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News Release

Vermont Law School to Change Name, Become Graduate Institution as Part of Major Restructuring, Expansion-driven Growth Plan

Tuesday, June 21, 2022


School also announces $8 million gift – largest in school history – to support new strategic plan.

Vermont Law School today announced that on July 1 it will become Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS), part of a major restructuring and long-term growth plan that will see the school double down on its public interest mission and transition to a graduate institution housing two schools – law and graduate. The new vision is bolstered by an anonymous $8 million donation to the school.

The creation of a new graduate school on par with the existing law school and resulting name change are part of a new strategic plan developed by faculty and staff and approved by the board of trustees, and reflects the growing interest from students for cross-disciplinary approaches to social justice and an all-in commitment to public interest law and policy. The strategic plan builds on the school's recognized strengths in environmental law and policy and justice reform.

“Nearly two years ago, we began a process to chart the school’s future with input from hundreds of faculty, staff, trustees, students and the community,” said Glenn Berger JD’78, chair of the school’s board of trustees. “We’re excited to today announce a bold vision for Vermont Law and Graduate School, with a new name and structure that will elevate our leading-edge graduate programming, increase enrollment and strengthen our commitment to social change.” 

On the day VLGS announced its new beginnings, the school also revealed the largest gift in its nearly 50-year history. An anonymous donor has committed to giving $8 million to the school over a three-year period, with the funding directly supporting the plan’s initiatives as well as the school’s signature environmental programs.

“This transformative gift signals extraordinary support for the school’s new direction and creates tremendous momentum for the strategic plan’s implementation,” said Berger.

Also included in the plan are changes to the school’s master’s degree offerings, including three new degrees, that will enhance the rigor of the school’s master’s programs, provide greater relevancy and value to today’s students, and respond to the world’s most pressing needs. The new degrees, a Master of Climate and Environmental Policy (residential and online), an Executive Master of Environmental Policy (online only), and a Master of Animal Protection Policy (residential and online), are public policy degrees that feature a robust set of core and environmental policy courses. Further announcements about the school’s environmental degrees and programs are expected in August 2022.

The structural and programmatic changes announced today augment two major components of the strategic plan announced earlier this year – the creation of a stand-alone president position and the launch of part-time Online Hybrid JD program. Bifurcating what has up to this point been a joint president/dean position will allow the president to have an enhanced focus on the higher level strategies and external relationships that are important to the future of the school, while the new part-time Online Hybrid JD program will allow working professionals to earn a law degree from anywhere in the country. Vermont Law School and Vermont Graduate School will each have their own respective deans.

“The expanded programming will meet the growing base of non-traditional students and students seeking online opportunities, and reflects a refined vision for how to best prepare students for success,” said Rodney Smolla, the higher education leader and professor, litigator, scholar, and author who in April was tapped by the board of trustees to be the inaugural VLGS President, beginning on July 1. “The social justice challenges the world faces today are complex and require an ever-evolving set of tools and skills to solve them. Law degrees, master’s degrees, certificates and specialized training: they all have a role.”  

The strategic plan was the result of an 18-month process that ultimately included more than 60 faculty and staff participating in working groups and committees. They solicited and received feedback from more than 700 alumni, students, prospective students, staff, faculty, and funders through surveys, town halls, focus groups, Q&A sessions, facilitated discussion groups and more. This plan is the collective best work of an immensely talented and dedicated school community.    

“Faced with a decision about the direction of our institution, the Vermont Law and Graduate School community overwhelmingly chose to go all-in on a future as a social change, public interest institution,” said Smolla. “This is a bold new direction that addresses the growing interest of students who want to make the world a better place.” 

In April, the board of trustees announced the hiring of Smolla as the first VLGS president, and extended Beth McCormack's term as interim law school dean and named Jennifer Rushlow interim dean of the new graduate school. Both will serve in those roles through the 22/23 academic year while national searches are conducted. Dean Rushlow will also continue to lead the Environmental Law Center.