Next month I’ll be appearing on a panel at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools. The subject of the panel: how to get good press for your law school.

One obvious answer: do good things for your students. Just like the University of Maryland School of Law.

Our coverage of UMB hasn’t always been kind. See, e.g., discussion of former Dean Karen Rothenberg’s controversial pay packages (here and here).

This time, though, Maryland Law is doing the right thing. In a time of strained state budgets, it has succeeded in holding the line on tuition increases (which, as we’ve discussed, are running rampant throughout the law schools). UMB law students won’t see their tuition go up next year, academic year 2011-12, even though students in other schools at the university will.

How did Maryland manage this feat? Let’s take a look — which might prove instructive for other law schools….

One happy law student explains:

I thought you might appreciate hearing about a law school doing the right thing every once in awhile. The entire University of Maryland, Baltimore campus will be seeing a 4% tuition hike next year, except for the University of Maryland School of law.

Word around here is that our dean, Phoebe Haddon, fought tooth and nail with University administrators because she thought it was unfair for law students to pay more tuition when our chances for jobs after graduation are so abysmal, even in comparison to other professional schools.

A second student concurs:

All students at Maryland law received this email on Sunday evening from our Dean, Phoebe Haddon…. Essentially, the school is dipping into its own pockets in order to avoid raising tuition. It’s doing so because of the current job market and the rising debt we, as law students, face.

(As a bit of background, Maryland Law is bundled together with Maryland Medical, Dental, Pharmacy, Social Work, and Physical Therapy at The University of Maryland Baltimore. It’s a separate, professional and graduate-student-only campus from the Terps down in College Park. As the email explains, the UMB campus needs to increase income in the face of decreasing state funding to meet operating costs. To raise this income, the campus administration demanded that each program pay a contribution through increased tuition. Maryland Law was the sole UMB program to refuse that route.)

This is incredibly encouraging to see on a few fronts. This is one of the first times our school has acknowledged that placing us into the job market has become an incredibly difficult task. It also marks Dean Haddon’s arrival in our greater campus community (this being her second year on the job). I hope other schools emulate our administration going to bat for us in these hard times.

Dean Haddon sounds much more popular than her predecessor, Dean Karen Rothenberg — who seemed more skilled at advancing her own financial well-being, through eye-popping pay packages, than protecting the pocketbooks of her students.

We’ve reprinted below the school-wide messages from Dean Phoebe Haddon and UMB President Jay Perman. In President Perman’s message, we’ve highlighted the paragraph addressing the law school.

Congrats to Maryland Law students on this early Christmas present. And props to the Maryland Law administration for standing up for law students in these tough times.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND – BALTIMORE — MESSAGE FROM LAW SCHOOL DEAN PHOEBE HADDON

Dear Students:

You recently received an e-mail from Dr. Perman announcing tuition increases for all UMB schools except the Law School. I write to provide additional details about this decision.

Holding tuition at the current level in the upcoming academic year has been a top priority for me. The impact of the economic downturn on the legal employment market, combined with the large amount of debt many of you carry, has caused the faculty and administrators of the Law School great concern. Relative to the other professions, the legal sector has been especially hard hit, with tens of thousands of law jobs lost. Many of us also believe that this downturn is resulting in a fundamental restructuring of law practice that will require careful financial planning for all of us going forward. I want to thank Dr. Perman for his concern for and sensitivity to the unique situation the Law School and our new graduates find ourselves in. His leadership in this area has been tremendously important to the School of Law.

While the lack of a tuition increase is good news for law students, like all schools on campus we have an obligation to ensure the University has the resources it needs to operate effectively. State budget challenges have meant that the University is experiencing a budget shortfall. Tuition pays 60% of the cost associated with your legal education; the balance is paid through private philanthropy and government contracts (20%) and State support 20%). State support has steadily decreased as a share of the total Law School budget over the years and the support we do receive is used primarily to pay expenses associated with the building (overhead) and employee benefits. Many costs associated with your legal education are not within the Law School’s control and are likely to continue to increase.

To fund our share of the campus shortfall, the Law School will draw upon our short-term savings, known as fund balance. Well aware of the economic downturn over the last three years, the School of Law has carefully built up this fund balance through cost savings, efficiencies and other measures, to fund technology upgrades and address other contingencies. While our obligation to the University will reduce the fund balance this year, I have been actively meeting with supportive alumni, friends and foundations seeking financial support so that the fund balance will be replenished.

