Move would put Valpo Law in crowded Tennessee market

June 25, 2018

If Valparaiso Law School moves the roughly 500 miles south to become part of Middle Tennessee State University, it would become the seventh law school in the Volunteer State.

Valparaiso University and Middle Tennessee State have announced they have entered into a nonbinding letter of intent to transfer Valparaiso’s law school to the Murfreesboro Campus. University leaders emphasized the discussions are preliminary and details about any potential move are still being explored.

Seven months ago when Valparaiso University announced it was looking for an alternative way to remain open, the institution said affiliating with another law school or relocating to another geographic market were among the options.

MTSU president Sidney A. McPhee said any potential transfer would result in his university obtaining the law school outright. Valparaiso Law School, he said, would be akin to a gift and not something that Middle Tennessee would be merging with or buying.

“Our exploration of this proposal is in keeping with MTSU’s tradition and strategic priority of pursuing innovative partnerships that create meaningful opportunities for our students, our region and our state,” McPhee said.

Valparaiso Law School is accredited by the American Bar Association. Under Rule 29 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, the law school dean would have to submit an application for acquiescence and supporting documentation. If the accreditation committee finds that the transfer would essentially create a new or different law school, then the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar could require the school to apply for provisional accreditation.

Both universities have informed the ABA about their conversations, according to Barry A. Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education for the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

“We discussed the process required by the relevant ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools for obtaining the Council’s acquiescence to such a transfer, which is a major change under our Standards,” Currier said in a statement. “We appreciate them reaching out to us, and if a request is made we will take the appropriate steps and undertake the necessary review, as our rules and processes provide.”

Currently Middle Tennessee State, with an enrollment approaching 21,000, does not have a law school. When the universities hope to reach a decision and what any possible transfer would include are details yet to be worked out.

“This is so fresh and so preliminary, I don’t think either institution will really knows how long things will take until they get into formal talks and get into the nitty gritty details,” said a MTSU official.

Should Valparaiso Law School become a part of MTSU, it would leave Indiana with three law schools and give Tennessee a seventh. The Volunteer State is home to six law schools — two that have opened within the last 10 years and one that is not accredited by the ABA.

Belmont University College of Law in Nashville opened in 2012 and Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law in Knoxville opened in 2009. Both schools have provisional accreditation but in April, the ABA notified Lincoln Memorial University the law school was out of compliance with admissions standards.

Nashville School of Law opened in 1911 and only offers classes at night. It is not accredited by the ABA but its graduates are allowed to sit for the Tennessee Bar Exam. According to its website, the class that entered in the fall of 2017 numbered 95 with a median LSAT of 147 and an undergraduate grade point average of 3.12.

The remaining three law schools are all fully accredited by the ABA. The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in Memphis was founded in 1962; the University of Tennessee College of Law, Knoxville, was founded in 1890; and Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, opened in 1874.