The letter from dean Thomas Guernsey — which JDUnderground and Above The Law posted — comes after the school got a ton of bad press. The San Diego school has topped rankings of law schools with the most indebted graduates and the highest percentage of unemployed graduates. The S&P recently downgraded its credit rating to junk-bond status.
Thomas Jefferson has also been sued for allegedly misleading prospective students about job prospects — a case known as Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law. In his letter, Guernsey suggests that the school did not in fact mislead perspective students, though it did make other mistakes. From the letter:
The law school, as you know, is facing a number of serious challenges. Many of them are systemic — the result of the disproportionate impact on the legal profession of the recent economic downturn. We have all seen and lived through this and I won’t bore you with a recap.
Some of the issues, such as the Alaburda litigation, are inexplicable to me. I do not know how Thomas Jefferson became the whipping boy for critics of legal education. We must, however, be honest with ourselves; many of our troubles are the result of our own missteps, our own failure to plan, and our own failure to address problems in a timely fashion.
The missteps Guernsey lists include: building a “grand” facility, having an “indecipherable” scholarship policy, and failing to do enough to help graduates pass the bar.
Here’s the full letter:
This is the first in a series of short, periodic letters I will write to keep you abreast of what is happening at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. First, let me say that since Kathe’s and my arrival on July 1, we have been overwhelmed with the support and encouragement given by the alumni and friends of the law school.
The law school, as you know, is facing a number of serious challenges. Many of them are systemic–the result of the disproportionate impact on the legal profession of the recent economic downturn. We have all seen and lived through this and I won’t bore you with a recap.
Some of the issues, such as the Alaburda litigation, are inexplicable to me. I do not know how Thomas Jefferson became the whipping boy for critics of legal education. We must, however, be honest with ourselves; many of our troubles are the result of our own missteps, our own failure to plan, and our own failure to address problems in a timely fashion. My immediate plan and promise to you is that we will take aggressive and transparent action to confront these challenges. Since July 1, we have taken what I think are positive, though at times painful, steps to address the most critical challenges, whether self-imposed or systemic. Let me give you three examples.
First, while a general decline in enrollment is a systemic problem, we did not help the situation by allowing an unsustainable growth in the administrative structure of the school or building a facility as grand as ours. But, as you may have seen in press reports, the law school made severe cuts to its budget in response to the nationwide decline in applications. The reports did not paint the full nature of those cuts. For fiscal year 2014, the law school made cuts, totaling $US4,798,081. Among other things, we layed-off 12 staff members, eliminated many more unfilled open positions, cut staff salaries by a minimum of 5%, cut faculty salaries by a minimum of 8%. In spite of these cuts, I am proud to say that 100% of the faculty contributed to this year’s annual fund.
Second, we also did not help ourselves by a slow response to the bar passage problem. But, we are changing that. New academic support and bar prep programs were adopted last academic year and after careful study this past July, the faculty adopted a sweeping array of changes to the way they will teach and assess all courses at the law school that are tested on the California bar examination.
The law school has also taken steps to help our alumni who are repeat bar exam takers. For students who are not successful on the bar exam in their first attempt, the law school for several years has provided a Continuing Bar Candidate support program (the CBC program). This program is offered at no charge to our alumni. In a major commitment of resources, we are now also making available the supplemental online version of the BarSecrets® bar course to repeat bar examination takers at no cost, effective with the alumni taking the February 2014 California Bar Examination. This new program will now allow our alumni (regardless of which prior bar review course they originally took) to have access to the program.
Third, students have had a legitimate complaint about our often indecipherable scholarship policy. In an effort to be both more transparent and fair, we have dramatically changed our scholarship program for incoming students. If you are interested in more details, click here.
Of course, more work must be done on these fronts, as well as a multitude of others. In the coming months, I will keep you informed, through letters like this, about these issues and how Thomas Jefferson is responding.
When I took the job as President and Dean, my eyes were open to the difficult challenges ahead. I also saw incredible strengths and opportunities among a committed group of alumni, faculty, students, staff and Board of Trustees. Nothing I have learned about since my arrival has changed the belief that, with your help, we will meet these challenges and Thomas Jefferson will become stronger as a result. I appreciate your support, welcome your comments and look forward to meeting more of you in the months ahead.
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