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A small piece of paper, it carries a lot of weight

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I noted with much amusement Scott’s post revealing that Ben Sasse is paying McKinsey nearly five million dollars to develop a “vision” for the University of Florida.

What can a bunch of 25-year-old newly minted MBAs tell the University of Florida about its “vision,” other than it should probably try to envision not spending more money than it’s going to bring in?

Speaking of which, here’s a quick look at what the school’s central administration allowed an ambitious law school dean to get away with over the past few years.

Because most of the law school’s financial information is online in one form or another, it’s possible to construct a pretty decent back of the envelope model of its finances over time, which look something like this:

In fiscal year 2013, the school was pulling in about $36.6 in tuition revenue (2022 dollars). Other revenue, almost all of which consisted of endowment income, pushed the school’s total self-generated revenue to around $39 million in constant dollars.

At the time, the law school had 62 full time faculty members, which meant it was generating around $645,000 per full-time faculty member. The school’s total payroll, including benefits, totaled about 64% of its self-generated income. This was, from a budgetary perspective, a pretty healthy situation, as payroll usually accounts for around two thirds of a law school’s total operating expenses. So the University of Florida’s law school was, ten years ago, almost surely covering its operating expenses with self-generated income, and probably generating a small surplus.

Shortly afterwards, a proactive synergistic visionary named Laura Rosenbury became dean, and things started to change . . . a lot.

Rosenbury was obsessed with improving the law school’s ranking in the idiotic US News tables. Central to this vision was raising the LSAT and GPA scores of the law school’s entering students. In recent years, prospective law students have learned they can drive a hard bargain with schools like Florida, which were desperate to buy high LSAT scores in particular, because of the weight these numbers are given in the US News rankings formula. In order to improve these metrics Rosenbury had to convince the central administration to radically slash the effective tuition UF’s law students were paying, by offering them “scholarships” (these were not real scholarships, but simply discounts on sticker price) that would mean they would be paying very little tuition, relative to the announced cost of attendance.

The result was that, by fiscal year 2022, tuition revenue at the law school had fallen from $36.6 million to $8.3 million, in constant dollars — an astonishing 77% decline.

Rosenbury also increased the size of the full time faculty from 62 to 84, while slashing the size of the student body, with the result being that revenue per full time faculty member fell from around $645,000 to about $178,000. This meant that the school’s revenue was now not much more than half of its payroll, let alone the rest of its expenses.

Although Rosenbury managed to raise some money from donors while shilling her “vision” of a highly ranked law school. the net result was that, by the end of her deanship, the law school’s total self-generated revenue was covering just 40% of its operating costs, approximately.

By gaming the rankings in countless and in some instances ethically dubious ways — for example, she claimed that the school’s part time faculty expanded from 30 to 259 — the latter figure should be completely impossible under the ABA’s definitions of who can be counted as part time faculty — she did manage to raise the law school’s ranking quite a bit. This has not resulted in better job outcomes for Florida’s graduates relative to its local competitor schools, whose rankings didn’t improve, but it has allowed central administrators to advertise to their regents and legislators that UF now has a “top 25” law school, as if that phrase had any actual meaning.

Is this farcical achievement worth the law school’s current approximately $20 million per year operating deficit? I guess that’s something only McKinsey’s brand new MBAs can answer — after you spend another five million for the privilege of asking them.

And how has all this worked out for Laura Rosenbury, synergistic visionary of the proactivity?

New York Times, March 9, 2023

Barnard College of Columbia University, one of the most prominent women’s colleges in the United States, announced on Thursday that it had chosen Laura A. Rosenbury, the dean of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, to serve as its next president.

Ms. Rosenbury became the first woman to serve as dean of Levin College of Law, in Gainesville, Fla., in 2015. She also taught classes in feminist legal theory, employment discrimination and family law.

“As a scholar who has long studied the law’s role in the construction of gender, I am excited to be part of an institution that has a deep history of studying gender in all of its complexity,” said Ms. Rosenbury in an interview.

Money don’t have genders — just spenders.

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