Two professors at William Mitchell College of Law have accused the school of proposing unacceptable changes to its tenure policy in order to cut faculty in a planned merger with another law school.
Professors Carl Moy and John Radsan filed their complaint Friday in Ramsey County District Court. The complaint asks the court to rule that the school’s attempt to amend its tenure code is a breach of contract, and to award the professors costs, disbursements and “further relief as the Court deems just.”
“Defendant’s proposed amendment would alter the tenure code so that it would deny otherwise-tenured faculty ‘tenure’…,” the suit said. “Defendant would be able to terminate a tenured faculty member without adequate cause …”
The school’s tenure code allows tenured faculty to be dismissed if they refuse or fail to perform their job, or because of a financial crisis.
The professors’ complaint alleges that Mitchell couldn’t find enough faculty to voluntarily retire or take part-time positions in order to cut the school’s staffing in time for the merger, so officials proposed amending its tenure code to facilitate the dismissal of more instructors.
The proposed changes would allow Mitchell to “terminate tenured faculty, without adequate cause and without declaring a financial exigency, and without paying the terminated tenured faculty member at least one year’s salary and benefits beyond the effective date of the termination,” the complaint said.
In February, plans were announced to merge Mitchell with Hamline University School of Law to address falling enrollment.
Cuts to faculty and staff were expected as the two schools merged to become Mitchell|Hamline School of Law.
When the merger was announced, Mitchell had the equivalent of 35 full-time faculty members and Hamline had 26. It’s unclear how many of those were tenured positions.
Mitchell’s president and dean, Eric Janus, declined to say in February how many jobs would be cut. At the time, he said he hoped the cuts would occur through voluntary attrition instead of layoffs.
Neither Janus nor officials at Hamline could be reached for comment Friday.
Mitchell spokeswoman Jenn Glass said the school has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
In an interview Friday, Radsan said Mitchell’s board of trustees and school officials have taken unorthodox actions to cut faculty.
“The board of trustees has refused to cut the non-tenured faculty first,” Radsan said. “That is something that is standard practice at other institutions.
“They are keeping us in the dark to be able to scare people into taking voluntary buyouts.”
Moy and Radsan’s complaint also alleged that Janus and Associate Dean Mary Pat Byrn made it clear that firing decisions would be made with some degree of favoritism.
“Janus would decide what faculty members would stay or go based on the member’s personal loyalty to Janus, their support for the administration’s policies and proposals, and whether the faculty member had a ‘poor attitude,’ ” the complaint said.
The merged programs could begin this fall, serving about 900 students mainly on Mitchell’s St. Paul campus. Janus is expected to step down from his post this summer. Mitchell’s new dean, Mark Gordon, will helm the new school.