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Vermont Law School gets rid of 21.4% of its full-time tenure track faculty positions

[ 43 ] June 28, 2013 |

Updated below

Story here.

Class size at VLS dropped from 200 to 170 in 2012, and VLS President Marc Mihaly expects it to take another 30-student plunge this year. The school is still accepting applications, and school officials say they won’t have a final count until the students show up in September.

Mihaly says he is also worried that they’ll see a decline in the average GPA and LSAT scores of the incoming class. [Comment:VLS admitted 83% of its applicants in 2012 so it would be difficult for the scores of its matriculants to decline much further]

Starting last September, VLS enacted a plan to shrink the school in response to a tuition dollar drought that left it with a $3.3 million budget gap. The school attracted national attention last winter when it cut 12 staff positions — 10 were through voluntary buyouts and two were involuntary.

This past spring, in a quieter move, VLS whittled down its faculty. Eight professors, of the 40 who were eligible, voluntarily moved from full-time to part-time positions. Mihaly estimated that two or three other positions were eliminated when professors departed for personal reasons.

VLS has been pruning expenses elsewhere, too. It has cut down on cleaning services and changed the hours and offerings of its food service, among other changes. At one point, there were conversations about whether coffee would continue to be available in offices, according to one staff member.

I guess coffee really is for closers.

This isn’t the only law school where things like this are happening, and there are several other stories along this line that are likely to be hitting the media over the course of the next few months.

Update: After some correspondence with Peter Glenshaw, Director of Communications at Vermont Law School, I’ve learned that the precise numbers involved are:

(1) Four tenure/tenure-track faculty have gone from full to part-time. Two tenured/tenure track faculty left the school, and their positions were eliminated. Together this represents a 21.4% reduction in the number of full-time tenure track faculty.

(2) Four contract faculty have gone from full to part-time. This represents 13% of the contract faculty. Thus the number of full-time positions on the teaching faculty (TT and contract) has been reduced by 17.2%.

Mr. Glenshaw wishes to emphasize that the eight faculty members who have gone from full-time to part-time status will, in his words, “continue to teach or work at VLS in the coming years. We are thrilled that every faculty member who participated in this voluntary program will remain involved in our community as teachers and educators, and we look forward to their contributions in the coming years.”

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  1. David Hunt says:

    One thing i noticed about that excerpt is the distinct lack of any mention of VLS getting rid of any administrative staff. Cue Claude Rains to proclaim that he is “Shocked! Shocked!”

  2. Vermont has a population of 625,000. It is next to Massachusetts, which has nine law schools, and New York, which has 15. I understand that Vermont’s environmental law program is well thought of, but how many of its graduates end up in that field in Vermont? How many new lawyers can Vermont support every year?

    • Pamoya says:

      The practice of ranking law school specialties such as environmental law is a complete joke. There is no way that someone who wants to practice environmental law would be better off attending VLS rather than Yale or Harvard. Never mind that the only jobs available in “environmental law” are jobs working for a big law firm defending BP from lawsuits about its oil spill or something along those lines.

      President Mihaly gives the game away on VLS’s employment prospects by saying that the job placement hasn’t declined during the downturn in the legal profession(translation: it was crappy before and is still crappy) and by saying that “the reason is there is such a diversity in the direction our students go in.” (Translation: our graduates can’t get jobs as lawyers.)

      • john says:

        He also gives it away with this quote:

        “The problem we have to watch out for is we can’t take people who we believe probably won’t succeed in law school or won’t pass the bar…”

        His only concern is with graduating and passing the bar (how hard can it be to graduate from a low ranked school and pass the Vermont bar). Whether these newly minted lawyers can actually get a job doesn’t even enter the equation.

      • ChrisTS says:

        Jeez. I have a recent grad about to attend there for the EL program. She was so excited to get in; I just did not know what to say.

    • PSP says:

      Vermont has a multi-layered system to keep new lawyers out. The demand for lawyers that want to live there vastly exceeds the demand for the lawyers that are already there. They have absolutely no need for a law school.

      It is beautiful there though.

  3. Dave Camel says:

    The laid off faculty should have no problem finding partner or “of counsel” level positions at large law firms since they choose to give up these types of positions and the opportunity to make millions in order to teach law school.

  4. cpinva says:

    “(how hard can it be to graduate from a low ranked school and pass the Vermont bar).”

