Update: Developing a Sustainable Financial Model at VLS

Dear Vermont Law School Community:

A month ago, I wrote to you about the financial challenges our School was facing, and how we are working to address them. Today, I can confidently say that Vermont Law School has a stronger, more sustainable financial model that positions the school to thrive in coming years.

This has not been an easy process, but with the thoughtful support of the Board of Trustees, we have been implementing changes to our instructional budget. This programmatic restructuring has involved negotiating changes in faculty contracts while maintaining educational quality and preserving and building upon the school’s core strengths.

The faculty were consulted at each stage of this process, and the flexibility and cooperation our faculty has shown speaks to their commitment to the school, its future and to our students. Most of the impacted faculty have chosen to continue teaching at VLS, developing important scholarship and fully participating in the school’s closely-knit community. Some of the decisions were difficult, and some faculty members will be leaving VLS. We have gone to great lengths to provide the most flexibility and support for their transition from Vermont Law possible within our financial constraints.

Reports in the press and on social media about faculty departures, tenure, and academic freedom were to be expected. While we are restricted from speaking on the specifics by confidentiality and privacy concerns, I assure you that Vermont Law School remains committed to academic freedom and excellence, and that all of our professors—tenured, contract, and adjunct—can speak their mind and teach about what they believe.

As challenging as this process has been, our most important responsibility at Vermont Law School is to our students. These actions were necessary to ensure the best education and experience possible for our current and incoming students, and to continue positioning our students for meaningful and engaging careers in law and policy.

Our environmental program deserves special mention—Vermont Law School has and will continue to have the deepest roster of environmental faculty and the largest catalog of environmental courses of any law school in the country. Over the course of the coming academic year, we will offer more than 60 environmental law and policy classes, covering a wide variety of subjects: climate, water, air, energy, agriculture, environmental justice, and the related clinics and seminars.

This fall, we are also excited to launch our new Master’s degree in Restorative Justice, a program that promises to train JD and Master’s students to become the change agents that help transform criminal justice to more restorative practices.

Many of you, especially current and entering students, may have specific questions about how this restructuring process might affect your experience at VLS. I am available and look forward to hearing your thoughts. The meetings I’ve had with students, open forums and private talks, have been invaluable in helping me to understand and address your concerns. If you are here during the summer you can always join me and others for a weekly hike up to Kent’s Ledge. We are also planning regular weekly open house meetings this summer. For those of you returning to campus in the fall, we will have more town hall meetings early in the semester.

These changes have been difficult, but necessary. As I start my second year here at VLS, I look forward to getting to know you better, and to serving the entire Vermont Law School community as we build a strong, sustainable model for 21st century legal education and one that retains our commitment to environmental and social justice.

Thomas McHenry

President and Dean, Professor of Law at Vermont Law School
164 Chelsea Street, P.O. Box 96, South Royalton, VT 05068
T: 802-831-1237