Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tough Actions by Tulane Law School


Tulane Law School has announced that it will require its student to enroll at Tulane in the Spring, as well as imposing various burdens on the faculty.  As Tulane Deputy Dean Roberts explains:

We have also told our faculty that they must expect to set aside all of their other interests over the next year and prepare to devote themselves entirely to meeting student needs. The faculty have been told that all sabbaticals are cancelled. In the spring they may be called upon to teach extra courses, courses they have not taught before, evenings and Saturdays, and through the summer, all with no extra compensation. Travel and other normal professional activities requiring faculty time or money have been virtually eliminated. In short, everyone has been and will be focused on meeting the needs of our students whenever possible.

Cancelling sabbaticals is understandable under these circumstances, but requiring the faculty to do additional work (rather substantial additional work, it appears) without compensation strikes me as, shall we say, imprudent and not in the school's long-term interest.  (Already, I know of one senior scholar at Tulane--I won't say in what field--who is actively pursuing job opportunities elsewhere because of the horrible experience with the hurricane.  Demanding unpaid labor from the faculty seems likely to increase the number of faculty who feel similarly disenchanted.)  Penalizing the faculty this way also seems inconsistent with the rationale for requiring the students to come back to Tulane in the Spring:

Everyone has to appreciate that these are truly perilous times for Tulane and the law school. The financial cost of the storm and having to shut down operations for a semester will run in the tens of millions of dollars. But an even greater cost is the loss of credibility with prospective students, faculty, staff, donors, government, and the many other constituencies upon all of which Tulane depends for its viability. It is absolutely imperative if Tulane is to emerge from this disaster as a strong and viable institution that it not only minimize its financial losses (which is why we absolutely have to receive all student tuition revenues for the fall semester) but also that it get back to running a full and vibrant university as soon as possible so the world will know that Tulane is back and will survive as a major university. Failure to do so would result in irreparable damage to Tulane and possible jeopardize its very survival.

This is scary stuff for any institution, but demanding that the faculty increase its workload in rather dramatic ways (teaching through the summer, on weekends, in the evenings, etc.)  without compensation seems likely to cause a "loss of credibility" with the faculty.  Perhaps the operative word in Dean Roberts's statement about the new burdens for the faculty is "may" (faculty "may be called upon").  Or perhaps, since (I assume) the faculty are being paid this fall, the argument is that the additional work required in the Spring and Summer has, in effect, been compensated (hence the reference to no "extra compensation").  Hopefully Tulane will work this all out in a way that both meets the needs of the students and respects the professional integrity of the faculty and their reasonable expectation that they are to be paid for the work they perform.

UPDATE:  A former Tulane faculty member with contacts there writes that, "The Tulane law faculty are being paid their normal salaries and benefits in full this fall and that is the compensation for the extra coursework that they will have to teach in the spring and summer."  That's good news for Tulane and its faculty.  The outstanding question is how students, many of whom will have settled into comfortable situations at law schools elsewhere, will react to having to re-enroll in the Spring.  Tulane's insitutiontal reasons for wanting them to do this are quite understandable, of course.

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