The University of Baltimore School of Law will move to a new business model next month that separates its budget from the rest of the university, a move intended to give the school greater autonomy.
Under the new model, called a responsibility centered model, the law school is expected to gain more flexibility and to have a better idea of how much money it will have to spend.
“I welcome the autonomy,” said Ronald Weich, dean of the UB School of Law. “The faculty and staff and I have a good sense of what we need to do to keep the law school strong and keep important improvements, and this new budget model frees us up to serve our students in an optimal (fashion).”
Under the new business model, which kicks in July 1 with the start of the new fiscal year, the law school will control all of the revenue it generates, mostly through tuition.
The law school will pay the university a fee to cover its share of university-wide services such as maintenance and security. That fee will be determined by a formula, Weich said.
Weich emphasized that the law school remains a part of the University of Baltimore.
The law school’s new semi-autonomy springs from the American Bar Association’s routine reaccreditation of the school. The ABA raised concerns about UB Law’s lack of autonomy, Weich said.
Weich credited university President Kurt L. Schmoke for suggesting the use of a responsibility centered budget model.
Said Schmoke: “When I got here as president, I had looked over some past comments from the ABA section on legal education and they were concerned about the budget structure for the UB law school. They didn’t think it was as predictable as it could be.”
Schmoke recalled that, when he served as dean of the Howard University School of Law, he watched with interest as the University of Virginia’s law school switched to a budget system similar to the responsibility centered model.
The University of Baltimore School of Law received full reaccreditation from the American Bar Association, in part because of the switch to the responsibility centered model, Weich said.
The new revenue model should start paying immediate dividends, with the school projecting to have more funds available this year than it has in the past, he said.
But for the model to be successful, the law school will have to maintain its enrollment. Enrollment began to drop in 2013, coinciding with a national dip in applications to law school, Weich said.
Nationally, law schools have struggled over the last decade with an enrollment dip linked to a shrinking legal job market. Last year, Indiana’s Valparaiso University Law School announced it would close in 2020.
At UB, however, enrollment has rebounded, with growth of around 20% in last year’s entering class. Weich said enrollment is expected to be strong for the 2019-2020 year.
“We are very optimistic,” Weich said. “We believe we will see more revenue and have greater autonomy on how we spend that money under this model.”
Weich said that greater autonomy could give the school more flexibility in its programming.
Meanwhile, Weich said the law school will be able this fall to replace a number of faculty and staff members who left in the spring.
UB Law’s move to a new budget model comes amid rumors that it is seeking to move to another university. During the last legislative session, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller suggested that a law school at Bowie State University could help resolve the ongoing lawsuit over the state’s historically black colleges and universities, though he did not specifically suggest moving the University of Baltimore School of Law to Bowie State.
Weich dismissed the idea that UB Law sought to attach itself to another institution.
The move to a new budget model raises questions about how the University of Baltimore will fare without the revenue generated by the law school.
The university has for years struggled to enroll undergraduates, particularly freshmen. Since 2015, it has enrolled the smallest freshman classes of any university in the University System of Maryland, with just 76 freshmen enrolled last year, according to system data. In 2013, UB enrolled 236 freshmen.
Schmoke said that separating the law school’s revenue from the university would not affect UB as a whole and that he planned to implement the responsibility centered model at UB’s three other schools, the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Public Affairs and the Merrick School of Business.