Chancellor to Board: Law Center Should Get Fair Share of State Funding

Speaking to the LSU Board of Supervisors at its July meeting last Friday, Chancellor Jack Weiss urged the Board to provide state funding for the Law Center at a level comparable to the most favorable funding provided to other LSU System campuses. 

Weiss’s remarks were part of a presentation to the Board of Supervisors in which all LSU System Chancellors were asked to comment on the impact of the 2012-13 budget on their respective campuses.

Here is the text of Chancellor Weiss’s remarks to the Board of Supervisors on July 27, 2012:

“Mr. Chairman and Members of the Board:

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the impact of the 2012-13 budget on the LSU Law Center.

LSU Law has made great strides in recent years on multiple fronts: for example, hiring outstanding new faculty, greatly enhancing the diversity of our student body as well as the quality and quantity of our enrollment, and developing a model clinical legal education program. Later today you will be asked to approve our new Energy Law Center, a dream that has become a reality and a critical new initiative for the Law Center, for LSU as a whole, and for our state. 

Our national ranking, although a very precarious measure of law school quality, is nearly as high as it has ever been and up substantially from only a few years ago. 

We are strategically well-positioned in a very difficult law school environment. We combine great value with strong employment and bar passage outcomes. Thus we have been recognized recently as the 6th best value law school, the top school for bar passage relative to our student credentials, and only last week, in a Wall Street Journal analysis of ABA data for our 2011 class, as the 11th ranked law school for full time, long term professional employment.

The Energy Law Center should provide another compelling reason for students to choose LSU Law, both for their J.D. degree and for the L.L.M. degree in Energy Law that we hope to offer. 

All of this has been accomplished on what at best has been a standstill budget in recent years. Since I became Chancellor in 2007, we have seen a nearly 50% cut in our state appropriation offset by a nearly 50% increase in what our students pay in tuition. This pattern will hold for 2012-13 as well.

We have gone from a school that was 50% funded by the state in 2007-08 and 50% funded by tuition to one that is funded 75% by tuition in 2012-13 and only 25% funded by the state. We are, I believe, the most heavily tuition funded campus in the LSU System and perhaps in the entire state.

The strategy of cutting our state funding more severely than some other LSU campuses and offsetting the heavier cuts with higher tuition is not, however, a viable long term strategy for continued improvement of the Law Center. 

Our faculty is too small to offer the breadth and depth of course coverage we need to be truly competitive with the best regional and national public law schools. With no raises for faculty and staff for four years, our pay scale also is no longer adequately competitive. 

Budgets at a standstill or worse limit our ability to offer scholarships to compete for the most desirable students. 

The good news, however, is that the difference between a sharp upward trajectory and a flat or declining trajectory for LSU Law does not involve a lot of money. There is a golden opportunity for LSU Law to fulfill its tremendous potential. Here are the steps that are required:

1. The Board should recognize that LSU Law is positioned to achieve stature and success that will bring recognition and reward to all of LSU, and indeed to our State as a whole. LSU Law is a small but important piece of a much larger puzzle.

2. The Board should recognize that disproportionately cutting LSU Law’s state appropriation while steadily increasing the tuition our students pay will undermine the value proposition that is vital to the Law Center’s continuing success. At the same time, this strategy will fail to provide adequate funding for the school to achieve or even come close to its potential– in other words, it will result in the worst of both worlds. 

3. Instead, the Board should allocate state funds to the Law Center in an amount that is at least proportional to the most highly state funded LSU campuses, without regard to the availability of offsetting tuition increases. When our students pay more, they should see their additional tuition dollars go into enhanced academic offerings and programming, not just into offsetting state appropriation decreases. 

4. The Board should recognize the Energy Law Center as a high priority initiative of the entire LSU System and provide strong financial and external support for this initiative, including the related LSU A&M curriculum. We have raised and will continue to raise substantial private funds to support the Energy Law Center, but private funds alone will not be enough to realize our vision.” 

More on the Chancellor’s Proposal

Under Weiss’s proposal, LSU Law would receive state funding at a percentage level equal to the LSU System campuses best funded in a given year. If, for example, the best funded campuses were to receive a two percent increase– or only a one percent decrease– in state funding for any given fiscal year, the Law Center would, too.

This “most favored campus” approach to funding the Law Center differs sharply from the funding pattern adopted by the LSU System both last year and for the coming 2012-13 fiscal year. 

In both years, the LSU System has relied upon tuition revenue at the Law Center to reduce the Law Center’s share of state funding and reroute state funding dollars to other campuses. 

LSU A&M has been treated in a fashion similar to the Law Center, although LSU A&M receives additional state funds through the Board of Regents’ “funding formula” that partially make up for A&M’s reduced allocation. The Law Center and other professional schools do not currently participate in the funding formula.

In 2012-13, for the second consecutive year, the Law Center will receive a double digit cut– this year, a 15.1% cut, or about $982,000– in its state appropriation. Four LSU System campuses received far smaller cuts, ranging from a reduction of only 4.9% to an increase of .5% in state funding. 

If Weiss’s “most favored campus” approach had been adopted for the coming year, the Law Center’s state funding would have been reduced only one-tenth of one percent, essentially negating the near $1 million decrease in the Law Center’s state funding for 2012-13. The additional funds would allow the Law Center to build the size of its faculty and the range of its course offerings and to provide additional scholarship support to students.  

In Weiss’s proposal, none of the money to be restored to the Law Center would be taken from the main LSU Baton Rouge campus, which itself will find its state appropriation reduced by 13.1% in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The funding shifts Weiss is proposing would slightly reduce the System’s disproportionate allocations of state funds to the four favored campuses, but because of the relatively small amount of money involved in fairly funding the Law Center, would still provide those campuses with a disproportionately large share of the state general fund dollars available to the LSU System as a whole. “For two years, the System has departed substantially from a simple proportional allocation of the reduction in state general fund dollars,” Weiss said. “A major reallocation of these cuts already has taken place. The question is whether the disproportionate reallocation that has been used is fair and appropriate, and whether it should be reexamined as we move forward.”

Weiss said he hoped that his proposal would lead to an open discussion of the issues he has raised.

In actuality, the Law Center will offset most of the near $1 million 2012-13 cut with a 6.5% tuition increase, but the increase will provide at best only a near-standstill budget that affords no money for enhancing academic offerings or additional scholarships.

The 6.5% increase is less than the 10% increase permitted by the LA GRAD Act, state legislation which ties tuition increases to various measures of academic performance. Weiss previously has explained that the smaller tuition increase will preserve the Law Center’s value proposition in a highly competitive law school market and provide at least some relief to the school’s students when compared to the 10% increase that might have been charged.