Antonin Scalia.
Antonin Scalia. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

Law schools should cut tuition by slashing staff and reducing law professors’ salaries, said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a recent commencement speech. What do Texas law deans think about the proposal?

While addressing law graduates on May 11 at William & Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law in Virginia, Scalia said he “vigorously” dissents against an idea to cut the third year of law school and replace it with one year of skills-based experience in a court or law firm. Scalia also criticized law schools for cutting “core” curriculum and offering “silly” electives.

While urging law schools to keep the 3L year, Scalia also said they must cut tuition. To make it happen, law schools might have to cut back to smaller faculties, which is “not the end of the world,” said Scalia. Law schools also might have to reduce law professors’ salaries, he said.

Texas Lawyer sought feedback on Scalia’s proposal from the deans of Texas’ nine accredited law schools. Here are the comments of the six deans who responded, edited for style and length.

Texas Lawyer: What are your thoughts on Scalia’s position about the need to cut tuition and his suggested methods?

Bradley J.B. Toben, dean, Baylor University School of Law, Waco: Tuition models are not sustainable, which underscores the need for endowment resources and, for state schools, a stop to the steady decline in state support of education. Also, for years schools have been in an arms race because of ranking systems, a phenomenon that unquestionably has driven up costs in an effort to enhance the student experience and institutional reputation. Since the profession and public policy have not yet found a way to match graduate oversupply to the yawning need for legal services, downsizing law schools appears to be a viable and wise option (Baylor already is among the smallest nationwide). Fewer students will lead to fewer faculty positions. If that creates a buyer’s market for faculty, compensation would trend downward.

Steve Sheppard, dean, St. Mary’s University School of Law, San Antonio: Justice Scalia is right; students need the third year to learn advanced subjects and skills. Yet his views fit his school, Harvard, more than ours. St. Mary’s costs much less than Harvard but provides a comprehensive, three-year study of the theory and practice of the law that has prepared generations of lawyers to serve the public and to lead the bench, bar, government and the private sector. We constantly seek to improve our excellent teaching and public service, but we do not do so by reducing courses for our students or the quality of the faculty.

Aric Short, interim dean, Texas A&M University School of Law, Fort Worth: Justice Scalia is quite right to raise concerns about the cost of legal education and the resulting financial burden on students. Many of us in legal education share those concerns and are engaging in thoughtful efforts to address them. …Law schools should be considering a wide range of responses, including increased teaching loads, enhanced fundraising for student scholarships and loan forgiveness programs, new degree programs to provide additional revenue sources and alternatives to the traditional J.D., and possible tuition freezes or reductions. But this is a complicated topic, and solutions for one school might not work for another. For example, Justice Scalia notes that cutting the size of law school faculties would be “no huge disaster.” That might be true for Harvard Law School, which Justice Scalia reports as having 287 full-time law teachers. But Texas A&M employs fewer than 40. Reducing our faculty’s size, notwithstanding any cost savings, would meaningfully erode the quality of our educational program. We’re not willing to do that.

Dannye Holley, dean, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Houston: I agree with Justice Scalia’s first point concerning the vital need for a third year in law school. Thurgood Marshall’s tuition is currently the lowest tuition in the state. A Texas resident can attend for less than $20,000 per year with respect to tuition and fees. Generally, tuition reduction for the significantly more expensive law schools is already under consideration, and market forces dictate that tuition reduction is an option that must be considered by such schools. Cost-cutting options to offset tuition reduction must be left to each school’s careful assessment, and Justice Scalia’s suggestions are among the more obvious places that cuts might be made.

Darby Dickerson, dean, Texas Tech University School of Law, Lubbock: Although law schools are changing, it’s not a homogenous process, but is based on a variety of factors including mission, geography, financial position and student body. At Texas Tech, we have kept tuition relatively low and the faculty relatively small. While we’re always looking for ways to be creative and enhance our students’ educational experience, diluting a strong and passionate faculty will have the opposite effect. Regarding tuition, we have been flat the past two years. I do not envision cuts, but we have awarded more scholarships than in the past, which has a similar impact on revenue. Throughout the years, Texas Tech has retained a comprehensive core curriculum beyond the first year. We also have been working hard to provide students with meaningful experiential opportunities through live-client clinics, a full-time Regional Externship Program with placements in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, and a variety of pro bono programs.

Ward Farnsworth, dean, The University of Texas at Austin School of Law: We haven’t raised our in-state tuition in several years, and fortunately it’s much cheaper than the tuition charged by any other law school in the top 15—but it’s still expensive, and we’re working hard to keep costs down for our students. Justice Scalia also may be right that most law faculties could stand to be smaller; we’ve been reducing the size of ours in recent years. The problem with his proposal to reduce salaries, though, is that we’re committed to being a top-tier law school. That means you have to hire top-tier faculty, and unfortunately I can’t control the price that great academics command in the market. So you have to spend your money carefully, “Moneyball”- style. That’s what we’re trying to do.