Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Law Faculty Argues It's Shortsighted To Decrease Faculty


Yesterday, there was an article in the NYTimes written by a tenured law prof about the need for academic freedom and how cutting faculty in the face of budget woes is not the answer.

In part, "[t]here are better ways to shrink a law school budget. The size of the tenure-track faculty can shrink by retirement and attrition, not involuntary termination. Post-tenure review (by faculty, not administrators) can ensure that faculty members remain productive. Libraries can be moved online. Clinics can be closed, and adjunct faculty can be better utilized to team-teach practical courses alongside research faculty."

I decided to respond to this article and stand up for libraries and clinics because these components, along with the faculty, make up the core of a legal education.

Here is my response:
"Law librarian here. Of the 2 million unique volumes contained in America’s law libraries, only about 15 percent are available in digital form. That figure includes access via proprietary, commercial services like Westlaw and LexisNexis. If law libraries go all online, the legal academe would lose out on many of the very works that tenured faculty produce (then, you could ask, what's the need for faculty?).

And close clinics? In favor of Socratic lectures? The hands-on legal experience that comes from a clinical setting is invaluable to new attorneys now that firms are no longer willing to mentor.

There are no easy decisions, here, but to serve up the heart of a good legal education is not the answer."

I am aware that drastic changes must be made. I am not opposed to some law school libraries going all online if we have a consortium agreement in place where there are still a few libraries archiving and sharing the print resources that would otherwise be lost. But how do we decide which schools should support the cost of maintaining a print library, and how do we compel those libraries to share?

I also think that we are beyond the need for many of the perqs associated with a professorship, and those types of things should be looked at closely before other extreme budget-cutting measures take place. There may have once been a need to offer additional perqs to attract and retain good talent, but those days are over.

Ultimately, I keep asking myself, should we reform legal education to more of a vocational school without the need for big, beautiful libraries, tenured professors, etc...? Or is this only the answer for the law schools outside of the top 25, and we create a two-tiered system of legal education? Or do we just keep on keeping on?

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