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More on Florida Coastal’s rapidly shrinking law school

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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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