Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 11, 2018

Head Of Vermont's #1 Environmental Law Program Resigns As Law School Restructures

Vermont Law School Logo (2017)Following up on last week's post, Vermont Law School Plans Faculty Cuts:  E&E News, Leader Exits as Top Environmental Law School Struggles:

The head of Vermont Law School's storied environmental law program has resigned as the school undergoes "restructuring" to overcome financial problems.

David Mears, who directs the school's Environmental Law Center, told E&E News yesterday he'll exit at month's end. ...

Founded in 1972 and tucked into the hills of South Royalton, Vt., Vermont Law School has topped the U.S. News & World Report list of the best environmental law programs for 10 years running. It's been the top program 20 times in the past 28 years. ...

But like other independent law schools, Vermont Law has struggled financially in recent years. As with other schools that derive the bulk of their funding from tuition, VLS has had to contend with dropping enrollment levels and fewer job opportunities for students after school.

The school went through a round of layoffs and buyouts in 2013 as its operating revenue fell and enrollment declined. New enrollees in the law program plummeted by 45 percent from 2009 to 2013, according to research by Moody's Investors Service. Moody's downgraded the school's bond rating in 2014, saying the downgrade reflected "continued substantial declines in JD enrollment...

"It's no secret that VLS, like many institutions of higher education (and particularly law schools), has been facing considerable financial pressures for most of this decade," wrote Thomas McHenry, the school's president and dean, in an email to the school's students and faculty on May 31. ...

But while there are some positive signs — enrollment increased to more than 630 students in fall 2017, of whom 418 were pursuing Juris Doctor degrees — VLS still faces a budget crunch. ...

While VLS prides itself on being small and independent, that means it "doesn't have a larger university to rely on for administrative support, fundraising help, or to fill budget deficits," McHenry wrote. "Accordingly," he said, "we must be self-reliant."

Along with increasing tuition for the law program from $47,998 to $48,254 for the next school year, VLS in October began what McHenry called "programmatic restructuring." He acknowledged that the process would raise "difficult decisions and conversations."

"Some current faculty and staff will move on and pursue other opportunities," he wrote. "They will always have our utmost respect and gratitude for the time they have served the VLS community." ... McHenry, who has taught environmental law and policy, said that the school would be "fair and equitable" to faculty, and that some have agreed to transition to part-time and to take on more work without a pay increase.

"Some discussions with faculty are still underway and confidential, and we are respecting the privacy of our community," McHenry told E&E News today. "However, we are pleased that the vast majority of environmental faculty will continue teaching in our environmental program, and we will also be welcoming some new additions."

He has vowed that the school would continue to have a robust environmental law program.

Legal Education | Permalink


Anyone who honestly thinks that this is "the best environmental law program in the nation" is a prospect for buying the Brooklyn Bridge.

Posted by: PaulB | Jun 11, 2018 4:42:31 PM

Vermont has produced some good people, this is unfortunate.

Posted by: mike livingston | Jun 12, 2018 4:30:23 AM

I mean, VLS graduates between 125 and 200 law school grads per year while the state capitol only has 7,855 people. I don't think they need to produce 2.5% of the state capitol's population every year in new attorneys.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 13, 2018 8:42:26 AM