Valparaiso University announced Tuesday that one way or another, its law school will cease operations by May 2020 after a tentative agreement to transfer the school to Middle Tennessee State University fell through earlier this month.
The class of 80 law students on track to graduate in the spring will continue on that track, said Mark Heckler, the university’s president. Another 17 students in the program are scheduled to graduate in May 2020, and the university will discuss with its accreditors, the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission, what the best options for them might be.
“We are really proud of the law school and it has got a tremendous tradition since 1897. It’s graduated 6,000 people who have done great things and will continue to do great things, and so will its current students,” Heckler said.
The law school’s current challenges, he added, don’t tarnish its longstanding legacy. The law school is the only one in Northwest Indiana.
“Everyone needs to realize there are 100 students there who are going to make great attorneys, and we need to do everything we can to support them,” he said.
The announcement comes after a weekend board of directors meeting to discuss the fate of the law school.
In November 2017, the university announced its decision to suspend admission of first-year law students for the fall of 2018, and its intention to pursue strategic alternatives regarding the financial viability of the school.
Significantly declining law school enrollment, especially in the Great Lakes region, and a lessening demand for those entering the legal profession significantly impacted the sustainability of the law school, officials said.
“This has been an extremely difficult decision and is the result of several years of careful discernment,” said Frederick G. Kraegel, chairman of the board of directors, in a prepared statement. “We have explored a number of strategic alternatives. Despite those efforts, we have not been able to achieve a more positive outcome.”
Going forward, Heckler said officials would explore three options for the second-year class now on campus. Those include allowing them to finish their education at VU with a smaller faculty; having them attend one of Chicago’s five law schools as visiting students to finish their coursework, but still receiving a degree from VU; or allowing them to transfer to another school to earn their degrees.
“That option has always been open to them,” Heckler said, adding they have chosen thus far to remain at VU.
School officials have an agreement with the faculty and staff that talked about what would happen if the law school was severed from the university, Heckler added, and an incentive for them to remain on campus this year. Officials said there are currently 19 faculty and 16 staff at the school.
The university will convene a committee in the spring to discuss what to do about the two buildings on campus that house the law school, Heritage Hall and Wesemann Hall, once officials know what the plans are for faculty and students for the 2019-2020 academic year.
“We did not expect this would be where we were headed,” Heckler said.