    I assume this was meant to be a question. I have one myself, for all you lawyer types on this site: is the bar exam unique to the state? I understand that there would be a section devoted to that state’s particular, perhaps even unique, law & practice, but wouldn’t the bulk of the exam be on subject matter that should be common to all the states? the same cpa exam is given in va & ca. when I sat for it in va, 3 hours later, people in ca were sitting down, and staring at the exact same test booklets that I was.

    • lawguy says:

      Well, Ohio has (or had) a 3 day bar exam. The second day was the multi state portion which I understand is the same every where and multiple choice. The first and third days were specifically state law and were essay.

  5. [...] Paul Campos (Colorado), Vermont Law School Gets Rid of One Quarter of its Full-Time Faculty Positions [...]

  6. David Carpenter says:

    It is a lot of fun to anonymously lob snark bombs, but please, people, let’s get some facts straight. First, Vermont Law School is not a “local” school that takes primarily Vermonters and sends them back into Vermont. The entering classes are remarkably diverse, with students coming from all over the US, with a high percentage of female students and a decent showing of minority students. Second, pooh-pooh the rankings all you want, but if you went to the school and got the degree, you would know that VLS offers a level of specialized education in environmental law that you cannot get anywhere else on the East Coast. Comments that environmental lawyers all work for BP displays a clear lack of understanding of both the field of environmental law generally and VLS’ course offerings specifically. Third, VLS is and always has attracted a specific type of public-service-minded and policy-minded individual, and many VLS grads go happily out into the world and end up in jobs not requiring a legal degree.

    I am a 97 joint degree holder and received an excellent legal education that has allowed me to develop a 16-year career that I have enjoyed pretty much every step of the way.

    • cpinva says:

      “Third, VLS is and always has attracted a specific type of public-service-minded and policy-minded individual, and many VLS grads go happily out into the world and end up in jobs not requiring a legal degree.”

      that being the case, a rational person wouldn’t waste the scarce, allocable resources on a law degree from VSL, that will never repay its cost, and apparently isn’t required in their job. sorry, you’re not helping your case with that.

      ok, i’ll bite: what is a “97 joint degree”, and what does it have to do with the issue at hand?

      • cpinva says:

        sorry, should have been VLS.

      • Brendon Carr says:

        Starbucks, for example, does not require a legal degree.

        • Jonathan Silber says:

          Starbucks requires no degree from law school?

          Then where does an aspiring barista learn to
          wiggle a heart-design into the froth of a cappuccino?

          • cpinva says:

            “Then where does an aspiring barista learn to
            wiggle a heart-design into the froth of a cappuccino?”

            I believe starbucks has its own, in-house training program. after graduating from the basic, “how to pour water into a coffee maker” core classes, and a period of on-the-job training, you go back to take advanced, specialty classes. rumor has it that these credits are transferable to VLS.

    • BoredJD says:

      It is a local school because it places locally. You’d be silly to pay sticker- 150,000 (not counting accrued interest or COL) to go there expecting to work for the EPA or a big firm’s environmental law practice.

      The “environmental law” rankings do not measure much of value to students. They don’t measure job prospects. They measure how much other law professors favor VLS’s environmental law program. If that translated into jobs, the abysmal job placement statistics from VLS (45% in FT, LT Bar Passage required) or salary statistics (conveniently not provided) would bear this out.

      I went to a T10 school and no many people with little interest in environmental law who had no trouble getting highly-paid jobs in environmental law.

  7. Steve says:

    Why on earth wd faculty agree to go from full to part time?

    • djw says:

      If I were close to retirement and financially secure, and it meant saving one of my younger colleagues’ jobs, I could see doing it.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        While noble of you, my guess is in this case there was a sweetener plus threat of involuntary layoffs plus lack of obvious alternatives.

        So, if you offered me two years severance plus a part time salary (law prof salary!) which preserved benefits, then I’m sitting pretty for a couple of years. (I doubt it was that high :))

      • David in NY says:

        You are correct.

        I am doing that very thing, for those reasons (in part), in the federal defender system, which is facing 30% to 50% layoffs if the “sequester” continues. I am also a bit over 65, so it’s about time.

  8. Karis North says:

    I’d like to clarify the numbers – VLS class size went UP last year, from 150 in Fall 2011 to 170 in Fall 2012. What’s happening here is the volatility of the legal market and it is affecting every single law school out there.

