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January 31, 2014

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Observer

"Unrestricted reserves might need to be tapped, but I don't think anyone would argue that they should be depleted."

Huh? What on earth does that mean?

"currently the school is in good financial condition"

Applications have dropped by half from 2009 to 2013. Matriculants have dropped by a third. The median LSAT of entrants has dropped from 155 in 2009 (63.9 percentile) to 152 (52.2). (All figures from Campos.)

Under what possible criterion could the school be described as "being in good financial condition"?

MacK

I certainly had sympathy for many law professors, especially the younger ones and the way in which they have trapped themselves - but many of the smug, self absorbed and generally selfish collection posting here tend to erode that very fast. Obviously there are a few identifiable individuals - one of two who post here and one well known defender of the law school scam who I would not donate even urine in a personal conflagration - but they have certainly earned such hostility on my part - personal attacks on my family for example being unforgivable, as is facilitating them.

Willy Wonka

a)@anon: I am not a faculty member of ALS. That seems to be your assertion. As I said - I have no dog in this fight - aside from the success of the institution. I do live in the area, and I care about the institution, just as I care about the neighbor institutions. These organizations are an important part of a vibrant graduate academic community and I want nothing more than their success. Why wouldn't I?

b) The students are the #1 priority, I agree. Indeed - this is the purpose of a law school: educate students. Who educates them? The faculty. If we are going to have a law school in Albany (and I will take the position that we should) then we need a faculty. If we are going to have a faculty, they should enjoy their work, teach well, write well (and often) and serve as positive role models for the students. Would anyone disagree with these points? I doubt it.

c) A majority of the faculty are alienated. On this point, we also will agree, I suspect. Their unionization is a symptom of this problem. They would not have unionized had a majority felt that they had a good collaborative dialogue with the Dean.

d) I also agree with @talkingHead that scholarship should be part of the equation, and would love to see such a list if someone has the skills to create it! Nonetheless, there are great teachers who are not publishing. There are abysmal teachers who are prolific writers. Most academic institutions have methods of retaining good teachers who don't publish much. Removing the prolific writers who can't teach is harder. Failing on both elements - even if tenured - should lead to removal, as the students are not well served by such people. This is not easy, but it's done everywhere, and prevents the ossification of an institution. "Financial Exigency" is unnecessary. Firing is unnecessary (and a legal quagmire - as discussed above). Buyouts and early retirements are occasionally leveraged - but only as very carefully applied so that "bad actors" are not rewarded.

e) My primary position remains that this Dean could have avoided the public nature of this whole debacle by playing her cards differently and avoiding the controversy altogether - just as most other law school (and other graduate school) deans are doing every day. The financial challenges, the downsizing of a law school and legal education in general - these are all national issues that impact every like institution. This institution is the one we're talking about, yet these issues are indeed national. How such challenges are managed defines the difference between carefully planned, finessed, strategic engagement of core allies (Board, faculty and - OF COURSE students and alumni) and careless, reflexive unilateral action. I argue that in this case, we are seeing the latter rather than the former. It's quite visible from afar. We wouldn't be having this conversation had this Dean managed the situation properly.

Indeed - it is her PRIMARY responsibility to build these alliances, build and retain good relationships with all stakeholders, and forge a good path ahead TOGETHER. This is not unlike the CEO of a company, the manager of a baseball team, or any other organizational leader.

The success of the team is the leader's primary responsibility. The team needs to be engaged, and feel as if they are participating in the solution. When chaos like this occurs - it is the leader's fault, and a symptom that the leader is more focused on being "right" than being successful. I would encourage folks here to read Marshall Goldsmith's wonderful book "what got you here won't get you there" for a non-judgmental view of why this happens. (http://www.amazon.com/What-Got-Here-Wont-There-ebook/dp/B000Q9J128) The skills that may have been valuable in the past for this Dean are different from those that are required in this role. We are seeing a classic and predictable instance of the Peter Principle. It's nobody's fault, but it's time to recognize this and move forward.

