Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Vermont Law School Cuts More Than A Dozen Tenured Faculty

Vermont Law School Logo (2017)Following up on my previous posts:

Vermont Digger, Vermont Law School Restructuring Faculty:

More than a dozen faculty at Vermont Law School will lose tenure this year as the institution struggles to level its budget, two senior faculty members confirmed.

While many of the tenured faculty will remain at the school on contract, they will no longer have employment protections under tenure. The school is negotiating terms with each affected member of the faculty this week before the fiscal year ends Friday, the sources confirmed. Some contract faculty have not been given renewal offers; others have been encouraged to retire.

President Thomas McHenry was tight-lipped about the nature of the reductions in an interview last week, including the number of faculty who would not be returning to the school, saying it was a personnel matter. The school employs about 60 faculty, 20 of which are tenure positions. “We are restructuring the faculty into different positions — some of those people are tenure,” McHenry said. “Some of those people will no longer be tenure.” ...

VLS Board of Trustees chair Colleen Connor emphasized the school’s need to adapt to the changing market. “As difficult as this process is, we feel confident in the end Vermont Law School will be a stronger, more vibrant institution that is sustainable in the long term and that continues to meet our mission of an exceptional legal education, producing leaders, and being a preeminent environmental law school,” said Connor in a statement.

McHenry, who became president and dean of the Vermont Law School a year ago, said the restructuring will right size the law school and address ongoing deficits. “The restructuring we’re doing is aiding us in having a sustainable financial model,” McHenry said. “We are looking for every efficiency we can find.”

The Vermont Law School has faced financial problems over the past five years. In 2013, VLS eliminated two tenure positions under former president Marc Mihaly. Four tenure faculty positions and four contract positions were also reduced from full time to part time that year. Those cuts reduced the operating budget by about $4 million, bringing it down to $23 million. ...

One senior professor said faculty were required to sign nondisclosure agreements, eliminating their ability to speak about the status of their positions.

Anita Levy, a senior program officer at American Association of University Professors, said three Vermont Law School professors called her office over the past 10 days, saying their positions had been cut. “We are monitoring the situation,” Levy said. “From our point of view, the termination of tenure is a very serious matter.” ...

The nature of the restructuring efforts, however, could violate American Association of University Professors policies, Levy said. The association makes recommendations for institutions to follow to protect academic freedom. One of those policies is to allow faculty to participate in decisions and be allowed due process when positions or programs are at risk due to financial reasons.

Legal Education | Permalink


Insiders may care about this. Most laymen, however, would be pretty quick to note there are too many lawyers already. Consequently, anything that reduces the oversupply is good news and in accordance with sound economic principles.

Posted by: Mac | Jun 26, 2018 11:17:19 AM

Can someone tell me why several of the New England states lack public, state law schools?

Posted by: AnonLawProf | Jun 26, 2018 12:56:39 PM

In response to Mac, Vermont Law School produces mostly public interest lawyers, of which there are not enough. Not everything can or should be reduced to economic principles.

Posted by: LawProf | Jun 26, 2018 2:49:48 PM

AnonLawProf, I would guess it's an artifact of history. Harvard predates UMass by 200+ years. If private schools in the region flourished early, those states might not be able to justify creating public universities (particularly now, when the set-up cost is much higher and the competition against heavily-endowed schools is steeper). There's certainly a civic case for public legal education that's specific to the state, but the history of elite education and the relatively small Vermont-only market makes it more difficult to make that sell.

Twelve of its twenty tenured faculty certainly looks bad from the outside. For those who have more experience in this space, is that a fair tea leaf to try to read?

Posted by: LSAP | Jun 27, 2018 7:22:16 AM

Per their annual ABA Form 509 Disclosures:

2011: 1,020
2017: 699

2017 acceptance rate: 78.83%
Median LSAT & uGPAs:
2011: 154, 3.54
2017: 151, 3.2

Size of student body:
2011: 607
2017: 383

Percentage of students receiving tuition discounts:
2011: 66.6%
2017: 96%

Median tuition discount:
2011: $15k
2017: $20k

So their enrollment has dropped by a third even as they lower academic standards and now they are giving nearly every student tuition breaks (note that a third of students were paying sticker in 2011). 200 fewer students * $50k sticker = $10 million in lost revenue... and multiply it by three to reflect the length of the JD program. And then there are the larger tuition discounts to the students that are there... It's a small, anachronistic institution that has little purpose - sorry, kids: environmental law employers prefer their new hires come from the Ivy League, just like every other legal employer - and it has no parent institution or sizable endowment to bail it out. Ditto for the public interest jobs, and with the existence of PSLF, more *elite* law school grads are looking at the public interest as an escape hatch for their $300k in law school loans.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 27, 2018 10:46:37 AM

I have never heard of a school terminating 3/4 of its core tenured faculty. Raises grave concerns about its management and its future.

