Vermont Law School president to serve one term

  • Tom McHenry, Vermont Law School's dean and president, discusses his position and the state’s sole law school during an interview at his office in Debevoise Hall on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in South Royalton, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2020 10:22:30 PM
Modified: 11/13/2020 10:22:21 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — Thomas McHenry, the president and dean of Vermont Law School who oversaw a difficult restructuring, has decided to step down when his term expires in June 2021.

McHenry, an environmental lawyer and former partner at the Los Angeles law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, joined VLS as its ninth president in 2017, succeeding Mark Mihaly, who also served a three-year term.

Neither McHenry nor the school Board of Trustees cited a reason in a Friday afternoon news release for McHenry’s decision not to stay on as president and dean after the current academic year ends. A spokesperson said no one would be available for comment.

McHenry’s tenure has coincided with one of the most difficult periods in VLS’ 48-year history as it, like law schools everywhere, has had to grapple with a national downturn in enrollment and rising costs. VLS, with a minimal endowment, is largely dependent upon tuition and grant funding to meet its approximately $23 million operating budget.

That led McHenry, only 12 months into the job in 2018, to revoke tenure of 14 out of 19 senior professors, who instead were offered short-term contracts. McHenry said the moves were necessary to close a $1 million budget gap. After severance payments, the move was projected to save $2 million annually in the coming years, McHenry told the Valley News.

A Washington-based faculty advocacy organization, the American Association of University Professors, dispatched staff to the Upper Valley in 2018 to investigate whether VLS had violated the principles by which it is required to have faculty input on major decisions as called for under the bylaws of the Association of American Law Schools.

The investigation divided the faculty, with some attesting that the claims were unfounded and that McHenry had consulted with faculty members individually on the pending structural changes. Nonetheless, the AAUP issued a 17-page report last year that criticized VLS for violating its “shared governance” policy.

The trustees on Friday credited McHenry with stabilizing the school. “Since his appointment ... 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,” VLS said in the news release.

Among the milestones achieved under McHenry, the trustees cited launching an Immigration Clinic, an Environmental Justice Clinic and a partnership with the National Wildlife Federation; forming the Environmental Advocacy Clinic; securing a multimillion-dollar grant to establish the National Center on Restorative Justice; and opening a satellite office in Burlington.

Robert Sand, former state’s attorney for Windsor County whose association with VLS extends back to 1984 when he enrolled as a student and where he is now a professor and founder the Center for Justice Reform, said that McHenry navigated the school through “extraordinarily challenging times” and was confronted with making “extraordinarily difficult decisions, some of which were unpopular.”

Sand said McHenry’s position is complicated by wearing two hats, both dean and president, one that requires running the school internally and another that is responsible for fundraising and representing VLS to outside communities.

“I’ve long believed that is an untenable dual role and maybe now we will think about bifurcating those two roles,” said Sand, who formerly served as a VLS trustee.

Contact John Lippman at

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy