As the legal industry sheds jobs and as sluggish growth in the sector continues as a trend, law schools are feeling the squeeze. As fewer prospective students apply to law school, revenues dip and schools have to make cuts to stay solvent and meet obligations.
Tenured professors can earn from 100,000 to several hundred thousand dollars annually, and they can have an expensive retirement package and benefits package as well. Normally an institution can’t have too many tenured professors, as the cost burden for those financial obligations becomes disproportionately heavy relative to incoming cash flow streams. Colleges and universities usually save by having PhD students teach classes, having graduate student researchers and advisers grade papers or do other professorial administrative tasks, and by having an army of adjunct and teaching assistants at hand to support the professors. Part time professorship is also very common. Cutting jobs is nothing personal. It is not an attack on the hard work and professional dignity of the knowledgeable professors. It is a fiscal response to tightening times and shrinking revenues.
The ABA recommends that law schools require some form of security of position short of tenure to all full-time faculty members. The situation in question is whether untenured full time faculty will have job security. “Job security” is another way of saying that a college should bear the burden financially of keeping expensive full time professors on the payroll even when the incoming cash flows and shrinking student body may not justify the costs. The positive side of this could be smaller class sizes, and more individual attention to students. The downside considers what college can afford to keep so many professors who have expensive salaries and benefits in times when the number of students that apply is shrinking? While the ABA retains a humanist and kind consideration, they aren’t considering the limitations and practicalities of the fiscal restraints that each institution bears.
The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s standards review committee voted to give the section’s governing council three other ways of dealing with tenure. One requires tenure or a comparable form of security of position for all full-time faculty, except for clinical professors and legal-writing instructors. Another would require law schools to provide all full-time faculty members the same job protections, irrespective of academic field or teaching methodology. The third would eliminate any job security requirements from the standards altogether, according to the ABA Journal.
The committee’s poll found that the preference was for job security for all full time professors over all other options. Several other issues, including bar passage requirements, are underway to get overhauled. Committee chair Jeffrey Lewis said after the meeting that the committee accomplished nearly everything it had set out to do.”We got a huge amount done,” he said. “We didn’t finish [with the proposed bar-passage standard], but we had the essential conversation we needed to have.” If the ABA ends up requiring all full time professors to have more protections, institutions may simply hire fewer full time professors in order to meet their budget.