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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tensions Rise at Albany Law School Amidst Faculty Buyouts

Albany logoFollowing up on my prior posts (links below):  Albany Times Union, Law School Chief Chides Faculty; Buyouts Reached; Trustees, Professors at Odds Over Finances at Albany Law School:

An undisclosed number of professors at Albany Law School are willing to leave in exchange for buyouts as school leaders deal with an increasingly restive faculty that may soon be facing possible pay cuts or unpaid leave.

The school targeted eight teaching positions for buyouts earlier this year to cut expenses, but on Monday a school spokesman was unable to say how many professors had sought the voluntary offer, how many had accepted it or any other details surrounding it. ...

In a confidential April 15 memo to the faculty, [Daniel P. Nolan, chairman of the school's board of trustees,] rebuked them for waging a "smear campaign" against Dean Penelope Andrews as part of "mudslinging" and "vitriolic attacks" that were bringing "dishonor" to the law school. ... Nolan said the trustees would no longer consider anonymous emails from individuals passed through the faculty committee as official communications from the faculty. All future emails from faculty would have to go directly to himself, wrote Nolan, or the "appropriate committee chair on behalf of the board." He said the trustees and Andrews would continue to confront "significant financial challenges ... We have many ideas from the faculty that were put forward over the last year, including furloughs, salary reductions and other means." ...

[M]any professors think the school is financially stronger than it admits, and that Andrews and Nolan are painting a grimmer picture of finances in the short term to justify moves to push out faculty and dismantle a long-standing system of tenure, in which longtime faculty can be terminated only for incompetence — or as a consequence of institutional fiscal distress.

Some of the faculty memos submitted to Nolan and the trustees were obtained by the Times Union.

In one, the unnamed author wrote that "faculty morale is at an all-time low ... Our primary concern is that shared governance (whereby the faculty must have substantial, meaningful engagement and decision-making concerning law school governance), a requirement of American Bar Association accreditation, has not been observed or respected here over the past 18 months. The recent buyout offers, although certainly more welcome than the board's planned involuntary 'head count reductions,' have done very little to address these deep concerns." ...

Last fall, after Andrews raised the idea of layoffs that might be done regardless of tenure, and instead based on criteria created by the dean, a majority of professors in November joined the American Association of University Professors, a Washington, D.C., group that represents academics. ...

Earlier this year, about 25 faculty members filed a complaint on the shared governance concerns with the ABA, which is responsible for accrediting law schools, and some professors have asked the Association of American Law Schools to mediate issues between the administration and faculty. The Association of American Law Schools "is not mediating between the faculty and the school," said AALS spokeswoman Kara Tershel.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/05/tensions-rise.html

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Comments

I really don't understand what interest group within a law school would reasonably believe that it benefits from forwarding documents like these to a newspaper.

Posted by: Former Editor | May 13, 2014 1:38:46 PM

"Vitriolic" usually means "true."

Posted by: michael livingston | May 14, 2014 4:09:46 AM

This kind of problem is happening all over -- law schools are having enrollment problems and thus financial difficulties. Faculty like to talk about faculty governance and blame the dean -- and the one here is quite new -- as if the school would be doing just fine if they listened to the faculty more. Times have changed. In times of change, things can be a bit more dictatorial, because the faculty will have to give up some of what it had.

Posted by: Kirt | May 14, 2014 6:55:05 AM

I am not sure what negotiating chits the faculty thinks it has. Their contracts will be worthless soon if the school can't avoid financial exigency. A colorable cause of action against an insolvent institution isn't much...

Posted by: TS | May 15, 2014 6:03:24 AM

Education is a business like all other endeavors that involve costs. Law school is education: imparting skills that have economic value. Lately, the costs seem to be outweighing the benefits...true legal jobs don't seem to keep pace with the number of graduates. Glad I got my JD in '60!

Posted by: jimbrock | May 15, 2014 6:12:50 AM