State shortfall slows UT Law School plan

Note: The Law School was deregulated in 1987. They still have budget problems despite paying $5562 per semester (as opposed to $915 in 1987).

Budget cuts might delay mentoring program, lead to layoffs and bigger classes

By Sharon Jayson
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, March 17, 2003

The University of Texas School of Law had a plan until the state's budget woes got in the way.

Two years ago, Law School officials embarked on a long-range plan that included hiring star faculty members and altering class schedules and offerings. Now, they're looking at layoffs, and Dean Bill Powers says the plan might take longer to complete.

The change comes in the wake of Gov. Rick Perry's move to have state agencies cut their budgets by 12.5 percent for the next two years. The university already has imposed a flexible hiring freeze.

"We can't rule out eliminating positions," Powers said. "We need to readjust how we're spending money, but we do not want to stop the advance of the Law School."

The School of Law operates on a budget of $26.6 million. Of that, $18 million comes from the state and $8.6 million from other sources such as private donations.

Budget cuts could mean a 10 percent reduction in the number of upper-level classes and more students enrolled in existing classes. Career and similar support services, such as a mentoring program for small groups of students, probably will be delayed a year because a coordinator would have to be hired for that position, Powers said.

The UT Law School is 15th nationally, according to 2003 rankings from U.S. News & World Report magazine. The school employs about 360 people and has about 1,400 students.

In recent years, the school has lured three well-known professors to its ranks. Powers said tight financial times will not halt the search for big-name talent.

Ronald Mann, a commercial law expert, left the University of Michigan to join UT's faculty. He will begin teaching in the fall and will earn $160,000. Robert Peroni of George Washington University also will begin teaching at UT this fall. He'll earn $175,000. Constitutional law expert Larry Sager joined UT last year after 30 years at New York University. He will earn $193,325 for the current nine-month academic year.

Under the long-range plan, the legal writing program will be extended to the second and third years and the yearlong contracts course will shrink to a semester.

Steven Goode, associate dean for academic affairs at the Law School, said the writing problems students confront are more appropriate for second- and third-year students.

Law professor Brian Leiter said shortening the contracts course makes room for electives, something the school's approximately 475 first-year students say they want.

The curriculum changes, planned well before the state budget became an issue, should reduce the need for adjunct and visiting professors, Leiter said.

He and other faculty members say they've already seen signs of the budget woes.

"A couple days a week, the school used to provide bagels and doughnuts as inducement to people to gather in the lounge," Leiter said. "They cut that shortly after this budget stuff started."

sjayson@statesman.com; 445-3620