action has happened at other universities faced with economic hardships.

"If you say this is a tsunami of a different kind -- the 100 year flood -- then a dean could let go of faculty," another law professor said. For example, a school could choose to eliminate nonessential specialties, such as a tax law program, and terminate most faculty in those areas.

In addition to eliminating tenured positions, a dean could reduce salaries out of financial necessity. "Schools under severe financial pressure may be faced with an even starker option -- closing their doors," Tamanaha said. ...

Nichol said all law schools should reconsider their current salary structures, and not just schools in the worst economic position. "In the same way that the market for graduates is adjusting, it would not be absurd for our salaries to adjust as well," he said. "I don't see why our leave packages should be more generous than other parts of the campus. We will have to fix that now before we forced to."

Nichol said schools should consider eliminating sabbaticals, trimming travel and reducing summer research grants. "Every school needs to look line by line for where it can cut costs," [David Yellen (Dean, Loyola-Chicago)] said. Faculty travel, conferences and other things can add up to a couple of professors salaries."

For my take, see The Law School Crisis: What Would Jimmy McMillan Do?, 31 Pepperdine Law 14 (Fall 2012).

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It should get pretty interesting when Deans making half a million start addressing faculty about buyouts and paycuts. They will really have to face each other in an adversarial way.

There are so many schools that will be under intense pressure by this time next year. Especially at private, non-elite, tier 1 schools, i.e. Brooklyn, Tulane, Valiparaso, George Mason, San Diego, Northeastern. The number of these schools is legion, they all charge Harvard's price, and they're all one-way tickets to underemployement.

Posted by: JM | Mar 14, 2013 11:56:51 AM