A committee of the state Commission on Higher Education dealt a blow to a proposed sale of the private Charleston School of Law Monday when it recommended denying the license application of InfiLaw, a for-profit company that sought to add the Charleston school to its portfolio of independently operated law schools.
The vote by the Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing came just hours after the second of two emotional public hearings, one held Friday in Charleston and the other held Monday in Columbia. The committee has reviewed hundreds of pages of documents on the proposal by the Florida-based company, which operates law schools in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.
The recommendation now goes to the full commission, which will make a final decision June 5. Earlier, CHE staff had recommended the approval of InfiLaw’s application for a license to buy and run the school. Julie Carullo, the commission’s deputy director, said the vote Monday was 3-1.
On Monday, students, some professors and alumni of the Charleston school once more expressed strong opposition to the sale, saying turning over the school founded in 2003 to InfiLaw will lead to declining admissions standards and a flood of departures.
“I urge you to look at two numbers, the number of students enrolled at InfiLaw schools and the number who graduate,” said Nancy Zisk, a CSOL professor who teaches torts, employment discrimination and equity. She and other speakers said InfiLaw will end up accepting students who are unprepared for a law school curriculum and who will likely incur thousands of dollars in student debt with no degree.
Advocates for InfiLaw disputed that characterization, saying professors and counselors work closely with students to help them navigate through the program and prepare for the bar exam. InfiLaw suggests adding Charleston to its consortium would be beneficial to South Carolina because its student body is more diverse than the state’s other law schools.
“I never expected to be working at a for-profit law school,” said Cindy Adcock, who teaches constitutional law at InfiLaw’s Charlotte School of Law. But she said, “It has proven to be student-centered and to serve the under-served.”
The Charleston School of Law was founded by five prominent lawyers and judges in Charleston. Two, retired Magistrate Judge Robert Carr and retired Magistrate Judge George Kosko spoke in favor of the sale; fellow founder Ed Westbrook has expressed strong opposition, arguing that “the profit model for law school does not work.”
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, initially receptive to the idea of InfiLaw purchasing the Charleston school, wrote a letter to the commission in December discouraging CHE approval. He said the city would not have sold land at the corner of Meeting and Wolfe Streets at below-market rate if he had known the property would eventually turn over.
"Certainly the city of Charleston would not have done this with any thought that eventually the Charleston School of Law would become part of a national, for-profit system of law schools," Riley stated in the Dec. 16 letter.
In addition to gaining approval from the full Commission on Higher Education, InfiLaw must also clear hurdles with the American Bar Association.