I am firmly committed to increasing financial support of the Law School and to keeping the cost to attend Maryland as low as possible. I am exploring with Dean Cobb better ways of communicating and keeping you apprised of any developments that affect students and the Law School generally.

Best of luck with your exams and final papers.

Sincerely,
Dean Haddon
December 12, 2010

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND – BALTIMORE — MESSAGE FROM PRESIDENT JAY PERMAN

December 10, 2010

TO: All UMB Students

Dear Student:

As I hope you know by now, one central theme of my presidency at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) is transparency. Whenever appropriate, I will make public my thinking about key issues, gathering feedback and input from affected shared governance groups, and explaining the factors internal and external that influence my decisions. In this e-mail, I want to bring you up-to-date on my thinking in setting UMB’s request to the Board of Regents for tuition and University fees for next academic year—AY 2011-12.

Tuition Increase:

The process for determining tuition rates is long and complex, involving interaction with the University System of Maryland (USM) and the State Department of Budget and Management (DBM) over almost a full year. In late summer of each year, UMB is given guidance on its budget request for the following year. Included in this is guidance on tuition. In August 2010, UMB was given a guideline of an average 4% increase in tuition for AY 2011-12 in order to meet the expected USM-wide increases in retiree and health insurance costs, deferred maintenance, increases in student financial aid, and other items that are known as the “mandatories.” In other words, this money does not finance new school or University initiatives. It is the money needed to balance the University’s budget necessary to keeping programs and services at their existing levels.

Fee Increase:

The University fees—required of all students regardless of program—are Student Government (USGA), Transportation, Technology, and Supporting Facilities fees. For next year, the USGA and Transportation fees will remain the same. The Technology Fee will increase by $50 to support the student learning environment. The Supporting Facilities Fee (SFF) will increase by 4%. The primary purpose of the SFF is to pay the debt service and other associated expenses of the newly opened Southern Management Corporation Campus Center. The AY 2011-12 increase was a part of the original financial plan and was reviewed as the fee was set last year.

There is no common tuition at UMB. Each of our academic programs charges a different tuition and a different differential between in-state and out-of-state tuition. School and program specific—e.g., MD, JD, DDS, BSN, PharmD, MSW, etc.—tuition and fees are calibrated to their professional context, history, and initiatives. Consequently at UMB, there has been and will be tuition rate increases above the 4% guideline. Increases above 4% will support school-specific initiatives. The dean of each school where there is such an increase will explain to students what any increases above 4% support.

One school, the School of Law, will see a zero tuition increase next year. This decision was made by the School of Law and the University to stabilize tuition expenses for one year due to unique and striking changes in the economic environment for the legal profession. The School of Law will be meeting its financial obligation to the University by transferring dollars equivalent to the 4% tuition increase from funds the school set aside over the past two years in anticipation of possible programmatic and environmental changes.

From now until late December, discussions will accelerate between UMB and USM culminating in a fine-tuned University budget submitted in late December. I am reporting to you today the proposed rates for tuition and mandatory fees for AY 2011-12, which I have approved at this moment. These proposed tuition and fees will be published on our website in January 2011. They remain “proposed” until after the General Assembly passes the state budget, and the Board of Regents acts on tuition and fees included in that budget at its late April 2011 meeting. Please note that the rates being proposed may or may not be the ones subsequently applied in fall 2011 depending on actions of the General Assembly and the Board of Regents.

In summary, there will be an average 4% increase in tuition for AY 2011-12. The deans and I are coming to you this year late in the process with this news. We find ourselves more in the position of explaining the proposed tuition and fees for next year rather than fully consulting with you. We commit to beginning the dialogue with you about tuition and fees earlier in future years.

Sincerely,

Jay A. Perman, MD
President

Attachment to student tuition and fees letter, December 2010

Mandatory Expense Increases:

Retiree, Health Insurance – $3.2m

Facilities renewal – $2.1m

Operating expenses for facilities new to the University – $1.9m

Financial Aid – $0.7m

Other – $1.4m

Funded by:

Proposed increase in State General Fund – $5.3m

4% Tuition increase – $4.0m


comments sponsored by

29 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments