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January 31, 2014

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Willy Wonka

@anon - please forgive my optimism! I suspect that we agree more than you know. I don't disagree that there is:

a) fiscal pressure
b) some fraction of the faculty who abuse the privilege of tenure and/or are not pulling their weight - and need to be removed

But these variables exist in every institution - and existed before this Dean joined ALS. They have never caused such chaos as the institution is now enduring. I suspect that you are not aware of the internal chaos that has been ongoing since the early Fall in this institution.

The fraction of faculty who are bad actors does need to be managed in some way - yet the Dean's actions have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. She treats the faculty as a whole as if they are the enemy. They are not. Faculty success is the only path toward institutional success. Alienating them as a whole (as she has) was a strategic error from which she will not recover.

Why wouldn't ALS succeed in the future? Why would you hope for anything else? Do you - Mr/Ms Anon - hope for the demise of the institution - or its success? If it's the latter (as I certainly hope) - what do you believe to be the best path ahead? You are challenging my assertion that success is possible yet offer no expression of your own view of what should happen next, or what the critical elements of this success might be. I am (as are others on this thread) interested in your view. Is it possible that I am missing something? Sure! Please educate us. Through open dialogue - we will learn a great deal from each other - and my mind is certainly open to listening to your views with both ears.

I'll reiterate that I have no dog in this fight. I want what is best for the community and for this institution - and I have no personal vendetta against the Dean. But I have seen and heard enough of this story to know how all of this fervor was preventable - and she could have prevented it. I am certain of that.

anon2

Enrollment numbers at Albany Law have decreased the last couple of years (similar to most schools nation-wide), but are fairly strong as compared to other second tier schools. That said, I have heard from a reliable source at Albany that Dean Andrews arbitrarily decided –without faculty knowledge- to not take a single student off the waitlist last year- despite the fact that taking 40 or so additional students from the waitlist would not have changed their median LSAT or uGPA numbers! Apparently the Dean is attempting to artificially shrink the size of the law school by any means necessary. Dean Andrews even stated in a Business Review article last year that the incoming class would only have 130 students (even though they actually fielded a strong class of 187 without taking anyone off the waitlist last year).

anon2

@TWBB, with the exception of Phoenix and other for-profit law schools, the vast majority of law schools (such as Albany Law) are not for profit educational institutions. Applying a rough market mentality to running a school whose primary mission is not money by providing a sound educational experience for students is misplaced.

In any event, it seems certain from the Albany AAUP website that faculty (tenure-track and tenured) are protected by significant internal employment provisions, as well as ABA and AALS regulations and standards. The only way to fire such faculty is by showing either adequate cause (which requires faculty approval and due process protections) OR a formal declaration of financial exigency by the law school. It doesnt look like Albany Law school has or is able to declare financial exigency, given that they have a significant endowment and unrestricted reserves account. As such, it looks like the Administration is trying to do an end run around by the faculty by trying to fire people illegally for unclear "financial reasons." If the Board and Admin of Albany Law was reckless enough to start firing people without cause, it would subject the law school to horrible press (likely reducing enrollment further), lead to costly litigation which the school would lose or settle, and violate a number of ABA and AALS accreditation standards.

TWBB

@anon2:

The non-profit aspect of most law schools doesn't really change the dialogue as much as you think. If the ACLU shrinks its workforce to deal with less donations, I don't think anyone would bat an eye despite its nonprofit status. Nonprofits should not be subject to pure market forces but that doesn't mean they can ignore any financial factors they want to.

I also would not too much credence in the "bad press" aspect of faculty firings. Law students look at a specific set of criteria when deciding on a law school, and the fact that a school streamlined/got rid of its less able faculty would not necessarily be a negative. And again, there is little sympathy for a group that gets so many privileges yet refuses to take any meaningful sacrifice while calling on everyone else to do so to support them.

None of the defenders of the law school status quo here have really addressed the point of what do you do with excess professors when you're shrinking overall class sizes, or how much a school is supposed to shrink its endowment to support a small group of faculty.

