Emotions rang high for more than 200 students at the University of La Verne College of Law who gathered Wednesday for a town hall meeting with Provost Jonathan Reed, where he announced the Board of Trustees’ unanimous decision to pass a resolution to consider closing the law school.
The board will decide the future of the College of Law at its Nov. 18 meeting.
Last week, the board called on University administration and faculty to examine the American Bar Association-accredited law program and determine its financial exigency.
The board is abiding by the guidelines in the Faculty Handbook for considering program discontinuance, which requires a committee elected by the Faculty Senate to prepare a report of recommendations to the board regarding the financial exigency of the College of Law.
The ad hoc committee will include five tenured professors from the College of Law; one tenured professor each from the College of Education, College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Business; and a member from the Wilson Library.
Reed addressed the standing-room-only crowd of concerned and upset students at the College of Law lecture hall Wednesday.
“As part of the Board of Trustees’ due diligence, they have triggered the process of making sure we are taking a look at the long term trajectory of the ABA-accredited College of Law program,” Reed said. “That creates a process where a committee is formed, and administration is tasked to come up with recommendations on what the program should look like moving forward.”
Reed assured the students that no decision has been made yet, and those who choose to graduate from the program will be able to do so through a “teach out” program.
If the Board of Trustees decides to discontinue the program entirely, currently enrolled students will have the option to complete their degrees and graduate before the College of Law is shut down.
Kevin Marshall, interim dean of the College of Law, addressed the rumors floating around that the College of Law will shut down in six months.
“No decision of the future of the College of Law has been made at this point,” Marshall said. “You must remain focused and committed to your studies so you can achieve the success you seek and ultimately must position yourself to be sworn in as lawyers.”
Marshall told the students to not use this as a distraction as one of the most important times of the semester is just around the corner.
The students will be studying for finals week right around the time the future of the College of Law will be announced.
“The College of Law and the University is committed to continue operation of providing affordable, high quality legal education until each of you matriculate through our program and graduate,” Marshall said.
The American Bar Association approved a new standard this year that requires law schools to have 75% of their graduates who take the bar exam and pass it within two years or risk ABA accreditation being revoked.
Law schools previously had up to five years to meet that standard.
The next round of bar results are set to be released Nov. 16, and they will be a factor the committee will be looking at, Reed said.
Reed assured the students that the board did not spontaneously come to a conclusion to look into the College of Law’s financial viability.
“This decision did not arise from a single event,” Reed said. “It has been the history of the College of Law in terms of finances continuing to be subsidized by the University, although it has gone down in recent years. The new ABA standard also creates problems for us.”
Students were emotionally distraught and concerned about what this decision could mean for their future.
Melissa Diaz, an undergraduate alumna from the University and current first year law student, said she was encouraged to come to the College of Law by the administration.
“Throughout my undergraduate studies at the University, I heard advocacy for years for the College of Law, which is why I am here,” Diaz said. “I am nervous about the board’s decision to put this on the table to close the school, when I was told by President (Devorah) Lieberman herself that I would be making a huge mistake not coming to this school.”
Diane Klein, professor of law, is one of the 10 tenured faculty members affected if a program discontinuance is announced.
“It is of utmost importance to me that the faculty across the University participate as fully in the decisions that are going to be made as possible,” Klein said. “I am a believer in and advocate for faculty governance on this issue as in every other issue.
Whatever happens I want to make sure it is not a faculty driven decision but a faculty informed and involved set of decisions.”
Klein said the College of Law has been central to the mission and values of the University.
“I hope we can find a way to continue to do that, and if not, I hope our alumni continue to support the University in its future,” Klein said. “I also hope a place is found for our tenured faculty who wish to make the rest of their career at the University including myself.”
Kristopher Crumby, a graduate from the College of Law this year, expressed concern for the future career trajectory of students who do graduate from the school that may no longer exist in the future.
“If you want to talk about career perspectives coming from this small school you already have a chip on your shoulder,” Crumby said to Reed. “Now you are telling them to put themselves on the line and this University may not even be in existence. Can you look each person in this room in the eye and tell them they are on a sinking ship? If this goes through, that is essentially putting a major setback in their career projections.”
University President Devorah Lieberman said the Board of Trustees wants to ensure the College of Law is financially viable and is meeting the mission at the University to serve the needs of students.
“Our administration will make their own recommendations and the board will make the ultimate decision,” Lieberman said.
“I believe in the law school and this region of 5.5 million people deserve an excellent law school that graduates excellent attorneys,” she said. “I am hoping we will have a recommendation that is financially viable and supports our mission.”
Layla Abbas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.