AALS Proposes Fee Rise for Member Schools–A SALT Member Voices His Concerns

Arthur Leonard, Professor of Law, New York Law School

Written by Arthur Leonard

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Association of American Law Schools sent a memorandum to Deans of Member Schools dated August 22, 2011, announcing that the EC had adopted a dues increase of 3.5% for member schools for calendar year 2012, by amending EC Regulation 3.1, which specifies the amount of annual dues.  Under the AALS By-Laws, this dues increase goes into effect unless objection is received from at least ten member schools within 60 days of the mailing of the regulation.  A copy of the memorandum was also mailed to all members of the AALS House of Representatives.  I received a copy of the memorandum as the NYLS Representative.

After reading the memorandum and looking at the financial information attached to it, I recommended to my Dean that NYLS file an objection.  I want to share my reactions with fellow SALT members.

The memorandum provides no explanation for the dues increase.  It says: “In these times making decisions about dues is particularly difficult because of the budget strains our member schools are experiencing.  The Executive Committee approved a 3.5% increase in dues for Calendar Year 2012.”   In other words, the EC acknowledges that member schools are experiencing budget strains.  That puts things mildly.  There was a decline in law school applications last year, and enrollments are down at many schools.  State schools are undoubtedly suffering reductions in government support, due to the serious budget deficits being experienced by many states.  The ongoing poor economy has undoubtedly affected charitable gifts.  Some schools have instituted pay freezes or even pay cuts.  Despite vaguely acknowledging this situation, the EC provides no explanation for an increase in dues.

Then one looks at the financial data.  AALS budgeted last year to have income of $5,172,055 and expenses of $5,295,709, a budgeted deficit of $123,654.  But based on year-to-date experience, they are projecting an actual income (at the current level of dues, service and application fees) of $5,359,330, and expenses of $4,729,700, resulting in a surplus of $629,630 for the year.  With the 3.5% dues increase, they are budgeting income for next year of $5,360,308 and expenses of $5,284,520.   In other words, their budgeted expenses for next year are less than the actual income they project for this year at the old dues rate.   Why the dues increase, then?  Assuming that the EC does not take action without reasons, shouldn’t they at least provide their reasons when they announce an increase?

Admittedly, the amount of AALS dues is an insignificant percentage of any law school’s annual expense budget.  The largest schools (those with more than 1700 full-time-equivalent students) would see their dues go from $25,730 to $26,630, while most medium-sized schools will experience increases of between $340 and $565.   But there is a principle involved here.  At a time when member schools are dealing with serious financial issues, the AALS should not be raising dues without providing some justification for doing so.  Many of our schools are trying to figure out how to operate with reduced income.  Should AALS be exempt from that exercise?  Deans are being asked to acquiesce in an increased expense for AALS dues without being given any explanation.

Objecting to the resolution going into effect would require the EC to provide an explanation, either by publishing a new memo or putting this issue on the agenda for the Annual Meeting.  Since the memo went just to deans and AALS House members, law faculty generally would be unaware of this, and I thought it was something worth bringing to their attention.