It’s pretty clear that local lawmakers aren’t real happy with the idea of selling the Charleston School of Law.
They think the potential buyer, InfiLaw System, is a diploma mill owned by a hedge fund with profit as its only motive — not the kind of law school Charleston needs.
But the bad news for alumni and students is that lawmakers can’t do much about this.
And they probably wouldn’t even if they could.
See, the School of Law is a private business that may be considering selling itself to another private business. That’s free market stuff, and politicians are rightfully wary of messing with that.
At the same time, they can’t advocate that the College of Charleston or any other public university buy the School of Law just because it would be good for alumni and students.
“That is a factor, but not a significant enough factor by itself,” says state Sen. Chip Campsen, “even though I have great empathy for them and don’t want there to be diminution of their degrees.”
In other words, the state can’t saddle taxpayers with another law school unless they have more reason than that.
By the law
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis says what’s going on at the School of Law is “troubling on a lot of levels.”
Last week, Stavrinakis hauled the Commission on Higher Education before his legislative delegation committee and schooled the bureaucrats on what they should be doing.
That is, they should be checking to see if the school’s “management services agreement” actually constitutes a change in who’s operating the school. That would require a new license. Stavrinakis says he’s not stalling, he just wants everything done correctly.
“It’s my job to make sure the government does its job,” he says.
Campsen and the delegation asked for an attorney general’s opinion on the issue, but can’t see Alan Wilson ruling against them. There’s not much ambiguity in the law.
All of this — the attorney general opinion, the possibility that the school will have to re-apply for its license — has bought the alumni some time to figure out a new game plan or possibly find another buyer.
They should get on it — because this delay is about all the help they can expect from the state.
School of Law alumni and students need not expect College of Charleston to swoop in and save the day.
No matter what some other lawmakers say.
The college is currently courting MUSC and looking for a president. Adding a law school might be too much, even for an ambitious public university.
And then there’s the politics.
While the college could buy the law school without legislative approval (unless it asked the state for the money), the board of trustees probably knows this wouldn’t go over well with a lot of state officials. Already we hear too much about “mission creep,” which is a nice way of saying too many colleges and universities are trying to do too much. If they ask whether we need three medical schools, they will ask why we need two law schools.
In fact, some state officials weren’t real happy to see the School of Law show up a decade ago, because we already have one law school in this state. And it’s in Columbia.
Alumni and students have every right to be upset here, and feel like they’re victims of a bait and switch. But this is private business.
And that’s part of the problem: business.
Campsen says any school, even a private one, should have altruistic motives — and profit is not very altruistic.
Still, it doesn’t make sense for the state to buy a private school, potentially costing taxpayers millions of dollars, if it doesn’t need it.
Hopefully, even law students and the school’s alumni can understand that.
The good news is, they probably know how to file a pretty mean lawsuit.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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