The American Association of University Professors has taken a long look at Vermont Law School and released a report that can best be described as scathing. Or at least that’s what phrasing like “the goals of higher education had been violated” would suggest.
Vermont Law landed in this spot after taking the ax to tenured faculty last year in a stated effort to address financial troubles. VLS Dean Tom McHenry at the time compared the faculty to children, saying that the school’s longtime professors couldn’t be trusted to shape the future of the law school, a move that raised more than a few eyebrows at the AAUP.
After interviewing more than 20 people connected with the Vermont situation, the AAUP dropped the rhetorical hammer:
“Put inelegantly, VLS laid off a majority of its most expensive faculty members and then outsourced the work they did to a much cheaper contingent labor force, with no intention, it seems, of looking back,” the report said. “Left in the dust pile of this type of corporate restructuring are the primary goals of higher education: to serve the common good and advance the progress of society through teaching and research, which goals are the very reason for academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance.”
The gig economy isn’t a particularly good look for an institution of higher learning — or, frankly any industry — but what really chapped the AAUP’s hide seems to be the school’s unwillingness to commit to the pauper status it was publicly pleading:
VLS never formally declared financial exigency however, and the report says the investigation committee was “troubled” to learn that despite the claims of financial distress, VLS “continued to invest a significant sum” in its strategic plan and authorized salary increases for some on the lower end of the salary scale.
“Such expenditures during supposed financially exigent circumstances raise the question as to whether terminating tenured faculty appointments was more a matter of preference than necessity,” the report said.
Dean McHenry says that he believes the school is in compliance with all academic standards, but we’ll have to wait and see if he can persuade the organization to his way of thinking. As of now, that seems a tall order.
[AAUP Senior Program Officer Anita] Levy said the AAUP board will likely vote in favor of putting the VLS on the sanctioned school list next month. There are six schools currently on the sanctioned list.
While the AAUP isn’t the ABA, its opinion carries a lot of weight with the nation’s law school sanctioning body, and a negative review from AAUP is likely to cause a good deal of trouble for the school when its accreditation is up in 2020.
Investigation concludes Vermont Law School violated academic freedom [VT Digger]
Earlier: Law School To Cut Tenured Faculty To Solve Budget Problem
Law School Facing ‘Financial Exigencies’ Strips 14 Professors Of Tenure
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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