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More on Florida Coastal’s rapidly shrinking law school

[ 33 ] August 9, 2013 |

Last month I wrote about the situation at Florida Coastal School of Law. I’ve since learned some further details about what, according to various sources, has been going on at the school. To summarize:

(1) FCSL is a for-profit law school owned by Infilaw, which in turn is owned by Sterling Partners.

(2) FCSL’s contractual obligations include a “guaranteed return on investment” to the school’s owners.

(3) When it became clear that that the school was going to miss its enrollment target by a huge margin, the school’s owners decided to get rid of a large percentage of the school’s faculty. FCSL’s first-year enrollment:

2010: 808
2011: 672
2012: 571
2013 315 (projected)

(4) In order to legally circumvent the contractual rights of tenured and tenure-track faculty, the school would have to declare a financial emergency, which would then allow it to undertake a formal reduction in force, i.e., it could then fire enough faculty to allow the school to have a chance of making good on its owners’ guaranteed return on investment.

(5) The school’s owners, however, were unwilling to declare a financial emergency, since they calculated doing so would be a public relations disaster for an enterprise whose finances were already severely strained by the unfortunate effects of increasing transparency regarding employment outcomes for its graduates. Instead, the administration approached 14 faculty members with the following offer: accept a severance package in return for your “voluntary” resignation, or be fired via a formal reduction in force. Apparently, 12 of the 14 faculty members accepted this offer. Two others did not, and are planning to sue the school.

(6) At least one faculty member was fired shortly before the “voluntary” severance packages were offered. As of two days ago, the school’s web site had yet to be updated to reflect the school’s much smaller faculty.

(7) One of my informants emphasized that in his/her view the school is admitting ever-larger numbers of students who have no realistic chance of ever practicing law, while saddling them with $150,000+ in debt, and that many faculty members feel “dirty” about this, but also feel financially trapped by their own circumstances. This person is particularly angry about what he/she considers the school’s egregious mis-statements to the local and national media. It’s worth recalling that last month the school’s interim dean (who is also the general counsel of Infilaw) flatly denied that any departures from the faculty were anything but voluntary:

You accused us of “lying to the media,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Some of our faculty members have indicated their interest in resigning, retiring or continuing in a different role with the school.

In point of fact I didn’t accuse FCSL (or more accurately Infilaw) of lying to the media: rather, I pointed out that the story the school’s administration was giving out to the media was radically inconsistent with what I was being told by certain present and former employees of the institution. Readers can decide for themselves which of these stories seem more credible.

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  1. fledermaus says:

    (2) FCSL’s contractual obligations include a “guaranteed return on investment” to the school’s owners.

    This seems to be the PE/banks’ newest thing for ripping off the public. Like the Chicago parking meter deal where the city pays if they have to close the street for repairs or a public holiday. Why orginizations sign these “guaranteed return on investment” deals is beyond me.

    Oh, wait, it’s not their money being wasted. And there are campaign donations and board positions to be had.

    • Aaron B. says:

      Rich investors get a guaranteed ROI from their for-profit educational institutions while blue collar workers get variable-rate mortgages.

      Freedom, freedom, freedom, OI!

      • BigHank53 says:

        This may have some bearing.

        It’s funny–I’ve been “investing” for over twenty years, mostly through retirement programs, but also helping out older family members, and never ever not even once do I recall seeing a “guaranteed return on investment”. Why, it almost seems as there are two different classes of people, who are being offered two entirely different sorts of terms in their contracts. And all the while the entire GOP (along with the DLC, too) was telling me that rich folks deserved lower taxes because of those great big risks they took with their money.

        Burning them alive is too good for them.

        • Shakezula says:

          and never ever not even once do I recall seeing a “guaranteed return on investment”.

          I was about to comment on this.

          I can’t speak for other sectors of the universe, but physicians are regularly warned to avoid business deals that guarantees earnings because they most likely violate Medicare regs. Getting involved in such arrangements is a good way to get busted.

        • Bill Murray says:

          some government contracts come with guaranteed returns — you basically put in your profit as part of the contract, although there was a limit to the percentage profit.

          I also remember reading about a person who guaranteed that after a certain amount of time the investors would at least get their initial investment back. He did this by buying bonds

        • JQP says:

          Chicago bureaucrats and legal academia sound like GOP voters to you? Really? I’ve got a bridge to sell ya…it spans from Phoenix to the nearby island with a great ocean-front view.

          Or, maybe if you kept ignorant politics out of this, we could get people to collaborate on a solution and not get an answer of “Eww, GOP! I’m too open-minded to talk to them.”

          Corrupt politicians getting rich from taxes is not the same as people with money who earn or inherit becoming “rich”. Maybe fewer tax dollars to be stolen would be a good thing. Are you open-minded enough to accept that idea?

    • Downpuppy says:

      How is a contract between a subsidiary entity and its owner real? It sounds like a promise I made to myself.

  2. blo8er says:

    The appointment of the general counsel as the CEO (in this case, dean) of a business is generally considered a sign that the business is into its end-of-life stage and is being prepared to be wound down.

    I know this, I are a general counsel.

  3. Mike says:

    Something with “Guaranteed return” would not be an investment, it would be a loan.

  4. gratuitous says:

    I wonder what portion of Infilaw’s business case included the genius move of forcing tenured law professors out the door under the guise of “voluntary separation”?

  5. William Burns says:

    There is something appropriate about the juxtaposition of “rapidly shrinking” and “Florida Coast” that goes beyond a mere law school.

