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Friday, April 06, 2012

law schools and the crumbling universities that surround us

Hypothetical, but one that might occur at a university near you: 

You work at a law school at a state university -- a university that, like many such schools, is facing enormous, unprecedented financial constraints, leading to budget cuts throughout the campus. But thanks to its status and professional-school tuition, your law school has been shielded from the worst of these cuts. While the law school has continued to make new hires (though not as many as in the good old days) and fund research budgets, other parts of the university, especially those involved in undergraduate education and most especially those in the humanities, have not only been unable to hire, but have also lost basic services -- support staff, office paper, even office phones.

The cuts have come so drastically across campus that there's nothing left to cut but faculty. And the cuts must come, the central administration has decreed, because of deep cuts in state funding and popular resistance to increased undergraduate tuition. And so tenure-track faculty in disciplines that are related to law (history, philosophy, english, and the like) are threatened with layoffs, including some acquaintances and perhaps even friends. Meanwhile, your dean announces there will be no faculty raises and there may be some trimming of research budgets. Next year's workshop series will need to be smaller, with fewer speakers coming from out of town, and lunches will be sandwiches or not be on offer at all. The law school's austerity, in short, pales in comparison to what's going on across campus.

What's a law faculty member to do? Conclude that there's nothing you can do, and thank your dean for protecting the law school from having its students' tuition redistributed across campus? Pledge solidarity with your sisters and brothers across campus, argue in favor of redistribution, and seek greater austerity in your own school (e.g., oppose any new hiring, suggest or volunteer pay cuts, argue for closing non-essential programs (which may include layoffs of law school staff), etc.)? Get more involved in all-university governance to protect your own interests and others'? 

Posted by Mark Fenster on April 6, 2012 at 12:28 AM | Permalink

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