You are on page 1of 6

CHARLESTON SCHOOL OF LAW ALUMNI ASSOCIATION

BOARD OF DIRECTORS
President John E. Robinson Vice President Brittany Boykin Secretary Alissa Collins Treasurer Jacqueline Bond Anthony Members Wes Allison Ashley Batson Scott Bischoff Cameron Blazer Kathleen Chewning Daniel J. Crooks Megan Hunt Dell Christy Fargnoli Jennifer Hills Brandi Hinton Mary Jordan Lempesis James McCutchen Michelle McMahon Ben Pogue Angele Douglas Russell Jenny Stevens Sarah Woodard Aimee Zmroczek Reply to: John E. Robinson 36 Broad Street Charleston, SC 29401

September 4, 2013 Renea Eshleman Acting Director Academic Affairs and Licensing Division SC Commission on Higher Education 1122 Lady Street, Ste. 300 Columbia, SC 29201 via email Dear Ms. Eshleman: The Charleston School of Law Alumni Association represents and serves more than 1200 graduates of the Charleston School of Law. We understand that the CHE is considering or will consider an application for licensure from the Infilaw System to assume ownership and operation of the Charleston School of Law. We write to formally object to the grant of any such license. Infilaws history operating law schools in other states is a good indicator of its future conduct of business in South Carolina. Based on our own extensive research into this history, we know that Infilaws presence in South Carolina will be bad for students and, thereby, bad for all the schools supporters and constituents. Indeed, Infilaw is bad for South Carolina. As you may know, alumni and others have been seeking meaningful review of the agreements already in place between the Charleston School of Law and Infilaw and have been, to date, shut out. It is vitaland it is required by state lawthat the CHE undertake a meaningful review of the Infilaw System, its existing relationship with the Charleston School of Law, and details of its proposed acquisition of the school, before taking any action on Infilaws request for licensure. We were concerned when, on August 21, 2013, you and Executive Director Sutton spoke before members of the Charleston County legislative delegation and appeared to defer to the notably absent directors of the Charleston School of Law to answer the question of when your agencys jurisdiction is triggered. Clearly, only the CHE can make such

Page 2 of 6 determinations, and only when it has demanded and received all the relevant information and documentation from the institutions for which it has oversight. The CHE must not rely on representations from parties subject to its regulation; it must rely, instead, on facts. While the Charleston School of Law insists it is not obligated to turn over evidence of its agreements and entanglements to us as members of the concerned public, it is obligated to turn them over to you. The directors of the law school cannot hide behind their status as a business to conceal the truth of their actions from the body authorized to regulate them. Nothing short of a full review of every agreement (present or proposed) between the Charleston School of Law and Infilaw will satisfy your statutory oversight obligations. Still, these agreements should not be the beginning or end of the Commissions review. While we have no doubt that Infilaw and CSOL will come prepared for any review before the CHE with slick marketing materials and a dizzying array of statistics and slides, the CHE can and must perform its own research and analysis to determine whether this proposed new owner of the Charleston School of Law can be trusted to serve the student population of South Carolina according to standards that safeguard those students. The CHE was authorized in 1992 to promulgate such standards; where standards exist they should be enforced, and where they do not, they must be created and sent to the legislature for approval. We also note that while Infilaw has been approved in three other states to operate for-profit law schools, that fact has no bearing on whether it should be permitted to operate a for-profit law school in this state. Even a cursory comparison of the laws governing proprietary school licensure in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina reveals that the CHE has much broader authority and responsibility for proprietary school oversight than similar bodies in those states. The decision of other states to allow Infilaw to operate schools within their borders must not serve as a proxy for the CHEs own due diligence. To facilitate your work as you review Infilaw and CSOLs request, the statutes that govern your exercise of authority, and the regulations you are empowered to create and enforce, we are compiling a brief report outlining the research that informs our strongly-held opinion that the Infilaw transaction must be stopped and that the CHE has the power to stop it. Frankly, our research prompts as many questions as it answers about the future of the Charleston School of Law.1 And we believe that the CHE is the body that can and should demand the answers to these remaining questions:
This report is a continual work-in-progress and will be available at http://probonopopuli.wordpress.com/infilaw-report/ no later than 5PM today, September 4, 2013. The report will be updated routinely with new information as it is discovered, and all
1

Page 3 of 6

What recourse will South Carolina students have in disputes with an out-of-state, for-profit holding company organized under the laws of Delaware and headquartered in Naples, Florida? What are Infilaws plans for enrollment figures at the Charleston School of Law? How will those numbers be tailored to the available jobs for lawyers in South Carolina and neighboring states? How can Infilaw claim to have better job placement statistics than the Charleston School of Law when information exists suggesting less than 45% of its graduates, across three schools, report employment in fulltime, permanent jobs as lawyers within 9 months of graduation? Infilaw touts its ability to prepare its students for careers that benefit from a legal education but do not, necessarily, involve the practice of law. Can Infilaw point to labor and employment statistics that suggest the state and/or regional job market has a need for and a willingness to accordingly compensate employees who have earned the J.D. but do not or cannot practice law? Will Infilaw alter the Charleston School of Laws admissions formula to lower LSAT or undergraduate GPA standards? Will Infilaw bring its traditionally very high levels of academic attrition to the Charleston School of Law? If not, what measures will Infilaw employ avoid high rates of academic attrition at the Charleston School of Law, and have these measures been tested elsewhere? How do the admissions qualifications and diversity markers of students who graduate from Infilaw schools and subsequently take the bar compare to all students who matriculate at Infilaw schools? How does Infilaw account for significant differences, if any, in the academic qualifications and diversity markers of these two groups? What employment standards does Infilaw propose to protect academic freedom and pedagogical integrity at the Charleston School of Law? What protections will be in place to allow faculty to raise concerns relating to academic and admissions standards and academic selfgovernance? Is Infilaw seeking to purchase the law schools real estate, fixtures, contracts, and obligations? If not, why not? If Infilaw is so good for the future of the Charleston School of Law, why was its purchase of the school shrouded in secrecy? Why was the CHE apparently kept out of the loop for so long?

