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Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Opposite of Marquette: When Budgets Dry Up

I'm glad Rick was able to start a thread on Marquette's good fortune.  Here's a related question and some context. As some of you may have heard, the Florida legislature has announced drastic cutbacks in its support for higher education in this current year, and the  FSU College of Law (like other Florida units) is now trying to reduce costs without impairing the provision of a high-quality education to its students and without jeopardizing the basis for FSU's increasing reputation as a strong research environment. 

Next week, the faculty at my law school will be discussing the budget cuts for this year. My question is for both those of you who might have been involved in cost-cutting in a law school atmosphere and, um, those of you haven't: what are the best places to make cuts in the law school budget?

Here are some things we're already doing in no particular order: freeze on overnight shipping/mailing, reducing the allocation available to faculty for travel and research assistance,  and keeping salaries  at current levels.  That said, we're still committed to giving scholarships and hiring new faculty we need for future years.  By the by, I've heard some departments are cutting off phone service to faculty or alternatively are cutting off voicemail and just buying faculty answering machines, which are not a recurring charge --  this is one of my favorite examples of low-hanging fruit.

I'll leave for another post my reflections on whether legal education is something taxpayers should have to subsidize, but in the meantime, as long as we're constrained in what we can charge students, we're somewhat tethered to the grants we get from the legislature.  What's particularly unnerving about this experience is that the schools plan a budget, have it authorized, and then find out, during the fiscal year, that the budget is now changing because state revenues aren't as flush as projected.  Brian Galle has tried to explain to me that Florida's constitution prevents the legislature from acting in a less apparently asinine way, say by, allocating future expenditures based on revenues already received.  Maybe I'm hopelessly uninformed but relying totally on current revenue streams to run a government's balanced budget program doesn't make sense.

Posted by Administrators on August 23, 2007 at 12:13 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Maybe FSU should trade mid-career profs to other law schools for recent junior hires? It'd be like your classic salary dump trade in professional sports. Granted, tenure may prevent a mid-career prof from being "traded" ... but what if FSU just assigned a prof to teach classes in Milwaukee, at Marquette, in exchange for Marquette trading a junior prof to FSU?

Posted by: Scott Moss | Sep 8, 2007 4:42:02 PM

Would it were so easy to raise instate tuition!! I think that's controlled by the legislature, and that's the big reason legal education at FSU is such a bargain, especially for in-state residents. But you're probably right about the other stuff, though I wonder if wi-fi adds an incremental cost in particular areas.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 7, 2007 10:12:11 AM

Raise instate tuition by $2000. Change the airconditioning settings on the buildings (its staggering to walk into the main law school building at 11pm and be greeted with a gust of 68 degree air). Stop leaving all the lights on all night, instead install motion sensors that turn on lights when people are actually there. Deactivate the wi-fi in classrooms. Its a tremendous distraction and an unnecessary expense.

Posted by: A Recent FSU Law Grad | Sep 6, 2007 6:27:32 PM

Scott, my sense is that has to be right. Of course, in FSU's case, we hired 4 laterals last year (Polsky in Tax, Utset in BA, Logan in Crim, Falaschetti in Law and Ec), when there was no indication of a budget cut. This year, the budget was authorized and then later on (ie., midstream of the current year) we were told, you're going to have to give back 4% of your budget. For what it's worth, we are still hiring, as that is one of our priorities, but we are looking for other costs to cut if possible.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 6, 2007 1:55:15 PM

I know very very little (ok, nothing) about law school budgeting, but wouldn't hiring more entry-level faculty, and fewer/no laterals, save a substantial amount of salary?

Posted by: Scott Moss | Sep 5, 2007 8:18:34 PM

I'm not sure if I'd go along with Dan's characterization of the Florida budget rules, but it sure seems to me like a terrible idea to try to fund a state of our size mostly with highly variable sources, such as sales and property transfer taxes, and simultaneously to forbid it to run a budget deficit. Of course, if one's goal is expressly to force the state to abandon the provision of public services, it's been working out just fine.

Posted by: BDG | Aug 26, 2007 12:37:05 PM

Joseph, this year, I understand FSU is only sending around its publications pornbrochure, and not sending the "viewbook" that has been sent in the past. To my mind, this makes sense even when finances are flush.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 23, 2007 4:11:34 PM

How much "law porn" is your school sending out? As a U.S News voter, I'm not convinced it makes much of a difference in the "reputation" rankings, and the production and shipping costs of all that can't be trivial.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 23, 2007 10:35:13 AM

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