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July 08, 2013

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KL

@Anony July 8 at 6:48 PM:

Is one of those law schools at a certain land grant university that's happily located in a valley in the center of a large mid-Atlantic state that has several other law schools? Word has it they’re multiple millions of dollars in the red, and that other units in the university are fed up watching millions in subsidies going to the law school.

journeyman

I wonder if it is fair or ethical to mention the schools that are undergoing mass layoffs, so I haven't mentioned them. All I can tell you is that I know of two such schools.

Having said that, I think a lot depends on where you stand on the law school ladder.

Second and third tier schools (and even more so, of course, top 50 schools) can always lower their standards to keep their entering classes from shrinking too much. My sense (which could well be wrong) is that a student's chances of failing the bar are pretty low as long as their LSAT is above 150, so a second or third tier school whose average LSAT a few yrs ago was 155 can admit low 150s students to avoid layoffs.

But down in the fourth tier (and even more so, the lower half of the fourth tier, and even MORE so, freestanding law schools in the lower half of the fourth tier), a school may have to choose between much smaller classes and having virtually open admissions. And in that situation layoffs become much harder to avoid.

This is especially true, of course, for freestanding law schools. A school with a university can at least get the university to delay the day of reckoning for a year with subsidies.

And this discussion taught me something I hadn't thought about before- that if a law school is part of a mostly-stable university, faculty can argue that the possibility of university subsidies means that the fiscal situation might not be bad enough to trigger the "financial crisis allowing layoffs" clause of a tenure policy. I am not sure the argument would win in court but at least it gives tenured faculty a bit of bargaining power to stave off layoffs, or at least to get less-bad buyout terms.

BoredJD

The law school model seems to draw an interesting parallel with the big firm layoffs. When faced with fee pressure from clients, large firms laid off staffers first, then associates, then service partners. Some firms appeared to sacrifice some partner compensation rather than lay people off. But most firms will not do this, for fear their top rainmakers will leave for greener pastures.

It's likely we'll see the same behavior with law schools. Some "partners" (i.e. deans and tenured faculty members) will be more willing to sacrifice compensation. Others will be more willing to lay off non-tenured employees. Seton Hall's faculty did agree to take a 10% compensation cut. Whether other law schools will follow remains to be seen.

Alfred Brophy

@journeyman and MacK,

Some tenure documents allow for layoff of faculty when there is substantial change in programming, even if there is not financial exigency. As MacK points out, if an entire department is eliminated the tenured faculty can be laid off. But even without closing a department, those schools can lay off tenured faculty if there is a substantial decrease in enrollment. I haven't made anything like a systematic study of this, so I'm not sure of the prevalence of such provisions. However, I suspect it'll be easier for many schools to lay off tenured faculty than is usually believed.

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