I certainly have some sympathy for at least a portion of the law faculty, and think maybe individual course size reductions coupled with salary cuts would be a more equitable way to relieve financial issues. Perhaps the excess professors could then be assigned several students for in-depth independent reading. But frankly, the current system is not sustainable, and the professorate is just not going to be able to enforce their demands in the long term.

Also, long-term I think what will best suit students is to only hire professors who have either a research degree (PhD, SciD, SJD), or significant legal practice experience. I think this will undoubtedly improve teaching quality at the same time introduces academics into the system who have not been coddled since childhood.

BoredJD

"@TWBB, with the exception of Phoenix and other for-profit law schools, the vast majority of law schools (such as Albany Law) are not for profit educational institutions. Applying a rough market mentality to running a school whose primary mission is not money by providing a sound educational experience for students is misplaced."

This is one of the most unintentionally hilarious statements I have ever seen on this website.

Steve Diamond

Albany Law School had $47 million in investment securities at the end of 2011 and $43 million catergorized as "unrestricted net assets." Given the run up in the market since then that is likely a substantially larger sum. Clearly there is NO financial exigency although there may be a mismatch in their annual revenue to cost structure given the cyclical decline in enrollment.

While many schools will use this kind of cyclical mismatch to carry out reform agendas of one sort or another (in the mode of Rahm Emanuel's theory that one should not waste a crisis) - some of which may have value while others likely the result of bureaucratic dreams - that is very different from concluding there is a genuine financial exigency.

Of course, logic does not stop the scammers and it is no surprise that these opportunists waste no time in attacking the AAUP and other efforts of faculty and staff to defend their civil liberties.

anon

Perplexed - Deadwood can readily be determined by NO productivity over a period of years.

Anonimity

Many of these comments are missing the point by focusing too narrowly on the pros and cons of tenure. This is a distraction. Many faculty members at law schools are non-tenured (either tenure track, or long term contract). The problem is that Albany Law School has threatened to fire faculty members (whether tenured or not) in violation of its own contractual commitments as contained in the faculty handbook and in individual contracts of employment - i.e. in contravention of contractual provisions that require that dismissals can only be for cause or for financial exigency. Even if one were to agree that breaching contracts makes good financial sense, it is still undeniably against the law. And a law school that has undertaken to uphold and promote the rule of law ought to be careful of the message it sends with its willingness to break the law as a cost of doing business.

I don't think anyone is arguing (and I am certainly not) that the law school DOES NOT have the ability to dismiss faculty members for cause or for financial exigency. It is essential to this conversation to underscore the point that Albany Law School, as an ABA accredited law school does not operate in an at-will context. In fact, in order to maintain ABA accreditation all law schools must offer security of position to its professors (either through tenure or through some form of security of position similar to tenure). A law school that treats its faculty as at-will employees runs afoul of ABA accreditation standards. In addition, ABA accreditation standards require law schools to ensure a significant faculty role in determining education policy and admissions and also requires faculty to play a primary role in "selection, retention, promotion, and tenure (or granting of security of position) of the faculty... " If a law school actively prevents faculty from participating in the governance of the law school and fires its professors at will (without cause, without financial exigency and/or without academic due process) then it runs afoul of ABA accreditation standards. So, whether one supports tenure or not, there are structural limits placed on a law school's ability to fire faculty members at will. These structural limits operate within the larger legal system that deems breaches of contract contrary to law.

