Charlotte School of Law is on its way to becoming a non-profit. It's part of the plan to get the law school's federal loan money re-instated. WFAE's Lisa Worf has been following the school's struggles since the American Bar Association placed the law school on probation this past fall. She joins Morning Edition host Marshall Terry.
MT: How would this work?
LW: The school's new dean, Scott Broyles, says the plan is to partner with a university in the northeast. InfiLaw, the company who now owns Charlotte School of Law, wouldn't make academic decisions, but, instead, deal with the school's day-to-day operations.
MT: How much of a difference would this change make? Is it a smokescreen?
LW: It's hard to say at this point. It's not clear how that agreement between the non-profit board and InfiLaw would work, nor how much the school would pay InfiLaw. But the plan also calls for faculty to play a bigger role in making academic decisions, starting with admissions standards. Here's Broyles:
SB: Kind of the hydraulic pressures that were out there moving us in the bad direction for the last few years as far as the quality of students, we've effectively removed all that.
LW: The school submitted a plan to the ABA saying it's raising those standards, something the school's faculty had been pushing administrators to do for several years now. But InfiLaw had the ultimate say. Broyles says that's no longer the case. If administrators try to lower standards, faculty can veto that decision. And that is a significant change.
MT: Is this enough to persuade the Department of Education to begin cutting federal loan checks again to Charlotte School of Law?
LW: That remains to be seen. A letter from the Department of Education in January didn't mention the option of re-instating federal loan money to the school back. It simply noted because the school hadn't agreed to close, students wouldn't have their federal loans forgiven. But Broyles says a few things have changed since then.
SB: The complaints that were out there, that were addressed by the ABA and then in part adopted by the DOE people, those have been resolved for practical purposes. They really don't have any reason to criticize the school going forward. And, secondly, it's a new administration.
LW: He's talking about the Department of Education under the Trump administration. Previously, the department was cracking down on for-profit colleges, but the current administration has a better view of them. Broyles thinks that'll help the school, even though the plan still is to become a non-profit.
MT: How significant is it that InfiLaw brought in a new dean for Charlotte School of Law?
LW: It's an intriguing move. Broyles certainly has a lot of respect from the faculty. He's a former federal prosecutor and teaches Constitutional Law at the school and he's been there since the school started in 2006. InfiLaw named him dean after faculty gave former dean Jay Conison a second no-confidence vote. Faculty members then voted for Broyles to succeed him. He's also well-respected by students. Margaret Kocaj is completing her third-year at the school.
MK: Just switching out the dean didn't really make a lot of difference to me. But when you change the actual policies that caused most of the problem, now we're really making a step in the right direction.
LW: And one of her questions was: Why didn't this happen sooner? Why couldn't they replace the dean sooner...because there was a lot of movement among faculty and students for that to happen. I asked Broyles that and he said he thought InfiLaw wanted someone who had been through the whole process to stay in with discussions with the ABA and the Department of Education.
MT: How many students are at the school now?
LW: The school has lost a lot of students over the past few months. Before the ABA placed the school on probation, enrollment was around 750. Now, it's down to 220. So even if the school regains its federal loan money and it gets off probation, it faces significant challenges in enticing students and still being partnered with InfiLaw.