GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota School of Law will put its student law clinic on hiatus for at least two years and is beginning to discuss tuition increases because of higher education budget cuts proposed by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
In a meeting with about 80 law students Thursday afternoon, UND School of Law Dean Kathryn Rand told students the program would need to begin making hard cuts. Those cuts will include no longer operating the law clinic, which provides pro bono legal service primarily in immigration and employment law fields. The clinic allows law students to get some of the hands-on credits they need to earn their juris doctorates.
Rand said the law school also has decided to eliminate the summer term, which she said was well-liked by students but was not cost-effective for the university.
The law school and other graduate programs also have been asked by UND President Mark Kennedy to eliminate courses with fewer than eight students, Rand said.
“The president will no longer allow us to continue courses with low-enrollment numbers,” she said.
Burgum, a Republican, has called for a $13.3 billion total budget in the 2017-19 cycle, about $168 million less than what former GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed last month in his final executive budget. Burgum proposed $4.62 billion in general fund spending, about $159 million less than Dalrymple’s recommendation.
The budget calls for an additional 5 percent, $31 million cut to higher education and an extra $19 million in reductions to state agencies. That would mean eliminating a total of about 633 full-time state positions, 50 more than what Dalrymple suggested.
The state Legislature has yet to approve this budget.
In addition to cutting costs, Rand said the program also will be required to attempt to improve revenue by raising tuition in the coming years. It is unclear what those tuition raises will look like, but options discussed included raising law school tuition to the level of other UND graduate programs, which would be an 11 percent increase, or $970 more per year for an in-state student.
Rand emphasized to students that UND is the least expensive nationally ranked law school in the country.
“We have been able to do a lot with very little, and now, we are facing further budget cuts,” Rand said.
The law school has 14 full-time faculty with two open positions. In light of budget cuts from the last biennium and those proposed by Burgum, those positions will remain unfilled.
Rand told students that UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo asked department heads to submit 4, 8 and 12 percent budget cut proposals.
“Our university president has indicated the cuts could be 15 percent or higher to the academic colleges; that’s on top of the cuts we made last spring,” Rand told the students.
The two-year hold on the law clinic will force law students down other routes to get the six experiential courses required for their degree. UND law students also can get such credits via moot court courses, field placement assignments and estate planning courses. Rand said they would have to get creative in how students get experiential credits.
Assistant Dean Bradley Parrish told the students they might be able to work with other regional law schools to get students clinic experience.
Staff at the clinic also will be affected. When a law student asked what would become of clinical education administrative assistant Kathie Johnke, she spoke up.
“After 18½ years, I have been cut to part time,” Johnke told the students. “I had five years until retirement.”
She got up and left.
Reductions also will be made to courses taught by adjunct professors, Rand said. Occasional pizza parties thrown for students are going out the window.
“Just so you know, you’ve had faculty and staff coming forward and volunteering to take reductions in pay, volunteering to cut their hours, volunteering to take on more work,” Rand said. “Even with all of that, it won’t get us to the levels that we need.”
Students asked questions for about a half-hour, many concerned about the loss of the clinic. Some first-year law students expressed feeling burned by the loss of the clinic, which they thought they’d be able to take advantage of at UND.
While the specific dollar impact of the cut remains unclear until the Legislature passes a budget, the law school is trying to make the best of the situation.
“Please join me in being positive and optimistic,” Rand implored the students.