Valparaiso University president Mark Heckler emphasized the law school is not closing after it announced Thursday it would suspend admission of students in 2018. However, the American Bar Association still may want a teach-out plan as is required of law schools that are ceasing operations.
The university’s board of directors has instructed the university administration to find a solution to the ongoing problems at the law school. Declining enrollment and increasing costs coupled with a public censure from the ABA because of admissions practices convinced the board to look for alternatives such as affiliating with another law school or relocating to another geographic area.
Heckler said the board’s decision came after a “long, careful, thoughtful conversation.” About the time Andrea Lyon became the dean of the law school in July 2014, the board began to realize the challenges facing the institution were going to continue.
The law school has been a topic of discussion by the board for years, Heckler said. Following a meeting last week and an hour-and-a-half meeting Thursday, the members made the decision to “explore alternative possibilities.”
However, after the meeting, some news media reported that the 138-year-old law school was closing. Even the ABA appeared surprised, issuing a statement indicating it had not been notified in advance of the plans, and pointing to Rule 34 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approvals of Law Schools. That rule mandates a law school formulate a plan for continuing to provide a legal education to its current students while the school ceases operations or closes a branch campus.
Heckler said officials from the university would be meeting with the ABA Friday to convey the message that what is happening at the law school is different from what has been reported. The school wants the ABA to “understand there is no change in terms of our commitment to fulfill our obligations to the students that are here,” the president said.
School officials will be meeting with each student individually to work out a plan that best suits him or her. Some students, Heckler acknowledged, could opt to transfer, but for those who stay, the law school is committed to giving them the legal education they were promised.
“That’s the only way I can see that we fulfill our promise,” Heckler said.
The news about Valparaiso Law School comes about five months after Indiana Tech Law School closed its doors at the end of June.
Lake County Bar Association president Adam Sedia pointed out Valparaiso Law School has been around “longer than another can remember,” and many attorneys practicing in northwest Indiana are graduates.
“Not having it around in the same role that it’s always been will be a major change,” Sedia said, “and we’re going to have to explore how to deal with that.”