Law School Deans, Law Schools, Money, Politics

Poor Funding And Maybe Politics Force Popular Dean To Resign

Yet another law dean blows the whistle.

Whenever a law dean goes out in a blaze of glory, it’s news. And by “blaze of glory,” I mean “resigns with a hyper-critical message to the larger university.” Law deans might be insensitive to the cost concerns of their students, but university presidents are generally clueless. A university president looking at a law school entering class is like Cypher looking at the Matrix. They don’t even see the code anymore, they just see “dollar sign, federally guaranteed loan, potential future donor.”

Obviously, law deans usually only resign in a huff when they’re not getting enough money from the university, and “we need more money” isn’t necessarily helpful to students since often the solution is to “jack up tuition.” But in today’s story, we have a dean who might have resigned for reasons beyond more than money.

It’s possible that this dean wanted to run a law school, while the university wanted to run a Tea Party training ground…

Stephen D. Easton is the now former dean of the University of Wyoming College of Law. His resignation letter, which he sent to the law school community yesterday, starts out as the standard laundry list of accomplishments under his tenure and hope for the future. Eventually, he gets to why he is stepping down:

The strength of the law school, despite severe resource limitations, was recently confirmed. As many of you know, the ABA/AALS site visit team recently concluded its visit to the College of Law. Based upon my exit interviews with the site visit chair and the entire site visit team, I expect the report to be quite favorable. Based upon the exit interviews, though, it is likely that the site visit report will express substantial concern over the limited resources, especially staff and administrative resources, provided to the College of Law by the University. We are almost certainly trying to run the law school with the smallest administrative staff of any law school in the country. Several site team members noted that the staffs at their home law schools were much larger than the staff at UW, even though their law schools were only moderately larger than UW. The site visit report is also likely to express concern about the law school building (other than the William N. Brimmer Legal Education Center, including the two new moot courtrooms, which are extraordinary facilities), especially the lack of facilities for our three centers and the remote offices for our clinic programs. Quite simply, we are in need of either a new building (other than the William N. Brimmer Legal Education Center) or a substantial addition to the current building to house our centers and clinics within the main law school complex. The site visit report could note other, more minor, concerns, but overall the site visit team was very impressed with our integrated approach to legal education that teaches our students about the theory of law and provides them with the skills they will need in practice. They were also impressed with our faculty and its scholarship and teaching, with the students, and with the staff — though the small size of the staff is a major concern.

Things like “more staff” and “better facilities” are usually code for “huge tuition increases coming your way.” I’m inclined not to blame the dean who wants them nor the university that withholds them, but rather the ABA, which expects a certain level of funding that cannot be supported by students paying a reasonable price for legal education.

But there are other things going on in Wyoming:

It is crucial for the College of Law to continue to offer a comprehensive legal education, not an education that is overly focused in one particular area of the law. This helps us attract students who have a wide variety of interests, which we must do to thrive in a very competitive environment for law students. It also helps us prepare these students for practice in a wide variety of legal specialties. We cannot allow an emphasis on one area of the law to detract from our duty to prepare great attorneys for the citizens of Wyoming. As such, it is incumbent for the College of Law to provide a comprehensive legal education…

[T]he faculty and the dean must govern the College of Law, if it is to continue to enjoy the accreditation that allows the College of Law to maintain its reputation, allows its graduates to take the bar exam in Wyoming and in every other state, and allows its alumni to take advantage of opportunities available only to graduates of ABA-accredited law schools.

Recent events cause me concern in this regard. Important decisions affecting the College of Law have been made without meaningful consultation with me or others on the faculty.

That’s a bit cryptic, isn’t it? A tipster explains what these “important decisions” might be where the dean and the university are in conflict:

The problem here is essentially, external interests are pressuring the school to do things which are heavily politically (tea-party governor) related. The University refuse additional funding for upgrades of the Law School or faculty, despite a STRONG ABA accreditation push.

You mean not every dean wants to be in charge of a Regent-style law school?

Internecine fights between deans and university presidents are fun, but it is a little bit like watching your cable provider fight with a broadcast network: at the end of the day, the cost to the consumer is going to go up.

Check out the full resignation memo on the next page…

(hidden for your protection)

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