So, the situation, as I understand it is this - The law school is currently in good financial condition. Enrollment numbers will go down either by design or because of circumstances. The law school faces some serious choices. It could choose to fire faculty, probably prematurely and contrary to the law, in anticipation of future financial downfalls (and remember, this particular law school has seen a more than 20+ percent reduction in faculty at the same time that it has seen a 20+ percent reduction in enrollment - figures that are not terribly disproportionate, I would argue). Or the law school could anticipate future financial shortfalls by doing what other law schools are doing and what I understand the Albany Law faculty has already proposed - that is, reducing salaries, health and retirement benefits, reducing or eliminating travel and research stipends, instituting rotating furloughs, unpaid leaves, etc. It appears that the faculty has been rather too receptive to the administration's claims of financial difficulties considering the only financial information available reveals that there is no financial crisis. In addition, hiring freezes and buyouts would seem to make sense if there were a bona fide financial exigency - something I understand the faculty already proposed, perhaps prematurely. So, this is not a matter that can be reduced to the rather simple proposition that law schools should be free to fire professors at will or whenever it has anticipated financial concerns. Good financial planning would take account of appropriate, available and effective alternatives to firing faculty. A law school should not break the law under any circumstances even if it makes financial sense to do so.

MacK

Anon2: "I have heard from a reliable source at Albany that Dean Andrews arbitrarily decided –without faculty knowledge- to not take a single student off the waitlist last year- despite the fact that taking 40 or so additional students from the waitlist would not have changed their median LSAT or uGPA numbers! Apparently the Dean is attempting to artificially shrink the size of the law school by any means necessary.

Maybe she put the employment prospects of these 40 on the wait list over the employment of her professors - oh the evil b****, how dare she! Another 40 would have had an even harder time finding a job - but Anon2 and his pals on the faulty think that was "artificially shrinking"

Any wonder why, when comments like this are made, so many lawyers and law graduates contempt for professors soars?

TalkingHead

Perhaps we should help this dean, and deans at every American law school, with thinning her faculty by creating a list of law faculty who have not published in 5+ years at every American law school. It could be the starting point for "for cause" dismissals. Of course, failure to publish is just one piece of the puzzle and poor teaching, service, etc., could also be grounds, but failure to publish is an easy one for an outsider to spot.

anon

Willy Wonka:
You said: "Legal education is at a crossroads: after decades of massive growth, followed by a few years of consolidation, the future is bright."
Truly, that was a broad and sort of risible statement about the state of legal education in America. But in context, on this thread, it had nothing whatsoever to do specifically to do with the situation addressed. Your statement was a broad generalization that seemed to be too absurd to simply pass unnoticed. It seems that you have admitted as much, although obliquely.
What, then, about this specific situation at your beloved law school? (Despite protests to the contrary, it seems that there is likely one faculty member commenting here (too much inside info). As Sinclair said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!")
Are most of the problems at ALS attributable to the Dean, upon whom you seem to be heaping all the blame? There are certain objective conditions affecting many US law schools at present. That fact seems to be without much controversy. The situation at ALS seems to be a product of these conditions.
Contrary to the nasty retorts heard in some quarters, the facts underlying these views have been observed and memorialized by numerous bar associations, credit rating agencies, reputable news sources, etc. This reality is refuted in the main almost exclusively on law blogs by the sort of happy talk exemplified by your statement above. Similarly broad and frankly ridiculous claims are often supported by reference to a few narrowly focused sources.
One would tend to believe that any person attempting to impose any meaningful change on a group of law professors would be reviled by them. Unfortunately, too many law profs, judging from the comments here in the FL and elsewhere, are thin-skinned, emotionally immature, incredibly defensive and likely to lash out in anger at even the slightest hint of criticism. These emotional responses are unfortunate because to solve the problems that exist in the field of legal education, one must first overcome these reactionary responses.
Your impassioned defense of the ALS faculty is tendered here to many who have witnessed the behavior of those who purport to speak for legal academia, and therefore, your blame of a single Dean for a nationwide set of challenges probably does not ring true to many readers. You may be correct: the Dean of whom you know so much, and we so little, may not be the right person to lead the effort to do something about the conditions that have caused so much ill will to build with respect to legal academia. You may be correct, the ALS faculty may be the most hard-working of all, and may be completely respectful and attuned to their students desire and need to obtain training in the both the practice and the mores of the legal profession.
Yet, there is much that should be done to improve the present state of affairs, and one doubts that ALS is truly that exceptional among law schools. Your prescriptions, while valid in the main, avoid the main issues that are causing the backlash that is hurting your beloved ALS and most other schools outside the first tier (and even some within it).
As the comments in the FL have consistently demonstrated, law profs have trended toward a predominance of J.D.s and some Ph.D.s with little or no formal training as lawyers. These profs appear to disdain the practice of law, and to have avoided any meaningful practical experience in the profession to which the vast majority of their students aspire. It seems many, if not most recently hired law profs would prefer to specialize in almost any field other than law.
Instead of pretending to be economists, social scientists, etc. (as these profs belong in other departments), or worse, specialists in “intersections” between the law and every other field of academic study, perhaps law schools should regain an understanding about the core objective held by most young people who attend law school (hint: to obtain the training necessary to actually practice law).
Had law schools remained tuned to the profession for which they purport to train their graduates, these schools of law would have recognized the changing needs of the American market for legal services, and adjusted to meet those needs. Instead, as law schools like ALS attempt to adjust to declining numbers of persons interested in buying what they are selling, legal academia in the main steadily and stubbornly denies the true reasons for this impasse.
The Dean at ALS is not responsible for all this … is that not true? The means to address declining enrollment you propose don’t in a single instance address the causes of declining enrollment. As such, the situation will likely grow worse, and despite your best efforts to find alternatives, ultimately the account will come due.

MacK

As I read through this thread - what is striking about the professors posting here is that almost to a man or woman, they have shown a complete absence of any interest in what should be a huge topic here - what is in the interests of the students and potential law students at Albany. So you have Talkinghead demanding that any professor who has not published some scholarship (even scholarshit" in the last 5 years) - how about we require instead that if the prof is relying on his or her so called scholarship it be cited in at least open court decision in the last 5 years......

We have the comments of "Willy Wonka" who despite talking about what is best for the community never mentions the interests of the students, anon2 who insists that another 40 students should have been pulled off the wait list to maintain revenues, regardless of their employment prospects, Anonimity who in an extensive posting never once mentions the interests of the students....

You could not do a better job of caricaturing what so many critics say about law professors and their attitudes.

Anon

For a supposed lawyer, MacK shows an extraordinary contempt for contractual obligations. Tenured faculty can not be legally fired absent good cause or a financial exigency. That is what is being discussed. MacK's sad desire for revenge against lawprofs is not the issue.

Bob Backlund

Wow. This is truly amazing. As a long time M&A practitioner who has struggled with advising clients many times on what "Material Adverse Effect" or "Material Adverse Change" means, I must say I am completely stunned that so many members of the "academy" can assert with specificity that ALS has not suffered a "financial exigency." Of course, the operative contracts and handbooks (which allegedly may be amended at will by the employer) are silent as to what this term means, but yet you people are steadfast in your belief that no financial exigency exists. Let me refresh your recollection with how you should answer almost every question relating to law: "It depends."

TWBB

Anon: Please tell me you are not a law professor. Please tell me that an actual law professor did not just state that it is illegal to breach a contract. I'd hate to think there is a law professor teaching who does not know what the definition of "legal" is.

MacK

This has nothing to do with revenge on professors - I a personally a fairly successful lawyer - it has to do with way in which this debate has centred entirely on the interests of the law professors with a total lack of any consideration for the interests of their students - shamelessly by the way.

At one point I had sympathy for law professors possibly precarious situation - but reading this self-absorbe drivel tends to make me feel that they should suffer what so many recent graduates have suffered.

John Thompson

"That said, I have heard from a reliable source at Albany that Dean Andrews arbitrarily decided –without faculty knowledge- to not take a single student off the waitlist last year- despite the fact that taking 40 or so additional students from the waitlist would not have changed their median LSAT or uGPA numbers!"

The unstated premise here is that the only important reason not to take these "40 or so" students from the wait list is that it might possibly have a negative impact on the U.S. News ranking. Moral implications aside, this thinking is woefully out of date and will hurt or kill those institutions which insist on adhering to it.

