Editor’s note: This commentary is by Sharon Mee, of South Royalton, who is office manager at the South Royalton Legal Clinic at Vermont Law School.
[I] have worked at Vermont Law School for 26 years and want to add my voice to what is happening now at Vermont’s only law school. Yes, some tenured faculty members are leaving or will be departing a few months or a year down the road. However, there are many extremely committed and dedicated faculty who remain on our campus. They are energetic, intelligent and moving forward to teach students in an exciting, dynamic fashion. It should be further noted that some of the tenured faculty have taught the same classes over and over again for many years, in some cases perhaps even using their teaching notes from 30 years ago.
The other factor to consider is the exorbitant salary of many tenured professors. Considering the cost of law school generally, it doesn’t make sense to pay an academician a six-figure salary when an equally well-educated practitioner can teach the same subject with a more vibrant approach for a lesser figure. In reading an article the other day I came across a comment that I believe summarizes the situation quite well: “I think financial advisers will often say that you ought to look at tenure, because tenure as a concept is expensive and it makes it difficult for an institution to make changes.” (R. Craig Wood, ABA Journal, July 13, 2018).
In contrast, the new restructuring endorsed by Vermont Law School will expand its focus on practice-based legal education. According to the Carnegie and MacCrate reports, experiential learning leads to higher bar passage rates and employment post-graduation. As the office manager of the South Royalton Legal Clinic, I have often been surprised by the number of students who walk in our door with no idea how to actually practice law. I think this will be changing. Students will be working on more cases in the following fields: environmental, business, immigration, family, and general civil practice. They will be further engaged in research and policy issues that are contemporary and of interest to many living today.
Thus, I would like to shake the hands of the dean and Vermont Law School’s board of trustees for their brave steps in doing what needed to be done to save this fine institution. The board wanted a balanced budget and I applaud that goal wholeheartedly. It is the way my parents taught me to live my own life – within my means. I am also thankful that VLS has awakened to the bright new world of legal education. Legal theory alone is not sufficient when one’s home is being foreclosed upon; there is a victim of domestic violence calling on the phone; yet another immigrant is being denied legal status for illegitimate reasons; or an environmental regulation is being eliminated or undermined. Not only will the law school remain viable in the years to come but we will be matriculating students who care about these very same problems in our society and they will be more skilled to address them. In fact, not only would I like to shake the hands of those who made these difficult decisions but I would like to take my hat off to them.