A lawyer retained by a faculty member at Indiana Tech Law School is questioning the university’s explanation for closing the school.
Christopher Mackaronis, principal at Stone Mattheis Xenopoulos & Brew P.C. in Washington, D.C., said he is currently representing one faculty member and is “working with” other faculty members at the Fort Wayne law school. The possibility of filing a lawsuit against the university has been raised but Mackaronis said the teaching staff is still determining what steps to take next.
Indiana Tech cited financial constraints when it announced the closure Oct. 31, effective at the end of this academic year. The university noted it had already sustained a loss of nearly $20 million from operating the law school and, looking at future enrollments, believed the deficit would continue to grow.
Mackaronis said the university knew it was going to have support the law school financially. It assured the faculty it was committed to making the program successful and never placed any conditions that it could reconsider its intentions if, for example, enrollment did not grow or bar passage did not improve.
Instead Indiana Tech portrayed itself to the professors as being fully behind the law school. Then it suddenly reversed course which, Mackaronis said, has left many faculty members shocked and angry.
“It’s not like we’re changing the color of the sofa in the lobby,” he said. “This is a life- and career-changing decision that effects (71) students and the entire faculty and administrative personnel, all of whom are losing their jobs.”
However, Brian Tamanaha, professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, believes the professors will likely have a tough time proving the university knowingly misrepresented its intentions.
Tamanaha drew national praise for his 2012 book, “Failing Law Schools” which examined the growing problems in legal education stemming from the decline in applications and rise in tuition. Noting the trend of fewer students wanting a J.D. had already been established by the time Indiana Tech opened its law school, he wondered why the Fort Wayne school went ahead with its plans.
“The only thing they could have done to mitigate this was not to open,” he said.
While the university could possibly have never intended to fully support the law school, Tamanaha said the situation looks like Indiana Tech simply did not have the financial resources to continue its legal education program.
The university has a relatively low endowment and is dependent on tuition for funding its operations. Coupled with the small class sizes, he said the university was clearly subsidizing the law school.
Of more concern is the students, Tamanaha said. As they look to transfer to other law schools, some may have difficulty if they have low undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores.
The American Bar Association is moving toward requiring law schools post an average bar passage rate of 75 percent, so many schools are working to improve their graduates’ performance on the bar exam. Consequently, schools might be hesitant to enroll any Indiana Tech student who is marginally qualified and appears likely to fail the bar.
Indiana Tech President Arthur Snyder was scheduled to speak with the Indiana Lawyer Wednesday but cancelled the interview because of a scheduling conflict. In the closure announcement, he commended the faculty and said the university would assist the J.D. candidates currently enrolled.
“Our first concern is for the law school students,” he stated. “We will be working hard on behalf of each of them to ensure that the process for transferring, for continuing their legal education, and ultimately earning their law degree take place with as little disruption as possible.”
Indiana Tech Law School Dean Charles Cercone told Indiana Lawyer this week that he has reached out to law schools in Indiana and Ohio about student transfers and received a “good reception.”