November 30, 2018
The AAUP has authorized an investigation into apparent departures from widely adopted standards of shared governance at Vermont Law School. The law school’s administration and governing board “restructured” the law school’s faculty by lowering salaries, reducing the number of full-time positions, and eliminating the tenured status of 14 of the 19 tenured faculty members without involving the faculty in the decision-making process. Affected faculty members were notified by a June 5, 2018, memorandum of their options under the restructuring plan. The memorandum presented 14 tenured professors with a stark choice: either surrender their full-time, tenured positions and faculty voting rights, sign an agreement containing a general and age-discrimination release along with strong nondisparagement and nondisclosure provisions, and accept a “restructured” appointment “option” at lower pay or have their appointments summarily terminated as of July 1, 2018, with immediate cessation of salary and benefits. Only five faculty members have retained tenure at an institution with a reported enrollment of over 600 students; effectively, the existing tenure system and, with it, protections for academic freedom, have been eviscerated.
It appears that the “restructuring” process deviated from widely observed standards of academic decision making, including those mandated by the bylaws of the Association of American Law Schools. The only formal process, detailed in the June 5 memo, was devised solely by the administration, which failed to consult with the faculty as a whole about its plan for involuntarily restructuring the faculty.
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