updates will be reported on our website. Interested parties may subscribe to receive these updates by using the link located at the bottom-right-hand side of every page of our website.

Page 4 of 6 What are the full details of all legal and business relationships between the Charleston School of Law and its directors and Infilaw?

As you know, all law schools approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) participate in annual quantitative reporting requirements that address a wide array of ABA standardsfrom enrollment and retention numbers to bar passage rates to faculty-to-student ratios. Most schools also report similar date to the National Association for Legal Career Professionals (NALP). But the way the data are reported and collected in many instances prevents a clear understanding of the academic and employment realities at the schools. The CHE can and should request copies of the data reported by both the Charleston School of Law and the Infilaw schools over the last five years in order to gain a clearer understanding of the differences in inputs and outcomes at each school. Only by reviewing unfiltered data can the CHE effectively fulfill its oversight mission. Clearly, as alumni of the Charleston School of Law, we have a vested interest in the longevity and success of our alma mater. And we are not alone in voicing concern over Infilaws proposed purchase of the Charleston School of Law: only three of the original directors of CSOL remain in control, and of those three, one has publicly and strongly expressed his disagreement over the Infilaw agreement. If nothing else, because a decision of this magnitude would be in the hands of only two people, the CHE must conduct its inquiry into the situation with all possible care and deliberation. While we and others strongly oppose the extension of any license to Infilaw to operate a law school in South Carolina, we suggest, in the event that such a license is granted, that a strenuous set of limitations be placed on that license. Specifically, we believe that any such license should, in an effort to live up to the CHEs mission of student consumer protection, include: Limits on enrollment tied to rolling year-over-year statistics for placement of graduates in positions requiring the J.D. degree;2 Reasonable caps on tuition tied to rolling year-over-year statistics for graduate debt-to-income ratios;

The original plans for the law school suggested the school would serve roughly 450 students. This plan was drawn up before the Great Recession and the significant contraction in the legal job market that accompanied it. Still, since that time, the enrollment of the Charleston School of Law has grown to nearly 631, according to the most recent data submitted to the ABA (http://officialguide.lsac.org); in contrast, for the most recent year reported to the ABA, Phoenix School of Laws total enrollment was 1092, Charlotte School of Laws total enrollment was 1392, and Florida Coastal School of Laws total enrollment was 1594. These schools are simply too large for South Carolina, and any consideration of an operating license for Infilaw must set enrollment limits suitable to our state.
2

Page 5 of 6 Annual public reporting requirements relating to academic attrition, professional employment, with such data traceable on a cohort-bycohort basis; and Those issues raised by Robert Wells, Executive Director of the South Carolina Bar, at the Rules and Laws Subcommittee of the Charleston County Legislative Delegation on August 21, 2013.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Rather it establishes what we believe is the bare minimum level of protection for South Carolinas student population. Students looking for clear answers about their educational opportunities should not be forced to rely exclusively on the marketing materials that Infilawunder the auspices of the ABAdresses up in the guise of accurate consumer information. While our concern about accurate consumer data is not exclusive to Infilaw, or even to proprietary schools, nowhere is the need for consumer transparency more profound than in the proprietary school environment, and never more urgently than when a lowquality law school franchisor attempts to set up shop in South Carolina. The CHE has the power to be and, indeed, should be a national leader in forcing this kind of transparency in proprietary education. Starting now. Please do not hesitate to contact us if our board can be of any further assistance to you as you begin your review of Infilaws application. Also, we would appreciate being notified in advance of any meeting in which this issue will be discussed; to the extent possible under your rules, we wish to be present, and we wish to be heard at any such meeting. Sincerely, Charleston School of Law Alumni Association Board of Directors John E. Robinson, President Alissa Collins, Secretary Wes Allison Scott Bischoff Kathleen Chewning Megan Hunt Dell Jennifer Hills Mary Jordan Lempesis Michelle McMahon Angele Douglas Russell Sarah Woodard Brittany Boykin, Vice President Jacqueline Boyd Anthony, Treasurer Ashley Batson Cameron Blazer Daniel J. Crooks Christy Fargnoli Brandi Hinton James McCutchen Ben Pogue Jenny Stevens Aimee Zmroczek

Page 6 of 6

cc:

Dr. Richard C. Sutton, Executive Director SC CHE CHE Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing Charleston County Legislative Delegation