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
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.