Law Professors, Law School Deans, Law Schools, Layoffs, Money

Tenured Faculty Cuts Are Coming To A New York Law School — But Which One? And When?

As more and more people discover that law school is not the “get rich quick” scheme that they once thought it was, applications continue to plummet. As of late January, law school applications were down 13.7 percent from where they were in 2013. The loss of student revenue is killing the bottom line at some law schools, and members of their administrations don’t like it one bit.

These ivory tower inhabitants seem terrified and are reacting accordingly, having been forced to deal with the dearth of applicants and enrollees in all sorts of ways. Some law schools are doing the right thing and lowering tuition in the hopes of luring students to their once hallowed halls.

Others are hacking and slashing away at their faculty and staff, just like law firms. First came news of the potential purge of junior faculty at Seton Hall (which was fortunately averted). Next came the staff massacre at McGeorge. Then Thomas Jefferson started handing out pink slips, and all hell broke loose.

Which law school is the latest to announce a possible pruning of its ranks? We’ll give you a hint. This law school is located in New York, a state with 15 law schools to choose from, several of which have been sued over their allegedly deceptive employment statistics…

(Please note the multiple UPDATES added to this post.)

If you guessed Albany Law School, then congratulations, you pinned the tail on the barrister burro.

It was just last spring that Standard & Poor’s downgraded Albany Law School from a “positive” to a “stable” outlook. At the time, we joked about how “being caught in a vortex of declining demand in a market saturated with law schools” sounded totally stable. This past summer, we learned that it was no joking matter at all, because Dean Penelope Andrews very publicly hinted in an interview with the Albany Business Review that she’d be trimming the school’s full-time faculty line-up.

In the fall of 2013, Dean Andrews followed through with those words, announcing along with the Board of Trustees that “because of serious financial difficulties, notifications of faculty layoffs [would] be issued shortly.” The law profs were understandably pissed that they were probably going to be canned, so they decided to rise up and “unionize”. To that end, documents have recently come to light that detail the formation of a chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at Albany Law School. (By the way, it’s not an actual union, it’s just a professional group looking out for professors.)

Members of the newly formed Albany Law AAUP believe that if they get the axe, it will “result in a reduction in the educational opportunities and a diminishment of the quality of legal education that our students deserve.” And what of the high-paying jobs these professors so rightfully deserve? They’re standing by the school’s Faculty Handbook, which states that tenure track faculty must be “reappointed each year except upon a vote by a majority of the faculty that ‘the faculty member is not making satisfactory progress for promotion and tenure,’ or a determination of financial exigency.”

Well, as luck would have it, the faculty at Albany Law doesn’t think a “financial exigency” exists — they even had an accountant perform an independent financial analysis on the law school’s publicly available tax returns. Apparently Albany Law is in “very strong financial condition,” despite the fact that its bonds were downgraded by S&P, and despite the fact that the school’s first-year enrollment has dropped by nearly 30 percent in the last five years alone. They simply do not believe that a “bona fide financial exigency” exists:

The Chapter maintains that there is no showing of a bona fide institutional financial exigency or of individual faculty incompetence. Accordingly, no justification for faculty terminations exists. Since no faculty terminations are justified, the Chapter takes no position on what the order of layoffs would be if terminations were warranted under a state of financial exigency. In the absence of evidence of anything remotely resembling a bona fide financial exigency, firing any faculty member would depart from nationally accepted standards of law school governance.

At this point, it doesn’t look like Albany Law cares about departing from those standards. As noted by Professor Paul Campos, the AAUP’s national standards “seem to be merely precatory,” meaning that if Albany Law proclaims that it’s in a state of financial crisis — “a severe financial crisis that fundamentally compromises the academic integrity of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means [than the termination of appointments]” — then the chips will fall where they may.

This isn’t a democracy, and it seems like professors at Albany Law are going to learn that the hard way. Law schools are businesses, and just like when a company is in the red, people are going to lose their jobs — in this case, their jobs with six-figure salaries and false promises of tenure.

If you thought you could avoid layoffs by moving from a law firm to a law school, you thought wrong. Kiss your tenure goodbye, because times have changed. XOXO, welcome to the new normal.

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Fifteen minutes after our post was published, Dean Andrews emailed a memo to law alumni, calling attention to Albany’s “bright future.” Part of that future is apparently fewer faculty members:

A smaller student body necessarily presents the unfortunate reality of a need to reduce the number of our educators. Yesterday I notified our faculty that Albany Law will be offering voluntary separation packages to qualifying individuals. We are doing so to assist in aligning our staffing needs with the anticipated student body moving forward. We will make every effort to mitigate individual disruption by offering a fair severance package to those who volunteer for this program.

Does she really think that faculty members are going to be willing to part ways with their precious tenure? That’s a funny concept.

UPDATE (3:25 p.m.): According to the New York Law Journal, the school has offered buyouts “to up to eight longer-tenured and higher-salaried professors.”

(You can read the full memo from Dean Andrews on the next page.)

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