Saturday, December 1, 2018

AAUP investigation of Vermont Law School for "eviscerating tenure" could jeopardize Vermont's reaccreditation (Michael Simkovic)

The American Association of University Professors recently authorized an investigation of Vermont Law School following a restructuring that stripped most of Vermont's tenured faculty members of tenure and slashed their pay.  The restructuring was reportedly undertaken without sufficient evidence of financial exigency and did not follow proper procedures.  I've previously noted that if allegations prove true, this restructuring could present challenges for Vermont when it seeks to renew its ABA accreditation because the restructuring may violate ABA standard 405.  A negative report from the AAUP could influence the ABA site visit team and the Section on Legal Education.  Vermont's next site visit is scheduled for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Even without regulatory action, a negative report could severely damage Vermont's academic reputation.  Vermont remains home to well-respected legal scholars, such as Jennifer Taub, but since the restructuring the overwhelming majority of its classes are taught by adjuncts and lecturers.

AAUP's announcement of the investigation appears below:

"This week, the AAUP authorized an investigation into apparent departures from widely adopted standards of shared governance at Vermont Law School after the school’s administration and governing board “restructured” the faculty by lowering salaries, reducing the number of full-time positions, and stripping many of tenure, all without involving the faculty in the decision-making process. 

A June 5, 2018, memorandum presented fourteen tenured professors with a stark choice: either surrender their full-time, tenured positions and faculty voting rights, sign an agreement containing general and age-discrimination releases along with nondisparagement and nondisclosure provisions, and accept nontenured appointments at lower pay, or have their appointments summarily terminated as of July 1, 2018, with immediate cessation of salary and benefits.

After one faculty member contacted the AAUP seeking assistance, we wrote to the administration three times highlighting our concerns in the case and reiterating appropriate procedural standards for terminating appointments because of financial exigency.

Our concerns in this case are myriad. A decision of far-reaching importance and consequence to the entire law school community, and particularly to the faculty members and students, appears to have been taken by the Vermont Law School administration and board without meaningful consultation with the faculty. The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the AAUP with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, “rests on the premise of an ‘inescapable interdependence’ in the relationship among governing board, administration, and faculty, which calls for ‘adequate communication among these components, and full opportunity for appropriate joint effort."

In addition, with only five faculty members having retained tenure at an institution with more than six hundred students, the restructuring appears to have effectively eviscerated the existing tenure system and, with it, protections for academic freedom.

AAUP investigating committees in the area of college and university governance are charged with inquiring into cases that appear to feature severe departures from AAUP-supported governance standards. Committees are composed of AAUP members from other institutions who have had no previous involvement in the matter. If the investigating committee’s published report finds that serious violations have occurred, the AAUP may place the institution on its sanction list by vote of the Association's annual meeting, which informs the academic community and the public that conditions for academic governance at the institution are unsound."

 

Those interested in strengthening academic freedom and tenure protections can join the AAUP here.

 

Related Coverage:

The State of Intellectual Freedom in America, Testimony Before the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Sept. 27, 2018

How Secure is Tenure?, Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, July 12, 2018

The trouble at Vermont Law School isn't due to "unsustainable" debt levels for students--but it might be because of unsustainable tuition discounting and underinvestment in outreach, Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, July 19, 2018

Lee Gardner, Want to Kill Tenure? Be Careful What You Wish For, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 18, 2018.

https://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2018/12/aaup-investigation-of-vermont-law-school-for-allegedly-eviscerating-tenure-and-protections-for-acade.html

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