McHenry to step down as dean at Vermont LS after four years

Thomas McHenry, president and dean of Vermont Law School in South Royalton, will step down in June 2021, after having been dean during four of the most difficult years in the independent school’s 48-year history.

McHenry, an environmental lawyer from Los Angeles, took over a law school that had been running at a deficit — $1.4 million in 2015 and $1.1 million in 2016. 

The school, which has a small endowment and is largely dependent on tuition, saw enrollment drop from more than 600 in 2010 to a low of 375 in 2015. The prior administration had cut expenses by more than $4 million to $30 million a year, but had not cut staff. 

McHenry said restructuring was necessary to achieve a sustainable financial model. To do so, he made plans to remove tenure from some faculty members, but ran into stiff opposition. He also encouraged early retirement and did not renew contracts for other non-tenured faculty. Despite his efforts, the overall number of staff did not change significantly. 

Still the law school’s board of directors applauded his efforts.

“Since his appointment in July 2017, McHenry has directed and overseen a variety of measures that have made Vermont Law School financially stronger and enhanced its educational programs. At the Board’s instruction, McHenry has achieved budget surpluses while increasing employee benefits and maintaining the nationally recognized environmental program,” the Nov. 13 release reads. 

The law school highlighted McHenry’s success in establishing an Immigration Clinic, an Environmental Justice Clinic, a partnership with the National Wildlife Federation and an Environmental Advocacy Clinic.

But the restructuring is not complete. The board recently announced it would consider moving the law school from the small town of South Royalton to Burlington, which has an airport and other amenities. 

“The Board of Trustees is engaged in a wide-ranging strategic planning process and is reviewing all options and opportunities that achieve a financially sustainable model for Vermont Law School,” said Glenn Berger, Board of Trustees Chair at VLS. “VLS is currently in the best financial shape it has been in several years. The strategic planning exercise will help guide how we invest our limited resources in the best interest of the school and its students for years to come.”

Still, Berger said VLS started a strategic planning process about nine months ago with a focus on staying in South Royalton, with one possibility being to increase the ranks of students in graduate programs, such as master’s degrees for existing lawyers and others who want to specialize in certain fields, as opposed to the current emphasis on students attending VLS for a traditional law degree.

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