A contingent of law students at the University of Wyoming wrote to university leadership today to decry a recent administrative decision to assemble a task force to review the college of law. The move comes four days after their dean, Stephen Easton, resigned amid the impending scrutiny of his department.
In a letter to UW President Robert Sternberg and the university's Board of Trustees, the students question why Sternberg decided to focus his review primarily on natural resources law, why they were not aware of the task force prior to Easton's resignation, and why the university did not wait to initiate the task force until the results of a recent American Bar Association accreditation review were finalized.
Sternberg has said the task force would be strictly advisory, and would evaluate how UW serves the state in specific areas including energy, natural resources, water and environmental law.
Students are concerned the increased focus on energy-related areas of law marks a misguided initiative driven by outside influence from the energy industry.
"While energy and natural resources focused courses are important for students wishing to pursue careers in those fields, they are not the sole focus or interest of all, or even most, students at the College of Law," the students wrote. "The College of Law is the only law school in Wyoming, and as such is responsible for providing the necessary education to future lawyers so they can competently represent the people of Wyoming in all areas of the law."
Third-year law student Grant Smith, one of the authors of the letter, said his motivation for writing was the lack of dialogue between leadership and the College of Law regarding the task force's review.
Smith said he did not know Sternberg was planning a task force to review the college until a university press release announcing Easton's resignation mentioned the initiative Thursday.
"There had been rumors [of a task force], but nothing was substantiated," Grant said. "I think the resignation really caught us by surprise."
UW President Robert Sternberg's decision to put together a task force to evaluate the college stemmed from feedback he heard during his travels around the state, he told the Star-Tribune last week. Enough stakeholders commented that the college of law was not what it used to be, Sternberg said, that he felt a review was warranted. He envisions the task force as strictly advisory, and says he hopes to include people from Wyoming and regional legal communities, the UW Faculty Senate, the UW College of Law and elsewhere.
UW Public Relations Director Chad Baldwin said studying the university's energy-related areas of law did not mean private industry was dictating the college of law's curriculum, as students alleged in the letter.
"As with all aspects of the university, one of our primary missions is to produce graduates who can contribute to the state and fill our workforce needs," Baldwin said. But any increased emphasis on energy-related areas of law would not reduce the college's course offerings in any other area of law, he said.
"Private industry has not and will not dictate the curriculum at the College of Law," he said.
Check back for more on this developing story.