Thursday, July 11, 2013
Earlier we told you about Seton Hall's plan to possibly lay-off seven non-tenured faculty members after the 2014-15 academic year in response to declining student enrollment (it's only a proposal at this point which the school's Dean has said he hopes to avoid). In this column from the New York Times, U. of San Diego School of Law professor Victor Fleischer says the proposal is wrong-headed and that even after some pretty significant cost-cutting, there's still fat that can be cut before sacrificing junior/non-tenure track faculty. No doubt many more law schools will face similarly difficult choices in the year ahead.
The law school at Seton Hall University has put its untenured faculty on legal notice that their contracts may not be renewed for the 2014-15 academic year. The firings of these seven individuals are not certain, depending on the outcome of other steps the administration will try to bring the budget in balance.
The situation at Seton Hall is representative of many other non-elite law schools. Firing untenured faculty is a shortsighted approach to managing an academic budget.
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There are better ways to shrink a law school budget. The size of the tenure-track faculty can shrink by retirement and attrition, not involuntary termination. Post-tenure review (by faculty, not administrators) can ensure that faculty members remain productive. Libraries can be moved online. Clinics can be closed, and adjunct faculty can be better utilized to team-teach practical courses alongside research faculty. The size of the administrative staff can be pared down, especially those who manage programs that might be considered luxuries.
According to its Web site, Seton Hall Law School has five centers, seven clinics and five study abroad programs. I doubt all of these programs are profit centers. Perhaps in the age of austerity, the law school will offer fewer opportunities to travel to Zanzibar, take a safari, or study lakeside in Geneva. Better to kill off a few boondoggles than to fire the junior faculty.
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