Budget cuts hit Berkeley Law after scandal, drop in ranking

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Chancellor Carol Christ’s substantial budget cuts left few departments unscathed last week, and the UC Berkeley School of Law was no exception. The school will cut its number of associate deans from seven to three as a part of increasing its budget surplus by almost $1.5 million. According to a draft Boalt Law divisional budget dashboard, in addition to implementing $2 million in cuts, it  will have to hit higher fundraising benchmarks and expand its professional and summer programs.

In a June sit-down with The Daily Californian, Christ emphasized the importance of the wide ranging cuts, calling it a “very, very critical moment in Berkeley’s history.”

“(It’s) a moment in which we have to change the financial model for the campus,” Christ said. UC Berkeley currently faces a $110 million budget deficit, which has already been reduced from $150 million in 2016.

The changes come as the vaunted law school emerges from a year of scandal, after former dean Sujit Choudhry resigned amidst allegations of sexual harassment by his executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell. Sorrell’s story quickly became a part of a national discussion on sexual harassment in universities, contributing to new reforms both on campus and throughout the UC system. Controversy over Choudhry’s punishment — which was perceived by many to be lenient — contributed to the resignations of both then-campus provost Claude Steele and then-chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

As the Choudhry story developed over the course of the year, the law school did its best to weather the headlines. Despite their best efforts, the scandal appeared to leave a mark on the school’s reputation — Berkeley Law dropped four spots in the closely-watched U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Law School” rankings.

A drop of four spots was a precipitous fall in a ranking where moving up a single place is cause for celebration. The school also dropped from the top ten for the first time since 2005. Berkeley Law spokesperson Michael Bazeley called the drop “an anomaly” driven by “a year of bad publicity.”

It appears the budget authors had little sympathy for this line of reasoning, as the USNWR ranking drop was the first item cited by the campus as an impetus for greater cuts.

New dean of Berkeley Law, Erwin Chemerinsky, however, said the fall in ranking was not a main factor in the cuts.

“A tuition freeze, maintaining the size of our faculty, and inflationary increases in operating costs were the main factors,” Chemerinsky said in a statement, adding that student recruitment was not affected by the drop.

“Our entering class this year is as strong as it’s ever been,” he said.

In comparison to other branches of the school, the cuts are not as bad as they could be — Cal Athletics could eventually see cuts nearing $10 million, including the potential elimination of sports.

But Berkeley Law’s never-ending year of bad headlines does appear to be ending. Dean Chemerinsky is lauded throughout the field of legal education he was recently named the most influential person in legal education by the National Jurist and Sorrell settled her lawsuit with the UC Regents for $1.7 million in March (although ex-dean Choudhry still remains on campus as a tenured professor). Yet the new cuts mean that a climb back up the rankings — a key tool for attracting students — will have to be done with a little bit less.

Contact Austin Weinstein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @austwein.

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article may have implied Boalt’s cutting the number of associate deans from seven to three was wholly responsible for the increase its the school’s budget surplus by almost $1.5 million. In fact, Boalt’s cutting of the number of associate deans from seven to three is one of several measures the school is undertaking to increase the school’s budget surplus.