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Nearly 75 Percent of Tenure Faculty at VLS Lose Status
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Vermont Law

Summary: Vermont Law School has stripped away tenure from 14 of their 19 tenured faculty members in order to cut costs.

Vermont Law School has taken extreme measures in order to put the school’s finances back on track. One of those measures involved getting rid of tenure from roughly 75 percent of its tenured faculty members. According to the ABA Journal, 14 of the 19 tenured faculty members at VLS lost their hard-earned status.

  
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With the details of how many faculty members lost their tenure positions, the American Association of University Professors is concerned that the law school did not follow proper regulations. The AAUP sent a letter on June 19 to VLS’s tenure and retention committee chair, they explained that for “extraordinary circumstances because of financial exigencies,” a law school can terminate faculty positions for reasons beyond adequate cause. However, in that situation, the faculty, administration and governing board should work together to decide if financial exigencies exist with faculty having the “primary responsibility” to determine where the terminations occur and what criteria will be used for the terminations.

VLS has around 60 faculty members, according to VT Digger. Law school tenure and retention committee chair Peter Teachout responded to the AAUP in a letter stating that they had decided on “stripping 14 out of 19 tenured faculty members of tenure” in order to cut costs.

One Vermont Law professor that lost his tenure, Craig Pease, claims the law school has not stated that it is under financial exigencies. Pease did not sign a nondisclosure agreement with the school and has since sent a letter to VLS demanding his job back, with tenure.

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Teachout told the ABA Journal that faculty was not directly involved in determining who would lose tenure. Senior program officer Anita Levy wrote in the letter, “Even if the faculty, administration, and governing board had together determined that a state of financial exigency … did exist, the process enacted for determining whose appointments have been terminated is still unacceptable under principles of academic freedom and tenure. Indefinite tenure carries with it the presumption of competence.”

Dean Thomas McHenry emphasized that any arrangements involving losing tenure were subject to confidential agreements. McHenry, a former Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner, became the law school’s dean last year. He quickly enacted plans for a “programmatic restructuring to put us in a better financial situation.”



Vermont Law does not have a parent institution to help with expenses, leaving it all to the law school to handle its finances. The downturn in the economy and subsequent drop in law school enrollment numbers took a big punch out of Vermont. They laid off staff in 2013 and were found to have defaulted on a loan agreement with TD Bank in 2013. In 2017, the law school received a $17 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture, which was used to lower the interest rate on existing debt.

McHenry explained, “Whenever you go through a restructuring process you want to make sure you preserve the absolute best and most important parts of the institution. I am very excited and my deans are very excited – we’re in much better financial position today than we were several months ago, and this gives up the flexibility to start planning going forward.” The law school has also had a big increase in the past couple years in enrollment numbers.

The AAUP encourages schools to give faculty members stripped of tenure at least one year of notice or severance pay. Teachout told the ABA Journal that the affected faculty members will receive their salary at a new scale for six months in the fiscal year 2019 and medical benefits up to December 31.

Do you think Vermont Law School is legally able to strip tenure from so many without cause? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about tenure at other law schools, read these articles:

Photo: ourhungryfood.wordpress.com



 

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