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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, July 13, 2018

Vermont Strips Tenure From 14 Of 19 Law Profs

Vermont Law School Logo (2017)Following up on my previous posts (links below):  ABA Journal, 14 of 19 Vermont Law Professors Lose Tenure, Retention Chair Tells Professors' Organization:

After being informed by the chair of Vermont Law School's retention committee that the school stripped 14 law professors of tenure, the American Association of University Professors has questioned whether the school followed proper regulations.

In a June 19 letter sent to the school’s tenure and retention committee chair, the AAUP conceded that under “extraordinary circumstances because of financial exigencies,” law schools can terminate faculty appointments for reasons other than adequate cause. However, in such circumstances, the faculty, administration and governing board should together determine if financial exigencies exist, and faculty should have a “primary responsibility” in determining where the termination of appointments occur, as well as identifying criteria for the terminations, according to the letter.

The school has approximately 60 faculty members, VT Digger reports. According to the letter to the AAUP from Peter Teachout, chair of Vermont Law School’s tenure and retention committee, Vermont Law School had made a decision to cut costs by “stripping 14 out of 19 tenured faculty members of tenure.” ...

Craig Pease, a Vermont Law professor who told the ABA Journal that he was stripped of tenure, says that the institution has not stated that it faces financial exigencies. Teachout told the ABA Journal that faculty was not involved in deciding who would be stripped of tenure, other than two tenured professors who are also part of the law school’s administration.

“Even if the faculty, administration, and governing board had together determined that a state of financial exigency … did exist, the process enacted for determining whose appointments have been terminated is still be unacceptable under principles of academic freedom and tenure. Indefinite tenure carries with it the presumption of competence,” states the letter, which was signed by Anita Levy, the organization’s senior program officer.

Thomas McHenry, Vermont Law School’s dean, would not confirm whether professors were stripped of tenure, saying that any arrangements made with faculty were subject to confidential agreements. McHenry, a former Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner who became the law school’s dean in 2017, he describes the developments as “programmatic restructuring to put us in a better financial situation.” ...

According to Pease, faculty were consulted about possible options but had no role in deciding what would ultimately happen, or how the plan would be carried out. “When the administration says that it consulted with faculty, it consulted with faculty on the two options it did not pursue,” says Pease, mentioning faculty voluntarily going to half-time or quarter-time while retaining tenure, and across-the-board salary cuts.

Pease did not sign a no-suit or nondisclosure agreement with the law school, and last week an attorney on his behalf sent Vermont Law a letter demanding his job back, with tenure. ...

The AAUP letter states that faculty members stripped of tenure should receive at least one year of notice or severance salary. According to information Teachout shared with the ABA Journal, Vermont Law professors who lost tenure will receive salary at a new scale for six months in the fiscal year 2019, and medical benefits through Dec. 31.

In exchange, the professors must agree to a “full and mutual release of all claims,” the document states, and nondisclosure agreements, according to Teachout. Some professors who lost tenure were reportedly offered “distinguished lecturer” positions that pay $80,000 a year for teaching a minimum of four classes a year. Teachout says that would be a pay reduction of almost 50 percent for some professors, who’d be doing the same amount of work that they did with tenure. ...

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Vermont Law School has distinguished itself in Environmental Law. Higher education is a business, especially for tuition dependent institutions. Most law schools are financially hurting today. A stand alone law school, such as Vermont, is especially vulnerable. Yet academic institutions cannot be treated as a private business in the marketplace. Tenure, and especially faculty handbooks and manuals, create contractual rights, including how dismissals should occur in a financial exigency. Non-tenure faculty are usually the first to be cut. An action such as this will severely impact applications, enrollment, and transfers.

Posted by: Denis Binder | Jul 13, 2018 6:25:48 AM

Apparently, Vermont Law School needs to face the new reality. There are TOO MANY institutions chasing too little demand. Time to fold its tents.

Posted by: OldLawProf | Jul 13, 2018 11:13:23 AM

"Yet academic institutions cannot be treated as a private business in the marketplace."
Sure they can. In fact, there is no particular reason they can't.
It's not like academic institutions are religions.

Posted by: Steve Kellmeyer | Jul 13, 2018 2:28:25 PM

I'm sorry for the personal difficulties of the impacted professors, however they all new VLS was struggling and had been for years, that the high tuition for a law degree of limited marketability was pricing them out of the market, that the ROI on a law degree has been plummeting for most recent law graduates, given the huge amounts of student debt their kids were taking on. The music was bound to stop sometime, and there aren't enough chairs to go around. Another casualty in the evolving field of legal education and practice. Welcome to the world of blue collar workers of 25 years ago.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jul 16, 2018 10:20:32 AM

The tragic unwritten story about law schools and rising tuition, is that the money really doesn't go to the professors. I wish there was more analysis of where that revenue goes.

Posted by: anon | Jul 16, 2018 8:55:46 PM