f) @anon, I outlined a hypothetical path to success in my posts. You have responded that my contribution is naive "happy talk." As I said yesterday - I am interested in your view of the path to success. You are critical of mine - and I welcome such critique. But you offer no alternative proposal. Do you believe that this law school (and others like it) should close? Is legal education your enemy? It's not clear to me what you think is the best or most likely outcome - locally or nationally.

anon

"Underlying many of these comments is a hint that there are systemic problems within the legal profession as a whole (this and many other blogs have discussed them ad nauseam). Law firms, accrediting agencies, the courts, law schools, bar associations, government agencies, individual attorneys and individual law professors are all part of a system. The problems facing law schools cannot, I think, be blamed on only one segment of this interconnected system."
Yet, you and others seem to blame the Dean at ALS for its woes, suggesting, e.g., that she could solve the problem in part if she "offered to pick up the slack by teaching a class or two or by offering reductions in administrative appointments or in salary or benefits."
Clearly, some of the comments here are simply intended to argue for maintaiing positions at ALS, and not addressing at all the issues that have brought it to this point. There's nothing wrong with that, one supposes. These persons are trying to save their jobs, and, in truth, may not have any of the attributes of those who have caused this crisis.
The national trend that is affecting ALS is affecting other law schools as well. ALS is simply a case in point; a marker of a much deeper and widespread issue.
A problem with Anonimity's comment above, which implies a lot, is that the litany of responsible parties notably buries the responsiblity of "law schools" and "law school professors," and instead begins by placing all of the responsiblity on "systemic problems within the legal profession as a whole" (including, in a sort of bizarre way, "government agencies" along with basically the rest of "America.") The responsiblity of law schools to help train graduates to meet the challeges faced by new entrants into and the changing dynamics of the US legal market is completely ignored. Hence, the crisis, and Anonimity simply wishes to address how to hold on to a seat as the music stops.
Take the time to read the swing in revenue at ALS, and that begins to explain the effect nationwide issues are having there. It is in the millions, it seems.
If attrition would solve the problem, then I suspect there wouldn't be thoughts of "layoffs" ... Yet, as I pointed out above, it woudl seem that a real financial imperative may be combined here with a desire to fire some faculty members, for reasons the insiders here are also notably not disclosing, and, as Campos pointed out, threats may be intended to induce some to leave on their own accord.

anon

The real reason this has generated some much controversy is that Dean Penny is a black woman and racist, male professors are enraged she is challenging their white privilege. I know
Dean Penny well and can testify to her deep commitment to students and the fact that she will not be intimidated. She is a strong black woman and has dealt with abuse far worse than that being dealt out to her now. She will overcome and make Albany great.

You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You need diversity training.

Anonimity

I don't blame the Dean for the the situation at Albany Law School. She has no control over the declining applications and the significant changes to the legal profession. But I also don't blame the professors for offering what appears to be appropriate suggestions for addressing dropping enrollments at their particular law school. My comments about systemic changes and challenges in the legal profession in general were meant to provide context for the particular situation at Albany Law School. In a simple blog post, I couldn't possibly address the myriad ways in which law schools in general must adapt to changing US legal markets. But I would agree that changes at law schools are required to address changes in the legal profession, and professors have a duty to address these changes. I will not defend a law professor who fails to participate in his/her institution's efforts at addressing some of these larger problems.

Unfortunately, I do not have the same faith in law school management in general that others seem to have. There are many very good administrators, but there are unfortunately some whose over-sized ambition has guided them to the position. I am speaking generally here, not with regard to Dean Andrews who I am sure exhibited many qualities that convinced the school that she was the right person for the job. And perhaps she is, but it would be foolish to think that the Dean is operating without the support of her Board of Trustees. And that is one reason why she alone cannot be blamed for whatever difficulties there are at the school. But whatever the case may be, I do question the management of the situation. As you and others have suggested the threats of layoffs at Albany Law School could be a strategic way of pushing folks out. Actually laying off professors (rather than just threatening to do so) would, I think be a real mistake given the fact that the number of faculty seems to be in decline in proportion to the declining enrollment.

