Monday, February 23, 2009

My letter to the Nevada Legislature

Each of us can weigh in on Nevada's budget.
Here's a text version of what I've sent.

To my colleagues in the Nevada Legislature:

I know that today’s economic climate is exceptionally challenging, and my thoughts are with you as you navigate toward a reasonable budget for our state.

I am writing to you to urge that you invest more in Nevada’s educational system, not less—and certainly not the “less” that the Governor has proposed.

My husband and I moved to Nevada in July 2007. He is a solo practitioner working for Nye County, and I am the Gordon Silver Professor of Law at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. We moved here from Houston, Texas. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio, and I am a native Texan, hailing from a small town outside of Houston.

Many things attracted us to Nevada: we like the climate, we enjoy the outdoors, and we have a great respect for the spirit that built Nevada. Our move was initiated by UNLV’s offer to have me join the Boyd School of Law.

This law school is an unparalleled success story: barely ten years old, and the only law school in the state, Boyd School of Law was accredited and granted membership to the prestigious Association of American Law Schools in record time. The school is nationally known for its legal writing program, its conflict resolution program, and its clinical program, which trains law students how to be ethical, competent, caring lawyers. Its graduates now pass the Nevada bar at rates far exceeding the state average, and they (and several of us on the faculty) provide proportionally more pro bono work than other lawyers in the state. My colleagues and I on the faculty take part in nationally and internationally recognized research, evidenced in part by court options that cite to our research, “top ten” lists in the Social Science Research Network tracking system,* and numerous invitations to speak at conferences all over the world. We are a top-notch law school that provides high-quality teaching, research, and service to the state, the nation, and – at least for our scholars in international law – the world. In my opinion (and I recognize that I’m biased), our law school gives far more to the state than it costs.

I know that you understand how crucial it is to help Nevadans receive a decent education, from K-12 through college (and beyond). And I know that you’re stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to funding that education. I am extremely sympathetic when it comes to your difficult position.

I have blogged about the crisis of Nevada’s budget before: see I have also published an opinion piece in the Las Vegas Sun:

If we are to see Nevada through this economic crisis, though, we need to support those sectors that will rebuild Nevada’s economy – including sectors that can attract new businesses to Nevada. Nevada’s low tax rate may have worked well in the past, when the population was smaller and we could build our economy on a very few sectors, such as gaming. I’m willing to bet, though, that we could still attract new types of businesses here if we make such moves worth their while by educating their employees and the children of their employees; by providing the type of medical and other research that makes their businesses more efficient, their employees healthier, and their streets safer; and by making Nevada a place where government and the private sector combine forces to maintain a decent infrastructure.

I’ve worked at several research universities, including The Ohio State University and the University of Nebraska, before coming out here. The dollars that have come from national research grants earned by faculty members have helped to make those universities stronger, and that increased strength resulted in benefits to the citizens of those states. My own research and expert advice is about to result in jobs for several Boyd law students and graduates; I am about to be appointed as the fee expert in one of the nation’s largest bankruptcy cases, and part of that appointment carries with it the ability to hire assistants to help me sift through millions of dollars of professional fees in that case.

I would like to stay in Nevada and continue to build an exceptionally good law school. My husband would like to stay in Nevada to work with Nye County on its regulatory issues. We like it here—very much. But we both worry about what decisions you are going to have to make in this legislative session.

I am a former bankruptcy lawyer, and I have participated (and continue to participate) in the reorganization of many companies. I know that cuts are necessary, but I also know that cuts must be tempered by selective investment in profitable ventures if a business is to survive.

Please don’t follow the Governor’s proposal, which would eviscerate Nevada’s K-12 system and its system of higher education. Please come up with your own, better way to save our economy. If I can be of service in any way in your deliberations, please call on me. I have attached my resume for your convenience.

Very truly yours,

Nancy Rapoport

* Based on an SSRN count that I did earlier this month, four of us are among the top 1500 most-downloaded law authors in the country (Michael Higdon, at 1177; Jay Mootz, at 340; Jean Sternlight, at 452, and me, at 440). There are over 195 accredited law schools in the country, many with sizable faculties. For a small law faculty like ours (fewer than 50 faculty members, including non-tenure-track faculty members), this statistic is no small feat. Best of all, of these four professors at Boyd, one—Michael Higdon—is a Boyd graduate himself (class of 2001).


Anonymous said...

Have you thought about talking to other professors at the law school and having them teach more than one or two classes a semester? That is just one of the ways your school could save money. More money is not always the answer.

Nancy Rapoport said...

Thanks, Anonymous--I appreciate your suggestion.

It's actually a tad more complicated than you'd expect: more courses/semester certainly won't cost UNLV more $ in terms of how I get paid, because I don't get paid by the number of courses I teach per semester. (Adjuncts get paid that way but "regular" faculty don't.)

But there are issues of space (will there be enough classrooms) & demand (will students want to spend more tuition/fee $$$ per semester to take more courses/semester) that increase the costs of teaching more than the current number of courses/semester that we teach.

In addition, to the extent that the USNWR rankings influence things, the single largest component is academic reputation. That reputation is built upon high-quality (and high-quantity) scholarship, which takes time to do correctly.

Most of us here at Boyd work far more than 5 days/week, and we find time for (really good) scholarship because we work on it during the times that we're not preparing for our teaching our courses. I average 6 days/week of UNLV work.

That's why your idea is intriguing but the answer is more complicated than you might otherwise have expected.

Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree that it isn't that simple; however, I have just a few comments about your response.
If "regular" faculty taught more classes, then adjuncts would not have to teach them. That would save the law school money. That is true regardless of how you get paid.
Why in the hell does law school cost so much money? All you need to start a law school is a room, a teacher, and a book (which I why, I believe, so many private law schools exist; it’s an easy way to make money). Unlike medical and dental schools, law schools don't have to purchase expensive equipment. Maybe we should start discussing how law school tuition got so expensive in the first place.
I understand that students are to blame somewhat (i.e,. "I have an undergraduate degree and can't get a job. How about I go to law school so that I can make lots of money."). The demand was there and students were willing to pay inflated prices. Now that tuition may (will) increase, the money (demand) may not be there; therefore, the concerns you listed in your response may well come to fruition. Is that such a bad thing? A fewer number of students competing for an ever shrinking job pool may not be a bad idea. Why is it that governmental agencies, including education institutions believe that things should continue as normal in an economic downturn? No matter how much you believe in your “product”, if the demand isn’t there, you should probably change the way you currently do things. I can’t understand why this shouldn’t apply to law schools that charge too much to begin with.
I said I would keep it short so I better stop now. I could go on and on. And just for your information, I don’t attend UNLV; I happen to attend one of the law schools that formerly employed you (and would love to pay what you pay there).

Nancy Rapoport said...

Thanks, Anonymous #2. Adjuncts are a very small part of most law schools' budgets, so reducing the size of the adjunct pool wouldn't really save much money and it would deprive law students of certain specialty courses that "regular" faculty don't have the expertise to teach. (E.g., at Boyd, there's Bob Faiss--a genius in the field of gaming law.) Moreover, law schools support their own admissions, placement, & registrar offices and their own libraries--all of which are big-ticket items. Take a look at some of the ABA accreditation rules for why we have certain big-ticket parts of our budget.

As far as your last point, I agree that the climate may well change such that some ABA-accredited law schools will have to close. I don't think that that's necessarily a bad thing. I doubt that we really need over 190 ABA-accredited law schools.