Paul L. Caron

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Vermont's Tenured Faculty Purge Is Part Of Anti-Tenure Trend In Higher Ed 

Vermont Law School Logo (2017)Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Seven Days, Tenuous Tenure: Fewer Profs at Vermont Colleges Enjoy the Status

Vermont Law School professor Peter Teachout said he knew the institution's financial condition was dire but still felt "total shock" when the school presented him and other faculty with a stark choice in May: Give up tenure and accept a two-year contract with a large pay cut, or be fired July 1.

Teachout accepted the controversial deal, which stripped tenure from 14 of the 19 professors who possessed the coveted status at the small private law school in South Royalton.

The radical change made headlines as a threat to a hallowed academic tradition. Tenure typically confers a permanent appointment, generous pay and free speech protections meant to buffer faculty from meddling politicians, overbearing administrators and, in some cases, the complaining public. It isn't easy to come by, though. Colleges increasingly designate fewer teaching jobs as tenure track and often require academics to toil for seven years before tenure is granted. ...

What's happening at Vermont Law School is part of a trend across higher education. The percentage of tenured and tenure-track employees in the academic labor force nationally dropped from 45 to 30 percent between 1975 and 2015. ...

At the law school, Teachout and others are fighting back. The constitutional law professor is a prominent foe: He is the father of Zephyr Teachout, the Democrat who has run unsuccessfully in New York State for attorney general and governor, and husband of Vermont Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout.

With support from other faculty, Peter Teachout urged the American Association of University Professors to investigate the decision to strip professors of tenure. The AAUP announced it would do so in a statement last month that contended the law school had "eviscerated" protections for academic freedom and violated standards for shared governance.

Not so, according to law school dean and president Tom McHenry. He said he welcomes the AAUP investigation and believes that the faculty was properly consulted about the changes in tenure, in accordance with academic norms.

The school faced a $2 million deficit this year that has been largely eliminated because of the restructuring, he added. "The actions we took were entirely appropriate given our financial situation and our programmatic needs," McHenry said. ...

Some faculty ... defend the restructuring. "Tenure is not a promise to maintain a person's employment, under any and all circumstances, forever," said John Echeverria, who is among the school's professors who still have tenure. "The school needed to take bold action, and it did. There was no way to right the ship financially without affecting people with tenure."

That said, Echeverria hopes the law school will return to a greater use of tenure in the future. But for now, he said, he believes the steps taken were the right ones. His hope "is that we went through a one-time restructuring process and that it's behind us." ...

In this pressure cooker of competition for students and tuition, it's unclear how much sway the AAUP might have as it investigates Vermont Law School's decision. It will send a team of three to interview faculty and administrators on the campus later this month, and to issue a report. The association is not an accrediting body. So it doesn't have the big stick accreditors can wave — that is, the authority to remove accreditation and, with it, the all-important flow of federal student aid dollars.

But the association is an influential organization that established the tenure principles in place at many universities across the country. If it adds Vermont Law School to its list of sanctioned institutions, the law school's reputation could suffer a black eye, said Anita Levy, the AAUP senior program officer directing the inquiry.

Prior TaxProf Blog posts:

Legal Education | Permalink


Welcome to the Blue-collar world of outsourcing and competition with those willing to take a much lower wage. And you white collar professionals thought NAFTA was the end of it and it wasn't going to happen to you. Silly profs.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Dec 13, 2018 11:27:44 AM