March 19, 2012
People are concerned, as they have every right to be, about our recent layoffs at University of California Hastings College of the Law. I write today to address these concerns, and I will begin as I did at the recent “Representing the Vulnerable and Remembering Ralph Abascal” conference:
I am proud that our students have taken up the cause of improving UC Hastings, the first law school of the American West. We are training advocates who will stand up and speak out. We may not always agree on specific aspects of the operation of the institution, but I know we all share the desire for UC Hastings to be among the very best law schools in the country.
At this point, a total of ten individuals have been laid off and an additional ten had their time basis reduced. Prior to the layoffs, a total of seven individuals worked out voluntary separations; some of these positions will be filled. Approximately five vacant positions will be eliminated.
UC Hastings’ strategic plan calls for legal education that is practical, international, and interdisciplinary. It also calls for a profound structural change. We must reduce the entering class size for the JD program and achieve stability in the overall enrollment for the JD program. In the past, we enrolled well over 500 students in the 1L class, and even recently we have faced significant fluctuations from year to year. In the fall, we expect to welcome about 20% fewer students than this past fall, and we hope to maintain that level. As a consequence, we will be able to eliminate an entire section and offer to each new student the experience of a small section class.
The reduction of the entering class size is crucial to everything else. With it, we maintain the strength of our core competencies and have the opportunity to improve. Most importantly, our students will have a better experience while on campus and greater employment opportunities after they have graduated. Given the changes in the legal marketplace, it would be irresponsible to continue with an outmoded model.
The benefits of a lower JD enrollment do not come without costs. The school’s budget had to be reduced by millions on an annual basis. Layoffs were only one part of how we will be making up for this reduction. Other critical aspects of our plan include being disciplined in containing costs, undertaking initiatives to increase revenues from non-JD programs, and not setting aside funds for future deferred maintenance.
Layoffs are about positions and not people. The individuals who have been affected most directly have been valued colleagues, and a layoff does not reflect a judgment about an individual’s work performance. We proceeded as humanely as possible. (For further information about the layoffs, please click here.)
Our strategic plan guides all of our actions. That includes the layoffs. Our strategic plan was developed over the course of a year with input from all constituencies, including not only students but also staff. We have begun implementation of this vision. The eight committees charged with this include students as well as staff. I encourage you to read the strategic plan for yourself and to participate to the fullest in our endeavors. UC Hastings has long offered access to the highest quality of legal education, and together we will continue to do so.
Some have wondered about our financial condition. At this moment, UC Hastings is in good financial condition. While California's fiscal conditions remain in flux, our efforts in Sacramento have produced greater stability in state funding for the time being and potentially beyond. With the completion of the staff reorganization, we will still be in good financial condition. If we had not done it, however, we would be unable to make progress.
People have heard me say that legal education is at a crossroads. What is necessary may not be popular. My intention is to achieve stability quickly, so we may resume our work together.
Let us turn now, together, to the challenges ahead.
-Frank H. Wu, Chancellor and Dean