Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

WSJ: Law Schools Slash Professor Jobs as Enrollments Drop

Wall Street Journal:  Amid Falling Enrollment, Law Schools Are Cutting Faculty:

Law schools across the country are shedding faculty members as enrollment plunges, sending a grim message to an elite group long sheltered from the ups and downs of the broader economy.

Having trimmed staff, some schools are offering buyouts and early-retirement packages to senior, tenured professors and canceling contracts with lower-level instructors, who have less job protection. Most do so quietly. But the trend is growing, most noticeably among middle- and lower-tier schools, which have been hit hardest by the drop-off.

Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., for example, has shrunk its full-time faculty about 18% since 2010, and the school is exploring ways to further scale back its head count. Ten faculty members have retired since the school began offering early-retirement incentives in 2011, and four more have accepted agreements and plan to retire in the coming academic year. That has allowed the regional law school to balance its budget amid what Hamline Dean Don Lewis calls "the tsunami effect" of declining enrollment nationwide. This year's entering class at Hamline is expected to be about 100 students, Mr. Lewis said—a 55% drop from 2010. ...

Law schools faced with a dwindling pool of applicants confront a tough choice. They can fill seats by relaxing admissions criteria, a tactic that risks jeopardizing their standing in the influential annual rankings put out by U.S. News & World Report. Or they can maintain standards and just accept fewer students, making up for lost tuition dollars through deeper cost-cutting.

This past spring, eight professors at Vermont Law School accepted offers to restructure their terms of employment by retiring early, taking pay cuts or giving up tenure. Earlier this year, 21 professors accepted buyout packages at Widener University School of Law, which operates campuses in Wilmington, Del., and Harrisburg, Pa. And last fall, the University of Dayton School of Law offered early-retirement packages to 14 professors, seven of whom took them.

Between 2010 and 2012, Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, N.J., cut its enrollment 43%. Last month, the school gave notice to seven untenured professors that their contracts might not be renewed for the 2014-15 academic year.,,,

At George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, ranked 41st by U.S. News & World Report, the entering class of 2012 was about half the size of the 2010 entering class because the school chose not to boost enrollment by lowering admission standards....

The revenue shortfall doesn't always stop at the law-school steps. For example, a 2% cut in Catholic University's 2014 fiscal-year budget was due, in part, to declining enrollment at its Columbus School of Law. Last year 141 first-year law students enrolled at Columbus, down nearly 50% from 274 in 2010, according to ABA data. ...

At University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif., the enrollment drop sped up a planning process outlined in 2009 to shrink the law school and use some of its 13-acre campus for graduate-level business and policy classes. Several professors have taken buyouts as the school rescales its JD program from 1,000 students to about 600.

WSJ Law Blog: Cuts to Law School Faculties: A Chat with Two Experts, by Ashby Jones:

We recently caught up with two of the legal academy’s more vocal critics, Brian Tamanaha and Paul Campos, to talk about the latest development in the ongoing “law-school crisis” — schools trimming their faculties as student bodies contract.

Update:  More here.

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I don't take pleasure in the legal academy shrinking, but it's a necessary evil. Many universities irresponsibly rushed to open new law schools or to expand class size. This contraction is a natural result of the previous expansion.

Posted by: HTA | Jul 16, 2013 11:18:50 AM

This ship be sinking! Finally the profs who simply regurgitate the same useless nonsense year after year and make a comfy 6 figure salary are feeling the pain that they have inflicted on so many students. I went to law school in 2004 because I felt bad working in the "sub-prime" mortgage industry and charging people 5 points to do a home loan. At least those people had the protection of the BK laws, these law schools are a million times worse than the sub-prime lenders of the early 2000s.

Posted by: Dave Camel | Jul 16, 2013 9:56:49 AM

Like many law schools, George Mason's class has shrunk, but not nearly by half. The 2010 entering class was unusually large, 300 as opposed to 210 or so normally in the "old" days.

Posted by: David Bernstein | Jul 16, 2013 6:50:04 AM

This is all wonderful news, but only a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to happen.

Schools have grown fat with bloat (faculty and especially administrative), and the current generation of 20- and 30-somethings (myself included) are paying the price with life-crushing debt.

The entire higher education system needs to shrink massively if it is to survive, unless our Dear Leader decides to nationalize it next.

Posted by: Todd | Jul 16, 2013 5:40:06 AM