VALPARAISO — Facing a sharp decline in student applications and enrollment at its law school, Valparaiso University is offering tenured faculty and those with multi-year contracts a buyout.
University spokeswoman Nicole Niemi said Friday that law schools in today's post-recession era are facing a sharp decline in student applications and enrollment, and are confronted with a diverse mix of financial challenges due to these issues.
She said VU is no exception.
"To put the law school and our students in the best position to succeed, we are taking steps to meet the challenges facing legal education," she said.
Niemi said the purpose of the buyouts is to align the size of the faculty with the expected future law school enrollment.
"Valparaiso University and its board are fully committed to the future of the Law School and are taking this step to ensure its future success," she said.
Dean of the Law School Andrea Lyon said there are 36 full-time faculty members and the number of buyouts to be offered is still undetermined. Once there is a target number, officials hope the buyout works and the school can be right-sized.
Lyon said if they don't reach the target number "we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."
Lyon said enrollment in the Law School has been going down and the school's been more selective from a much smaller pool of applicants. She also said legal education has taken quite a hit and people taking the LSAT nationwide has gone down 50 percent from 2009 to now.
"It's a nationwide problem," she said. "Many schools are doing what we're doing."
Lyon said she hopes everyone understands how much the Law School respects and admires its faculty, some who have been there for 30 years or more.
"This isn't anything they did wrong," she said. "This is responding to the market. They're wonderful people and I'll miss them terribly."
Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler said the school is going to ensure the caliber of students coming in will be successful.
"In order to get those kind of students we're going to be smaller and we're going to offer more financial aid than we've ever offered before to very talented students and give them a great education," he said.
Niemi said tuition for the Valparaiso University Law School for the year 2016-17 is remaining at the same level as this year. The tuition for full-time students is $39,450.
The law school was founded in 1879 and has a current enrollment of 430 students, according to the website.
It has been known in the Region for its clinic, a licensed law firm, which offers students the opportunity to represent clients during their third year of law school. The clinic provides free or low-cost legal services to disadvantaged members of the community, handling over 700 cases each year.