And for the record, I have taken the time to read the material that is publicly available. Of course I don't know all of the details. But I am interested in this law school. I like this law school. I hope that it will overcome these current challenges and continue providing a sound legal education. My impression is that Albany Law as a stand-alone law school has the flexibility and commitment to embrace and adapt to changes in the legal environment. I'm confident that its faculty and Dean can reach some solution that will allow it to move forward.

I Love Law Deans

Strange rant, dude. I guess the members of the Board of Trustees who have also been criticized in these posts are also strong black women who have dealt with far worse abuse?

I Love Law Deans

My post was directed at that strange post by "anon."

TWBB

I think it's also important to realize that the conversation in the comments can't be considered in a vacuum; they're part of a multi-year discourse about the future of the legal academy, and the frustration that people like myself and MacK and others are expressing are not just arising out of this single story but out of having dealt with law professors' pushback against criticisms for years at this point. The petulance, pettiness, and viciousness by a lot of law professors, both anonymously and not, over any slight has reached ludicrous levels. The facts are pretty simple: law professors are, on average, less educated than their counterparts in other academic departments, get paid substantially more, yet work significantly less. These privileges are paid for by students who go into insane debt to fuel a law school arms race that relies on buying trivialities that have little to do with the educational mission. This cannot continue. Several law professors have suggested that the answer is to have taxpayers increase their subsidies to the law school industry, and I don't know if they realize how insane that suggestion sounds to everyone else.

If you are a law professor, you really have to accept that your lifestyle might have to significantly change, just like so many others in every other part of the legal field. This might mean that you can't afford the trappings of success that you think you are entitled to, but you should be happy that for several years you had one of the best jobs around.

You might have to try and find a job in practice, making a lot less and working a lot more. You might have to try and start your own law practice like you've advised your students. You might have to sell your house, retire before you expected, and downsize your lifestyle expenditures so you can live on your pension.

Many of those among you have alienated practicing lawyers, the bar associations, the law student body, and the rest of the academy, and your list of allies grows smaller and smaller every year.


anon

There is more than one "anon" so, sometimes it is best to post the time of the comment, for clarity.
Anonimity, I think your comment at 1:21 p.m. makes a lot of sense, and perhaps you have put less blame on the Dean than others did. My comments may have unfairly conflated your position with theirs.
I continue to believe, however, that simply proposing means to divide a shrinking pie, means that seem directed to the sole goal of avoiding faculty cuts at all costs, are misplaced. Proposals that fail to address rhe reasons the pie is shrinking, are not fully persuasive. Of course, you can't cover the field. But, you've spent a lot of time and effort defending faculty jobs at ALS, so one would think there was time to at least consider issues other than their personal preferences.
Indeed, I am always struck by the comments on these threads that claim that law profs are exceptionally talented professionals who are foregoing better wages outside of academia, in a supreme sacrifice of their personal interests. Yet, whenever their positions in academia are threatened, it seems that their cries of agony are particularly intense. And, one wonders why these cries are not as intense, in most cases, not present at all, when graduates of law school, deep in debt, are unable to find any work at all owing to the failures of legal academia in the main to prepare their students for practice in a changing and evolving legal market.
Most offensive are the efforts of so many in legal academia to deny these problems entirely ("law scam"). Begging endlessly for sympathy when these very real problems begin to affect them personally, while still denying or not even mentioning the problems that have caused that effect, is sort of inexcusable, frankly.
Again, Anoniimity, ALS may be, as you say, an exceptional law school in every respect, and simply suffering as a consequence of the short-sighted and arrogant approach taken by legal academia in general. But, as I said before, I doubt it.
And, by the way, I do not, by finding fault with comments in this thread that appear to blame the Dean at ALS for all its ills, intend in any way to defend her actions.

Observer

I think that the fundamental difference of opinion (self-interest aside) is that a chunk of the law school professoriate believes that the downturn in applications is a transitory phenomenon - which will rapidly reverse itself (see prior comments on this blog that the legal job market is about to become wonderful, due to the reduction in lawyers being produced and an improvement in the business cycle). If the financial problems of law schools are transitory, it makes sense to tap reserves and take other temporary financial measures, in the expectations that things will soon improve.

