Commission delays decision on InfiLaw license

The InfiLaw System is still waiting on a decision from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education about its application for a license to operate the Charleston School of Law.
The InfiLaw System is still waiting on a decision from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education about its application for a license to operate the Charleston School of Law. (Photo by Ashley Barker)
By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published May 1, 2014

The S. C. Commission on Higher Education was expected to decide today if the InfiLaw System would be given an initial license to operate the Charleston School of Law. But the decision was put on hold.

The Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing met prior to the full commission meeting this morning and decided against bringing the issue to the full commission, according to the commission's Deputy Director Julie Carullo.

Abrams

Abrams

The committee wants more time to review information before it acts, Carullo said. The committee will meet again on May 19 to discuss a recommendation made by staff members to provide InfiLaw with a license. The full commission is then expected to discuss the license at 10:30 a.m., June 5.

The commission requested public comment and researched Charleston School of Law’s academics and curriculum, facilities and infrastructure, libraries, previous educational achievements and training, course and program outlines, financial soundness, and reputation and advertising policies, as well as the character of its owners.

The public comment period ended Feb. 10, and staff members recommended earlier this week that the commission approve a license for InfiLaw (.pdf).

Staff recommended a three-year license — from May 1 until April 30, 2017 — with the option to renew for InfiLaw to offer Juris Doctor and Master of Laws in admiralty and maritime law degrees at the Charleston School of Law.

The recommendation was contingent upon American Bar Association approval and an annual three-year business plan submitted to the commission. The plans must include enrollment management projections to not exceed 750 total students and investment plans for facilities, maintenance, instructional technologies and academic resources.

The recommendation also emphasized that no state funding would be required or requested and the law school could not be merged with the College of Charleston or any other public institution.

InfiLaw — a consortium of independent law schools including the Charlotte School of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School — agreed last July to provide management services for the Charleston School of Law. By the end of August, InfiLaw had signed an agreement expressing its intent to purchase the school.

The move was met with backlash from the school’s students and alumni about the reputation of the system, which has commonly been called a “diploma mill.” But in February, InfiLaw spokeswoman Kathy Heldman said that charge gets leveled at almost all for-profit education institutions.

“It is unfortunate, and untrue for InfiLaw schools,” Heldman said in a statement. “InfiLaw schools would not succeed or retain accreditation if they did not graduate students who could pass the bar and get jobs.”

Since InfiLaw already operates three other ABA-accredited law schools, its leaders believe it will receive the license and approval from the ABA to transfer ownership.

“We believe that we can provide Charleston and its students with the financial resources and expertise to enhance their legal education and to move the school forward into the future — a future that is changing quickly,” Heldman said.

In March, Charleston School of Law President Andrew Abrams wrote a letter to faculty and staff at the school. He said the InfiLaw System “presents us with the best opportunity to secure a bright and vibrant future for the school we care so deeply about.”

Abrams said he met with senior leaders of InfiLaw on four different occasions to discuss their goals, value and priorities.

“In each instance, I was struck by the consistent, strong and compelling commitment that they have to employ their resources and collective energies to make a difference in the lives of students and communities that they serve,” he wrote.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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