Investigation at Vermont Law School

By Anita Levy

An investigating committee’s report published by the Association in May concerns issues of academic governance stemming from the actions taken in spring 2018 by the administration of the Vermont Law School to “restructure” the law school’s faculty by lowering salaries, reducing the number of full-time po­sitions, and eliminating the tenured status of fourteen of the nineteen tenured faculty members.

The investigating committee found that the VLS administra­tion violated the standards set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Uni­versities and derivative Association documents and that unacceptable conditions of academic governance prevail at the law school. The com­mittee also found that, while the administration did consistently ask faculty members to provide input on the school’s financial situation, those inquiries did not constitute the consultation envisioned by the Statement on Government, because the faculty was not afforded any opportunity to review, assess, and, ultimately, affect the decisions made. Strikingly, the VLS board of trustees appears to have played a marginal role in stewarding the law school through the financial crisis.

With respect to academic free­dom, the committee concluded that the events of spring 2018 drasti­cally affected the faculty’s right to address matters of institutional governance, because faculty mem­bers were required to sign releases of claims and nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements as a condition of their restructured appointments at VLS.

The committee also found that the administration, in eliminating the tenured status of three-quarters of the school’s tenured faculty members, reduced that group to at-will employees, transferred the bulk of the teaching load to faculty members in contingent positions, and radically reduced the size of the full-time core faculty. As the committee noted, by so doing, the VLS administration effectively laid off 75 percent of the institution’s most expensive faculty members and then outsourced the work they did to a much cheaper contingent labor force, with no intention of looking back. Sacrificed in this type of corporate restructuring are the primary goals of higher education: to serve the common good and advance the progress of society through teaching and research, the very goals that academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance are supposed to advance.