    I’m a 1995 JD and I’ve been practicing environmental law since I left VLS – I have a terrific fulfilling and lucrative career and the education I got at VLS was stellar. I’m a Cornell undergrad and I chose to attend VLS specifically because of its reputation in environmental law. I’ve been in mega firms and smaller firms, and there is not question my VLS education prepared me well for whatever came across my path.

    It is a challenging time for the law world — not just legal education. I commend Dean Mihaly, and the VLS administration, faculty and staff for taking the lead in making the hard choices to ensure the sustainability of VLS. They continue to be innovative, by adding programs like the Accelerated JD, which allows students to finish in 2 years, and reduces tuition cost and time out of the work force. The distance learning program is also bringing new students to VLS — many of whom chose to take come portion of their degree on campus — but allows them the flexibility of working and learning.

    • David M. Nieporent says:

      VLS would like everyone to know that this piece of bureaucratese-flavored pablum posted by the president of the VLS Alumni Association at this and other blogs was in no way ghost-written by any VLS administrator.

    • Barry says:

      “What’s happening here is the volatility of the legal market and it is affecting every single law school out there. ”

      You’re lying; go read ItLSS or Law School Transparency, and see what the grad to jobs ratio has been like for a number of years.

  9. Karis North says:

    I’d also like to share some of the terrific work VLS is doing in land use and civil rights. Below are links to recent articles by VLS professors on two of the Supreme Court’s decisions last week. The Echeverria article on the Koontz case was one of the most emailed articles in the NY Times last week, and the Gardina article in the Huffington Post also received significant attention. These are just two examples of the caliber of professor that teaches at VLS!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/opinion/a-legal-blow-to-sustainable-development.html?_r=0

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackie-gardina/visible-family-ties_b_3492140.html

    • BoredJD says:

      I’m sure the 55% of students who couldn’t find FT LT JD required jobs, paying a sticker tuition price of $150,000, are very happy to know their professors have such distinguished accomplishments. Will these students be receiving a cut of the fees?

  10. dybbuk says:

    Voluntary. In this economy, full-time white collar workers just love the idea of being placed in part-time positions.

    Voluntary is what the Godfather called an offer you can’t refuse.

  11. Karis North says:

    Comments published under my name are mine and mine alone. I am an advocate, dedicated to my law school and unafraid to stand up for what I believe, like so many of my fellow VLS alums. I have no need for a ghost writer.

  12. cpinva says:

    “Comments published under my name are mine and mine alone. I am an advocate, dedicated to my law school and unafraid to stand up for what I believe, like so many of my fellow VLS alums. I have no need for a ghost writer.”

    you might want to consider one then. if this were any more boilerplate, it would come with a pipe attached to it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The comments claiming that all law schools are having issues are extremely misleading. Yes, all law schools have been affected, but the level at which they’ve been affected differs greatly. The T14 and other schools which are ranked highly on the IS News and World Report rankings are doing a lot better than schools like Vermont. Look at

  14. Anonymous says:

    this, for example. And for a more precise breakdown, check this out. Nobody should be wasting any money or time to attend a school with less-than-a-coin-flip’s chance of finding legal employment; even when VLS grads do find jobs, it appears to be mostly at random shitty places anyway.

    (Sorry for the sudden break in my comment; I’m typing this on my phone and accidentally clicked the submit button as I was trying to scroll down.)

  15. any chance? says:

    Is there any chance LGM can get the RSS feed for individual authors working?

    I know it’s supposed to exist, but I don’t think it actually works.

    Thanks.

  16. Sooner says:

    VLS consistently appears more often as a law school that is transparently dealing with its problems. Probably too transparently and too much in a direction that is easily traceable. I’m not surprised they have the alumni association activated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they engage in a new strategy so that their particular troubles are not so widely read. Bad for business.

  17. [...] been an eventful week in the law school world. Two law schools have announced the immediate or imminent downsizing of their faculties, while another [...]

  18. [...] of staff were fired) and Vermont Law School (one-fifth of tenure-track faculty positions were removed), in delivering a message professors not at elite schools have long feared was coming. As the legal [...]

  19. [...] of staff were fired) and Vermont Law School (one-fifth of tenure-track imagination positions were removed), in delivering a summary professors not during chosen schools have prolonged feared was coming. As [...]

  20. […] not surprising that all this has resulted in hiring freezes, aggressive buyout programs, and straight-up layoffs of staff and even tenure-track and tenured faculty at some schools. What […]

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