October 20, 2012
Unkind Cuts: Shrinking the law school budget
Legal education is under strain: Fewer people are applying to law school, and those who apply are less qualified. One result of this dynamic is that law schools are admitting fewer students, in order to keep qualifications up, but that means less tuition money is coming in. Because of this, many law schools are having to shrink their budgets.
There are no easy cuts in a well-run law school. There are only four areas that comprise enough of the budget that cutting them will make a difference: Faculty salaries, staff salaries, tuition remission (scholarship money for students), and library staff and acquisitions.
Faculty salaries are very difficult to cut. It often is a violation of tenure rules to cut the salary of a tenured professor, and untenured professors have both smaller salaries and often more mobility-- meaning that you will lose your best young teachers if you cut their salary.
Cutting staff is difficult, too. Most law schools don't have a lot of fat, and some positions are mandated by parent universities. The big areas of staff are admissions/student recruitment and career services, and cutting either will hurt in efforts to bring in quality students. That said, some schools do seem to be reacting to a budget crunch by cutting staff.
Reducing the amount of tuition remission will have the effect of raising tuition, particularly for the students a school most wants to attract (those with high LSAT scores and grades). Cutting tuition remission will lead to a further lessening of qualifications for an incoming class.
This all leaves library staffing and acquisitions an unfortunate target. Such cuts affect faculty scholarship, but indirectly.
Looking at this as a whole, my guess is that many law schools are dealing with budget shortfalls by cutting library expenses and eliminating staff or reducing their salaries. In some cases, this may not have an immediate negative effect, but for others it may pose grave risks. Legal education is changing, and if that change is reducing student services and the historic role of libraries, it may not be for the good.
-- Mark Osler