It’s been an eventful week in the law school world. Two law schools have announced the immediate or imminent downsizing of their faculties, while another has laid off a dozen staff people, and is claiming that an unspecified number of faculty positions that have opened up because of “voluntary” departures will not be filled (I have heard from one of the departed faculty members that his/her departure was in fact in no sense voluntary).
Interestingly, legal academic law blogs, including some which normally spend inordinate bandwith on the comings and goings of deans and faculty in this status-obsessed and gossip-ridden thing of ours, have with almost no exceptions remained eerily silent about all this.
Anyway, if you’re an untenured member of a law school faculty, here’s some free advice on how to do what you can to avoid ending up looking for — Jah forbid — a job as a lawyer. (Obviously the salience of this advice will vary depending on your particular institutional situation, this is far from an exhaustive lists, no warranties of quality are expressed or implied etc)
(1) Work with your senior colleagues to put pressure on your administration to cough up candid financials to the faculty. How much money is the school spending? How much is it bringing in? How much, historically speaking, has the law school been expected to kick to the central university? (This latter question can be very tricky to answer, as universities are hives of various forms of cross-subsidization. For example, the law school will be reasonably expected to pay a certain amount in “indirect expenses,” that is, university-wide expenses, a certain percentage of which will be imputed to individual schools. However, if a school is being used as a cash cow — if revenues are being siphoned off to pay for other programs, as opposed to covering genuine collective costs — they will often be categorized in this way).
(2) How has the admissions office been told to handle the severe contraction in law school applications — nationally they’re down by nearly a third over the past three years, and of course by much more at some schools — and who has given the marching orders? The dean? Central? Has there been any faculty input? The options here are, cutting real tuition by giving out ever-larger “scholarships” to people with high or at least historical median scores, shrinking class size, and slashing entrance requirements. Which or what combination of these things is happening? How much tuition revenue will be generated by this fall’s incoming class relative to last fall’s?
(3) What plans are in place, or being formulated, to deal with further revenue contraction? Are staff layoffs being contemplated? What are the rules for laying off faculty? Should people take a pay cut now to avoid layoffs, not only of faculty, but of (generally powerless) staff? What about buyouts of senior faculty? Has central offered anything along these lines?
(4) Depending on the answers to the above questions, why is the school planning to spend X dollars on faculty hiring this coming year (Other than, of course, to give the dean something to highlight in the glossy law porn that gets distributed to alumni and the rest of legal academia. Speaking of which, how much does that thing cost to put together and distribute?).
(5) Go to your (probably enormous and largely empty) law library and dig up some annual catalogs. Count the number of administrative positions at the law school ten and fifteen and twenty years ago. Compare those numbers to the present situation, and do some back of the envelope math. Start asking questions about who does what and why.
(6) Do the same for the teaching faculty, and compare the teaching loads back in that distant era known as, say, 1998, to that borne today by you and the rest of your “insanely busy” (this is an actual term used in faculty meetings at many schools to describe faculty schedules) colleagues. Start asking questions about whether some — needless to say long-term and very gradual! — downsizing might not be in order, via retirements, buyouts, natural attrition, and not doing idiotic things like tying up several million dollars of future revenue by adding someone to the faculty to teach an “understaffed” first year course.
(7) Volunteer to teach an understaffed first year course.