Posted by: LawProf | Jun 27, 2018 12:22:40 PM


Let's not forget VLS's own creditors. VLS has >$10 million in bond debt rated by Moodys at a borderline-perilous Baa2 Negative. After Baa2 is Baa3, and after that you enter non-investment grades (i.e. junk). And then there's the very odd $17 million loan Senator Leahy of Vermont brokered last year with the Department of Agriculture (really). These folks would not, I imagine, be happy if the school declared financial exigency, so perhaps the school is trying to shed tenured payroll without having to make the actual exigency declaration.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 28, 2018 7:23:48 AM

The school employs 60 full-time faculty and many more adjuncts. Some of the professors that are leaving are not great in the classroom and the students are happy to see them go. Several of the faculty members are in their mid-seventies and they are choosing to retire. Only a small number are leaving while many will stay on teaching a course or carrying on their research. The plan will set the school on a positive financial footing. It makes sense.

Posted by: VTLawStudent | Jun 28, 2018 5:59:14 PM

Something is not adding up. The school has a $23 million annual budget (after the new faculty cuts!), but I calculate tuition receivables as under $12 million. School has 383 students, 96 percent get "merit" scholarships, no scholarships are conditional, median scholarship is $20k. Simple math indicates $11.49 million in tuition.

Where is the other $12 million coming from?

Posted by: JM | Jun 29, 2018 6:32:23 AM

AnonLawProf and LSAP: Regarding the scarcity of public law schools in New England, it is partly an artifact of history. Yes, private universities did have several centuries' worth of a head start in New England, in all of higher education, not just law school.
But the main reason the superiority of private universities persists to this day is political, not historical. Whenever the issue comes up in Massachusetts of improving public higher education or adding a new program, the large, powerful universities and their considerable alumni bases (which are deeply entrenched in business, community organizations, and the state legislature) start wielding their considerable political influence to kill or cut back on the idea.
This is why the flagship state university in Massachusetts is out in the western part of the state and not in Boston. The Boston outpost of the state university system is much smaller, has fewer programs, a much lower ranking, and was until recently just a commuter school.
This is why it took FOREVER to get a public medical school, and when we got it, it was out in Worcester, not in Boston, so as not to compete with Harvard, Tufts, and B.U. medical schools.
This is why it took FOREVER to get a much-needed public nursing school at UMass Boston, which private schools, particularly B.U. (which treatened to shut down its nursing program), resisted strenuously.
When I was considering Law school in the early 1990s, we had exactly two small public law schools in New England - the University of Maine and the University of Connecticut, neither of which is at its university's flagship campus.
We now have two more, due to Franklin Pierce Law Center's becoming part of the University of New Hampshire and Southern New England's becoming part of UMass. Both formerly independent law schools took huge leaps in prestige and viability with their moves to tax-supported status.
I do not know the details of Pierce-New Hampshire deal, but Southern New England was an utter failure factory on the verge of going out of business when it first tried to sell itself to the State. Legislators laughed them out the door. Then, a few years later, in 2010, Southern took the ultimate tack of offering itself to the public benefit for FREE! This time, the state legislature took the bait of the sure-thing future profit center that Southern New England had presented itself as. I think a large part of the reason the deal went through was the school's location - right across the street from the UMass-Dartmouth campus, down near the Cape and far, far away from Boston and the 6 law schools there. The fact the "gift" included land, buildings, and a pile of cash was probably a big factor also.
Getting back to Vermont Law School, I recall it had tried once to affiliate with another school but nothing came of it. So now it's on its own to weather the economic storms of our current times. How will it do that? Will it do that? Maybe it will do what Southern New England Law did - give itself away to the State. Or, maybe it will do what some other small, private New England schools (not law schools) have done - sell off a few acres of land to developers and use the cash to pay bills.

Posted by: Old Ruster | Jun 29, 2018 12:51:11 PM