The alternative view is that changes in the legal profession, and the astonishing growth of law school tuition over the last twenty years, have meant that now only a small fraction of law graduates actually get jobs justifying an investment of $100,000-$200,000 in tuition, plus three years of your life (with living expenses). The market for law school graduates will eventually equilibrate, but likely at a level of graduates considerably lower than today, and with no prospect that the number of people going to law school will rapidly rebound back up to 2009 levels.

This implies that quite a few law schools that are going to go out of business, and the ones that survive are generally going to have to make harsh, draconian cuts in expenses in order to survive.

The other part of the equilibration process (again, as some posters have noted here) is radical cuts in actual tuition charged. This process is accelerating, generally through the use of "scholarships", rather than cutting sticker price tuition. While this helps bring the cost of law school down to a level where it makes sense to go to law school, it is going to ravage the budgets of law schools that have to do it. The other problem is that applicants are likely to figure out that outside a handful of truly elite institutions, that it is a suckers bet to pay full tuition to go to law school, which is going to put further downward pressure on tuition charges.

MacK

CHS - I did answer you question, but a certain person who like modifying the thread deleted my response. He needs to remember, he and his friends have done their worst - and they cannot delete me....

Steve Diamond

Observer: ALS has nearly $50 million in investment securities on hand. $43 mn of its net assets are designated unrestricted. In 2011-12 its revenues exceeded expenses by $10 mn. It has an endowment of $47 mn, far larger than most law schools (granted it does not have a parent institution it might turn to so it has, prudently it would appear, built up an endowment for precisely the situation it now faces.)

(See Federal IPEDS data here: http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/Facsimile.aspx?unitid=acb3b3b0aeb0)

So, on what basis do you conclude they face "financial exigency"?

FYI, the AAUP definition of FE is: “imminent financial crisis which threatens the survival of the institution as a whole.”

ALS is committed to academic freedom and derives its stated commitment from the AAUP 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom. The definition of FE is part of a set of procedural safeguards the AAUP has developed over many decades to insure that academic freedom is protected.

This is explained in detail in a letter from the AAUP to ALS you can find here: http://alsaaup.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/scholtz-letter.pdf

A point raised by the ALS AAUP chapter's Bunsis financial analysis (here: http://alsaaup.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/bunsis-financial-analysis.pdf) is that spending there for faculty, like at many other institutions of higher education, has actually declined. All the blame heard here about law faculty ignores the fact that genuine academic faculty have been a shrinking element of the university for several decades. This is not a good thing and it should be of concern to those determined to improve the quality of legal education.

Of course given the willingness of the scam artists to ally with the Cato Institute perhaps one should not be surprised to see spurious attacks on the AAUP and academic freedom here and elsewhere.


anon

Mack,

When you say at 2:53 that your comment was deleted are you referring to your comment at 11:40 this morning that is still up and seems to be responsive to CHS?

MacK

No it was my response to his 8:24am question - aluding to in-deleteted personal attacks on me and my family (using my actual name) as perhaps coloring my view and sympathy

We will see how long this stays up...

That sort of behavior - allowing vile personal attacks on critics of law schools - even facilitating them has tended to erode sympathy for professors in general. I can see how many younger professors are effectively trapped - essentially unable to return to legal practice at salaries that remotely approach what they earn as law professors, with personal lives, mortgages etc. built around those expectations. I have been blunt with warnings - recognize that many law schools are going to have to cut costs and if will be very painful, and start planning for that reality. BLS data says there are around 12,000 law professors - if law school costs need to fall by half,mans law students fall by half - there is not room for 12,000 - indeed the baseline reduction looks drastic 3 in 4 or 9,000. It almost certainly will not be as much as 3/4 but it could easily be 1/2.

I will add that, just a couple of months ago, a guest poster on this blog contacted and told me that e-mail addresses remain open to at least guest bloggers on this site. So junior professors posting here should be careful. As I said,certain people have done their worst to me (they overrate their own influence, it was offensive, but harmless to me, but I have a memory), but I can see the harm it would do to a VAP,met nurse track prof, or adjunct.

I fully expect that this post will be deleted too

Bridget Crawford

Because comments are now veering away from the topic of the post, I am closing comments. Thanks to all who contributed to the conversation in a productive way.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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