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ABA Swipes at Tenure


Law professors, brace yourselves: tenured positions are about to get a whole lot more competitive.

Until now, the American Bar Association has required law schools to maintain a high number of tenured positions as a condition of accreditation. This worked fine when legal education was expanding, but now that enrollment is on the wane, law schools are finding that they have more tenured professors than they can afford. This leaves the schools with a choice: either hike tuition to keep paying the salaries of tenured professors, or cut down on the number of tenured positions. Fortunately for law students who are already facing the prospect of serious debt, the ABA seems to be choosing the latter. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“The problem is, the fixed costs we have sit in tenured faculty,” said Maureen O’Rourke, dean of Boston University School of Law and a member of the governing council of the ABA’s section of legal education and admissions to the bar. “I understand the need for academic freedom….But as an industry we have a need for flexibility that we just don’t have right now.”…

“Law professors and law deans are paid too much,” said Kent Syverud, dean of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, told the ABA’s task force on the future of legal education. “Either we have to be paid less, or we have to do more…. The whole problem of costs probably would go away if our salaries were halved.”

We’re glad to see the ABA contending with the crisis in legal education, and hope that this is only the beginning of efforts to bring down the cost of a law degree.

But the real question here is whether this is a sign of things to come in the higher-ed industry in general. Like potential law students, undergraduates these days are more discerning about the value of their tuition dollars. As students and parents become more price-conscious when choosing programs, schools will feel the pressure to compete by bringing costs down. Some of the cuts will come from athletic programs and student facilities, but professors’ salaries also account for a large chunk of college budgets, and tenured professors are usually paid more and are more difficult to dismiss than their non-tenured peers. As competition ramps up, schools beyond the legal field may choose to follow the ABA’s lead.

[Blind Justice Image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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