Catholic University will cut operational expenditures
by 20% under a proposal by the Provost, a move that is the
result of a decline in revenue from law school enrollment.
Earlier this year, the Provost asked deans from the
University to trim down their operational expenditures for the next
fiscal year by 20%. This decision has come following a decline
in revenue from decreasing law school enrollment – a challenge that is
being experienced by universities nationwide.
The law school accounts for about 10% of the university’s overall
enrollment, so the mind reels at the extent to which the rest of the
university has been depending for its solvency on encouraging the law
school to produce massively indebted graduates who are unable to get any
sort of legal job in what is at present the worst place in the country
to try to get a job as a lawyer (Washington DC).
This naturally raises the question of how many other universities
depend on their law school’s graduates to cross-subsidize the rest of
the campus to a similar extent. A friend who is in a position to know
tells me that quite a few law schools are now actually running operating
deficits, although university budgets are so byzantine in regard to
cross-subsidization via the charging of “indirect expenses” and the like
that it’s often very difficult to untangle the actual financial
situation. We law faculty are of course encouraged by our
administrative overlords not to worry our pretty little heads about
these matters, not that most of us require much encouragement of that
Another friend makes a prediction:
My suspicion is that law schools will close when they
appear to need long term subsidization. ... [W]hen you read most schools tenure guidelines as
an implied contract, it starts to jump out that cost cutting would be
extraordinarily hard in any department – with seniority rules, the need
to show financial crisis etc. The easy out is actually to “pull the
plug” on the whole department. That is why I think a few colleges could
quite abruptly make the decision to simply close the law school.
I do find amusing the idea that some professors have that everyone
will take a nice round 10% pay cut. You never can really sell an across
the board pay cut – someone always has alimony, kids in school,
impecunious parents, a big mortgage, and if it is hell to make it stick.
Look how fast law firms push out partners having a bad year… The idea
that senior faculty will take one for the team, or junior faculty, many
of whom have big student loans – is not that realistic. The problem
is that it does not look very easy to layoff tenured faculty and oddly,
tenure seems to be one of the few areas in US law where the idea of
constructive dismissal may actually apply (I did some research a while
My own sense of the situation, which I have expressed before, is that
when the first reputable college jumps and announces that its law
school is closing there will be a rising wave of followers. The
interesting question is how far are some schools from that point – if
enrollment is way down in August/September it could start sooner than
many people think.
I note your comment about lack of transparency. The late Dick Gordon
told me, when he was Dean of Georgetown, that he took the decision to
move to Capitol Hill so that he could segregate the finances better –
that the murkiness was in overhead allocation for shared facilities –
registration fees, campus upkeep, heating plant, you name it. Some
departments pay essentially nothing for their use of campus facilities
and office space, lecture halls, gyms, registration services, while law
schools often pay inflated charges, and the law school Deans don’t
necessarily know how inflated.