Land of 10,000 Lakes and One Tuition Bubble, Part II

In Part I we found out just how saturated the Twin Cities are with law students and how the cities’ schools want to address their tuition woes by integrating their libraries.  Dean Wippman (Minnesota) noted 70% of his budget is salaries, so for you Dean, we’ll discuss faculty and salaries.

Recall that Jack Crittenden singled the law schools’ faculty expansion and salary increases as the bubble’s swellpoint, both to retain faculty and maintain low faculty/student ratios for their US News rankings.  Thornton uncritically acknowledges that law professors make $100,000 on average.  Meanwhile the deans claim the salaries are flat.  Fortunately for the black-helicopter trackers who read this blog, William Mitchell College of Law is the source of the Society for American Legal Teachers (SALT)’s annual salary survey.  I don’t know what their methodology is but here’s a peek at the 2009 and 2010 numbers:

Table 2: Twin Cities Law School Salary Increases

Law School 2008-2009 Salary Numbers (Asst./Assoc./Full Professor) 2009-2010 Salary Numbers (Asst./Assoc./Full Professor)
Minnesota* N/A 146,667 220,000 Did Not Participate
Wm. Mitchell 111,409 101,641 142,284 104,299 112,855 149,160
Hamline 94,244 97,810 128,461 93,080 96,531 127,444
St. Thomas Did Not Participate Did Not Participate
Law School % Change
Minnesota N/A
Wm. Mitchell -6.3% 11.0% 4.8%
Hamline -1.2% -1.3% -0.8%
St. Thomas N/A

* “School did not participate in survey, but SALT staff and volunteers gathered the relevant data from publicly-available documents.”  Also, comparing these data to the previous year’s, it appeared the U of M increased salaries b’ween 20-30% (67,000/120,000/169,000).  Not very plausible to me, but I’ll return to the U below.

Wow.  Hamline’s salaries are going down by $1000+ for each bracket.  Wow!  I skimmed the rest of the survey, and it looks like it’s the only school this happened to.  Way to resist!  Now, have Dean Lewis tell us why Hamline’s tuition is increasing this year.  William Mitchell’s numbers, though, are patently wrong.  I suspect the fields for assistant and associate professors were flipped in the 2009 survey because it doesn’t make sense for associate professors to receive less than assistant professors.  Nor was this case in the 2008 survey, which listed William Mitchell as 97,000/105,000/135,232.  Thus, William Mitchell tracks what’s going on nationally: faculty salaries are still increasing despite the recession.  Though in fairness, only Mitchell’s full professors’ salaries are double the inflation rate.

Even though one Twin Cities school has slightly declining salaries, we should (a) not assume this is true for the remaining  two, and (b) be even more curious why the tuition is still rising during a recession.  If it’s not going to the faculty, as Crittenden argues, where are the dollars going?  I have no answer, but for Hamline, there’re a few possibilities: replenishing its wounded endowment, supplementing funds lost from elsewhere, or feeding other areas of the university.

One should note, though, that SALT is increasingly concerned that law schools are declining to send in their numbers.  It should also be noted that the higher a law school ranks, the less likely it is to submit its salary information.  I have half a mind to e-mail Dean Soifer at Hawai’i, who conducts the survey, to see what’s going on here.  Faculty salaries are of critical relevance during a recession and tuition bubble.  When full professors at higher ranking schools receive more than $200,000 per year, I wonder just what they’re doing for the legal profession.  The faculty compensation phenomenon isn’t important just because it’s the causal mechanism of the law school tuition bubble, it’s also even less documented than the bimodality of graduate starting salaries, Crittenden aside.

Returning to the U’s stupendous salaries, I’ll leave you with this all-caps Metrodome-monster-truck-rally-reminiscing title from last year’s (2009) Minneapolis Star Tribune: Jenna Ross, “U PASSES BUDGET OF PAIN.”  The author informs us that law tuition for the 2009-2010 entering 1Ls increased by 15.3%!!  In other words, the state cut funding but had law students pick up the remainder.  I doubt the University cut law faculty or law faculty salaries, but even if the 2008 numbers are accurate, they’re still compensated well above the state average (even close to two Hamline full professors/U prof).  I wonder if anyone on the U’s budget committee thought to cut this rather than libraries, other instructors, or its renowned agricultural program.  The good news is that state taxpayers aren’t paying for law instructors’ salaries, shifting the burden on to the 1Ls who will probably need to be bailed out after they graduate into an overburdened market anyway.  At this time, I direct your attention to the fact that Dean Wippman claimed salaries were a burden on his budget, yet he consistently declines to provide SALT with the U’s salary information.  This isn’t a contradiction or a hypocrisy, but it makes me think.

Let’s review the math: over the last twenty years, law school tuition increased triple inflation.  In the last decade, law faculty have expanded and received immense salary increases.  The administrators of Minnesota’s law schools are trying to integrate their libraries (probably with no help from the ABA’s library requirements) while accepting law faculty sizes and salaries as inviolate despite operating in a legal market with an unusually high law student to state population saturation rate.  It pains me to say this, but my home state is a bubble perpetrator.


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