There is good reason that private, for-profit colleges like the Charleston School of Law are required to be licensed by the state. Oversight provides protection to citizens who commit their time and money to attend.
Now that it appears sea changes are in the works for the Charleston School of Law, a thorough review by the state Commission on Higher Education is essential.
That review would help ensure that the plans for CSOL meet state requirements for licensing and operation. And it would provide for public scrutiny of those plans, which the school has refused to release. The CHE must have the agreement in hand to do a competent analysis.
At this point, the public knows that CSOL owners have a deal with InfiLaw Systems to manage the school, and not much more.
That could change through the intervention of local legislators who say the evidence suggests that the agreement will actually culminate in the school being sold, not just managed.
The local legislative delegation’s Courts, Laws and Rules Committee Wednesday said it wants the CHE to consider the matter, and the commission should comply. Meanwhile, the delegation committee has agreed to ask the state attorney general for an opinion on CHE’s jurisdiction.
A public review of CSOL’s plans can’t happen too soon.
The longer the issue is shrouded in secrecy, the worse it is for the school, as well as its students, faculty and alumni, who are expressing grave concerns.
Alumni fear the value of their degrees will be diminished. Faculty are uncertain about how their circumstances might be affected. Students could face midstream changes.
Supporters such as the legal community, which has provided clerkships, internships and jobs for CSOL students and graduates, deserve answers.
And the city of Charleston, which gave the law school a sweet deal when it sold CSOL a $1.2 million lot for $875,000, believing the school’s presence on the peninsula would benefit the city, clearly should be heard on the law school’s future.
So far, the facts that are known just raise more questions.
On July 25, CSOL confirmed that it had entered into a mangement agreement with InfiLaw Systems, which owns and operates three other law schools.
The school has not confirmed that a sale is forthcoming, but a management agreement can be the first step toward a sale. Moreover, CSOL Acquisition, LLC, was chartered in Delaware in late June. And that filing was made by the same agent that similarly filed for InfiLaw’s three other law schools.
Two of CSOL’s five founders sold their interest back to the school and relinquished their positions on the board just before that announcement.
And one of the remaining founders, Ed Westbrook, wrote in a letter to the editor to The Post and Courier this week that he does not support the agreement but was outvoted by his two board colleagues.
The reason CSOL leaders give for withholding details of the agreement with InfiLaw is that it is proprietary information.
But the school is organized under the laws of the state, and is subject to some oversight. In addition to studying the management agreement, CHE needs firm data about any plans for tuition hikes and changes in the ratio of professors to students.
And the commission should take a close look at the operation of other InfiLaw schools. Critics contend those schools are not up to CSOL standards.
Restaurants are private, but they must meet the state’s regulatory requirements. Likewise, the Charleston School of Law is a private business, but it is overseen by the state and must bear the enlightened scrutiny of the Commission on Higher Education.
Law school leaders could dispel the uncertainty by stepping up and providing a complete prospectus of their plans. The community that has given such strong support to CSOL in its first decade deserves the full picture.
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