  6. JDman says:

    and once again, the main problem(federaly insured loans) never gets mentioned!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Interesting that they are “admitting ever-larger numbers of students who have no realistic chance of ever practicing law” while also shrinking. That would suggest that the number of their students who do have a realistic chance of practicing law has dwindled to almost none.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Anyone watch Man of Steel this summer? This post makes me think of the scenes from Krypton, right before the planet imploded.

  9. PaulB says:

    Faculty members who knowingly participate in this scheme but feel they have no choice but to do so due to their own financial situation are part of the scam. This fact undoubtedly covers the faculty of far more schools than this one.

    • lawman says:

      Operating a law school is not a scam, you whiney little baby. You go to school to get an education. No school owes you a job upon graduation. With an attitude like your’s it’s no wonder you can’t find one.

  10. Philip Arlington says:

    If the pressure is kept up the scam is going to be broken. The first closure of a school will change the nature of the conversation. More of the mainstream media will see that the scam bloggers have been right all along, and the reality of the situation will begin to get through to far more OLs (and their parents). Two more years of double digit falls in applicatants and it will be carnage.

    • lawman says:

      Applications may continue to go down, but employment numbers will eventually rebound, and then applications will go back up. Law is the second oldest profession. And lawyers are everyone’s favorite scapegoat. But we aren’t going away any time soon.

  11. hello says:

    Is every law school facing steep percentages in enrollment, by some accounts, some law schools have lost close to fifty percent in enrollment, ie the cooley enrollment from 1600 to 800, im rounding. So based on enrollments dropping for a lot of law schools; has anybody figured out why these potential law students are not attending? better information, news articles, scam bloggers, personnel experience, I find it interesting that the law school myth was on a fragile foundation of half truths.

  12. […] post, Has Florida Coastal Just Fired 20% of its Law Faculty?:  Paul Campos (Colorado) reports that in the wake of a 60% projected enrollment decrease since 2010, “the administration […]

  13. 2008 FCSL Grad says:

    My experience with FCSL has been a game-changer. I bought into the scam and dedicated three years of my life in pursuit of the cartoon that they sold me. I racked nearly $200K in non-dischargeable debt along the way. I passed the bar but never even got a look at a serious legal career. Two-and-a-half years after leaving Jacksonville I found myself sitting before a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee. I have experienced levels of humiliation, exasperation, desperation, and defeat that I’d never imagined were possible. Most of you are chiming in with an academic curiosity about this situation, which I guess I somehow appreciate. But Infilaw is destroying the lives of real people. I hope that Infilaw goes down in bloody flames because what they are doing is despicable. And because misery loves company.

  14. lawman says:

    Take responsibility for your own actions. Your law school is not to blame for your inability to find employment. While I’m at it, your bank is also not to blame for lending you the money you borrowed. Mcdonalds is not to blame for making you fat. Marlboro is not to blame if you get cancer from smoking. And you can’t blame Budweiser if you have a drinking problem.

  15. 2008 FCSL Grad says:

    For decades Marlboro was free to matket their product as a sexy and glamorous thing. As much as half our population bought in. But over time more and more smokers began to present with heinous and morbid physical symptoms. Eventually our scientists, doctors and economists were able to link Marlboros to widespread disease and an attenuating medical cost burden that was crippling our society as a whole. Alas! we cried; has Marlboro been lying to us all this time? Just to make money?

    induce young people into buying their product by presenting it as a healthy and glamorous thing.

    sell and package their product with the use of advertising which featured glamorous models, and depictions of rugged cowboys

  16. 2008 FCSL Grad says:

    For decades Marlboro was free to matket their product as a sexy and glamorous thing. As much as half our population bought in. But over time more and more smokers began to present with heinous and morbid physical symptoms. Eventually our scientists, doctors and economists were able to link Marlboros to widespread disease and an attenuating medical cost burden that was crippling our society as a whole. Alas! we cried; has Marlboro been lying to us all this time? Just to make money?
    Today every pack of Marlboros is labeled with a bold warning to buyers that “THIS PRODUCT MAY CAUSE CANCER”. In other countries the package says “SMOKING WILL KILL YOU”.
    I’m the lady on the PSA commercial who’s talking out of a whole in her neck. I have experienced a heinous side effect of attending a for-profit law school, and believe me, I am not an isolated case. When INFILAW is forced to deliver their goods with a label which reads the truth: “THIS PRODUCT WILL KILL YOU”, I will no longer feel a need to present with my sad case. People who buy in after being informed will not get any sympathy form me.
    PS- my “bank” is the United States government. I don’t blame them because they were duped into the same scam by INFILAW. But the taxpayers will never be repaid.

    induce young people into buying their product by presenting it as a healthy and glamorous thing.

    sell and package their product with the use of advertising which featured glamorous models, and depictions of rugged cowboys

  17. lawman says:

    How about this for a warning:

    ATTENDING LAW SCHOOL IS NO GUARANTEE OF FUTURE EMPLOYMENT. YOU MUST ALSO PAY TUITION TO ATTEND LAW SCHOOL. IF YOU BORROW THE MONEY, YOU WILL HAVE TO REPAY THE LOAN WHETHER OR NOT YOU OBTAIN EMPLOYMENT.

  18. […] Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law joins Florida Coastal and Hamline as prominent recent admits into legal academia’s ICU: The Thomas Jefferson School […]

  19. FC alum says:

    I heard from someone on the faculty that FCSL’s first year enrollment bounced all the way up to 326- maybe things are bottoming out(?)

  20. […] months, it’s been revealed that several law schools are trying to buy out the contracts of significant numbers of their tenured faculty, and it’s likely that quite a few more are doing so on the down low. […]

  21. […] recent faculty buyouts at Charlotte and Arizona Summit were preceded by a series of major force reductions at Florida Coastal, the other of the three Infilaw-owned law schools, in the summers of 2013 and […]

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