First, Albany Law School has been part of the until-recently-unnumbered third tier for years. It was in the third tier in 2009, when it attracted 255 students; in 2012, ranked 132nd and thus still part of the "third tier," it attracted 187. Clearly preserving market share among matriculating 1Ls has less to do with U.S. News rank than one might think, especially in the midst of the third tier.

Second, there are other rankings and other sources of information out there which likely matter more to incoming students. Only 65 of Albany Law's 236 JDs graduating in 2011 reported a salary, with the 25th percentile being $50,000 and the 75th percentile being $71,000. 46 were unemployed after nine months. 121 were employed, but did not report a salary. It is at least possible that matriculating 1Ls are paying as much attention to these reports as U.S. News these days. What would it do to Albany Law to have a spike in unemployment roughly corresponding to its decision to admit "40 or so" off the wait list three years from now?

Law schools need to think past U.S. News. Their market already is.

CHS

@MacK-- a point for clarification: when you say that at "one point" you had "sympathy for law professors possibly precarious situation", do you just mean the professors at Albany? You cannot mean law professors in general, right?

Anonimity

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.

I am an attorney who has taught at 2 different law schools - at one of the Ivies, and at a smaller private school. I have a glimpse (albeit only a glimpse) into the legal academy. My impression is that in general, law faculties care deeply for their students and alumni. In my experience the connection between faculty, student and alumni was stronger at the small law school. I'm familiar with Albany Law School and I think it has many strengths that are not perhaps recognized in the ranking system. One of its strengths is the faculty's commitment to its students and its engagement with its alums. It appears to me that there is a mismatch between the faculty and administration in how they would deal with a decline in enrollment. I think both "sides" care for students.

The faculty seems to suggest that the school should implement changes that it believes will keep the place intact and that would require it to share in the costs of such changes - they have apparently already offered (again, I think prematurely) salary and benefit cuts, furloughs, unpaid leaves, etc. These are not insignificant if it is true that faculty salary and benefits account for only 1/3 of the budget to begin with. Unrestricted reserves might need to be tapped, but I don't think anyone would argue that they should be depleted.

There has already been a significant reduction in faculty positions that seem proportionate to the decline in enrollment. And there are more reductions that are certain to occur very soon (3 professors are retiring, and at least two, and probably more, are on their way out). For an already small faculty, these additional reductions will no doubt have a significant impact. Why resort to layoffs that will certainly lead to lawsuits when the school seems to be going in exactly the direction that many of these comments suggest is appropriate - i.e. there is a reduction in faculty positions that is in-line with the reduction in enrollment. None of the faculty's suggestions are unreasonable or harmful to students or the institution.

The administration on the other hand seems set on layoffs - certainly one way to reduce costs, but not the only way. I am not aware of any significant revenue generating activities, nor do I know whether the Dean has offered to pick up the slack by teaching a class or two or by offering reductions in administrative appointments or in salary or benefits. I would imagine that in response to the faculty's offers to cut their own salaries and benefits, she has already offered to reduce administrative expenses, and if she hasn't then she should.

The law school faces some hard choices, but it seems that currently the school is in good financial condition and is moving in the right direction.

Todd Gack

Question for the Financial Exigency Deniers:

Albany Law School's class size has declined by 27% since 2009 while the median LSAT score of enrollees has gone from 155 to 152.
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2014/01/albany-law-school-to-fire-tenured-faculty-based-on-merit-evaluations. National law school applicants are projected to be down another 12.6% this year. http://www.lsac.org/lsacresources/data/three-year-volume

What more does a school need to declare financial exigency? By your definition, are schools required to admit every loan toting applicant, no matter their qualifications, before firing tenured faculty?

Additionally, under what set of circumstances would you recommend that a close friend or family member borrow the $227,406 it is estimated that an Albany Law School degree will cost a full tuition student? http://www.lstscorereports.com/?school=albany

It should go without saying but here I think it needs to be said, Albany Law School should exist for a greater purpose than to indefinitely employ tenured faculty. If nobody can provide a justification for its absurd tuition levels, it's hard to believe that ALS' future is as bright as Willy Wonka claims it to be.

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