Paul L. Caron

Friday, April 21, 2017

Faculty Weighs Legal Options To Block Closure Of Whittier Law School After Court Rejects TRO; Board Pulled Plug With Only 40 Students Expected In Fall 2017 1L Class, Down 70% From 2016 (And 87% From 2010)

WhittierFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):  

Orange County Register, Faculty Fights Back Against Plan to Close Whittier Law School:

Whittier Law School faculty, angered at this week’s announcement that the campus will close its doors, are mulling over legal options after last-minute efforts to delay the public disclosure fell short.

A day before the Whittier College Board of Trustees announced that the law school will be discontinued, attorneys for more than a half-dozen faculty members filed an attempt for a temporary restraining order against the parent school.

A judge denied their request. But the issues raised in the court filings — including questions about the fate of millions of dollars raised in a recent sale of the Costa Mesa campus property that faculty contend was promised to the law school — will likely be at the center of future litigation, an attorney for the faculty members said on Thursday.

“It was a very irresponsible decision,” said attorney Hanna Chandoo of the trustee’s decision. A Whittier College alum, Chandoo filed the restraining-order request. “It is very sudden and not thought out.” ... “The college’s representatives repeatedly assured the law school’s faculty that the proceeds of the sale would be reinvested in the law school and used to support its future operations,” Chandoo said in the filing, which questioned whether the college was attempting to “loot and discontinue” the law school.

After decades as a profitable arm of the larger college, Chandoo in the court filing says that declining enrollment had the law school facing a budget deficit, leading to faculty buy-outs several years ago. However, Chandoo wrote in the court filing, a January deal to sell the 14-acre property resulted in what faculty members believe to be nearly $13 million in college profit. Property records show that the Costa Mesa property was sold in late January for $35 million.

Wall Street Journal, Whittier Law School to Close:

Whittier Law School in Southern California will no longer enroll new students, the Whittier College board of directors said Wednesday, citing problems the school faced turning its graduates into working lawyers.

The private law school in Orange County wasn’t preparing its students well enough to pass the bar exam and secure legal jobs, Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger said in an interview Wednesday evening.

The law school’s tenured faculty members protested the decision, filing an emergency lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court to block the closure, alleging breach of contract. A judge denied the injunction request, according to a lawyer representing the professors. ...

A number of U.S. law schools have struggled to stay afloat after the last economic downturn when the legal job market contracted and demand for legal degrees plummeted. Whittier Law’s academic and financial problems were particularly acute.

Fewer than a quarter of its graduates who took the July 2016 bar exam passed the test. While passage rates have been trending downward across California, it was the worst performance among any American Bar Association-accredited school in the state.

Of its 128 graduates in 2016, just under 30% found full-time, long-term jobs requiring a law degree, according to preliminary ABA figures.

At the same, its applicant pool has shrunk by more than 50% since 2011. ...

“The board really did not think it was fair to continue to operate a program and attract another class of students thinking about going to law school,” Ms. Herzberger said. Whittier College’s board had been grappling with the fate of the law school since 2015, Ms. Herzberger said, saying the decision to pull the plug followed a comprehensive review. The board considered the possibility of a sale or merger and spoke to several interested parties. “In the end, we were not successful,” she said. ...

Ms. Herzberger said the college wanted to make the announcement now while there was still time for the 40 or so students planning to enroll in the fall to make other plans. ...

The ABA said Thursday it was aware of Whittier’s decision to cease operations and declined to comment further. In 2005, the ABA placed Whittier’s accreditation on probation because of low bar-passage rates, a status it removed in 2008.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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I wonder how much of the desire for the TRO was due to the faculty thinking of themselves first. Being a Lecturer, I am biased but I would say almost all of it.

Posted by: old guy | Apr 21, 2017 2:20:58 PM

Based on this story, it would appear that the law school faculty and administration was setting higher standards for admittance this year. However, in order to do so, they wound up with an entering class of just 40. I'm guessing that when the trustees saw how much larger the deficit would be with such a small class, they decided there was no choice but to pull the plug.

Posted by: PaulB | Apr 21, 2017 8:29:42 AM