In an 8-5 vote Monday, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission rejected the proposal to transfer Valparaiso Law School to Middle Tennessee State University.
The commission’s denial ends the work the two schools started in November 2017 to move the northwest Indiana law school to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. MTSU had championed the law school as giving students in that area of the state the option to study law at a public university close to their home.
Middle Tennessee president Sidney McPhee echoed that stance in his comments following the commission’s vote.
“We regret that the Tennessee Higher Education Commission did not approve our proposal to establish a college of law to provide the citizens of Middle Tennessee and surrounding areas an accredited, public law school,” McPhee said.
Valparaiso University issued a statement Tuesday.
“We are disappointed the Tennessee Higher Education Commission voted against the cooperative education agreement between Valparaiso University and Middle Tennessee State University which was designed to serve prospective students in the Nashville area seeking a legal degree from an accredited, public law school in the Middle Tennessee region,” the university said. “We are grateful for the dedicated work by teams from both institutions throughout this process.”
What happens to the law school is unclear. The university has been looking for an alternative since November 2017 when it announced the law school was facing severe financial challenges. Two classes remain at the law school, and the university’s statement indicated the J.D. degree program will continue operations so the Class of 2019 and the Class of 2020 can graduate from Valparaiso.
“We are truly grateful for the good work and dedication of our law students, faculty, and staff,” the university said. “We will continue to provide the opportunity for all currently enrolled students at Valparaiso University Law School to complete their legal education through Valparaiso University Law School in a timely manner.”
The governing boards of Valparaiso and MTSU had endorsed the transfer agreement earlier this month.
“We thank our friends at Valparaiso for their generous offer to transfer its School of Law, which would have represented a significant multi-million dollar gift to the state of Tennessee,” McPhee said.
If the transfer had been allowed, the MTSU law school would have been the seventh in the Volunteer state and the third to have opened in the past nine years.
Belmont University College of Law, a private institution in Nashville, opened in 2011. Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law, a private school in Knoxville, accepted its first class in 2009 and received provisional accreditation in 2014. However, in April 2018, the American Bar Association found the law school to be “significantly out of compliance” with accreditation standards.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission also did not respond to a request for comment about the decision to deny the transfer.
However, the statement from Middle Tennessee State hinted at the commission’s reason for its hesitation. In his statement, McPhee noted there were “concerns about competition by the state’s two existing public law schools.”
Tennessee’s public law schools reside at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the University of Memphis in Memphis.
“THEC’s decision denies a legal education to Nashville-area students financially unable to attend an expensive, nearby accredited private institution or unable to relocate to a public institution hundreds of miles away in Knoxville or Memphis.”