Charleston School of Law students and faculty heard the other shoe drop Wednesday when officials confirmed what many anticipated weeks ago: the school is being sold.
Owners of the private operation announced they intend to sell to the for-profit Infilaw System, which entered the picture in late July as part of what was then termed a “management agreement.” That transitioned into a full-blown purchase this week.
“We made this decision because a majority of the founders had expressed a desire to pull back and retire,” Robert Carr and George Kosko, two of the remaining founders and directors, said in a statement.
“As a result, this transaction is part of a necessary succession plan that ensures that the Charleston School of Law will be viable and thrive over the long term.”
Infilaw operates three for-profit law schools in other parts of the country. Their involvement here has drawn fire from some who worry the sale could affect both the culture and the education quality at the private Charleston campus.
The cost of the pending sale was not disclosed. After a meeting with students to answer questions about the sale, Carr told The Post and Courier that an inquiry about the selling price was “not a legitimate question to ask” because the parties are in private business.
The transfer would become effective once it is approved by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) and the American Bar Association, which is expected to take months to complete.
One state lawmaker said Wednesday, however, that he already sees problems with that approval coming. State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said Infilaw — and what the law school might resemble after the sale — could be inconsistent with criteria set by the legislature aimed at keeping higher education at quality levels and affordable. Current tuition runs about $38,000 a year.
During the meeting with students, Carr said Infilaw was the best option because conditions spelled out in the school’s license agreement with CHE prevented the law school from talking with other state schools about merging.
He also said attempting to go public through other means was not an option because the financial and political climate in South Carolina does not favor adding a second law school. Some lawmakers had suggested the College of Charleston take over.
“Infilaw was the only option viable out there,” Carr said. “The only one that would work, the only one we had confidence in.”
The owners did leave open the option of hearing offers from others, such as businesses or other private groups or nonprofits. Anyone approaching them would had to come with “well thought-out and financially viable offers,” the owner’s statement said.
Officials, meanwhile, tried to calm the fears of faculty and staff after word of the sale began to spread Wednesday.
“This school is too important to all of us to see it undone,” said Andy Abrams, dean of the law school, who added there has been no discussion about a change in staffing levels.
Abrams confirmed he plans to stay at the school — even after receiving other job inquiries — and recently signed another five-year contract as dean, he said.
Peter Goplerud, president of InfiLaw Management Solutions, added the company is dedicated to keeping “the faculty, the culture, the commitment to the community.” From a business standpoint, he added, “we would be absolutely foolish to tear that apart.”
The nine-year-old Charleston school and Infilaw already have a relationship that goes back years, including through discussions on operational matters.
Students, though, continued to express reservations about the school potentially becoming a “diploma mill,” with some pointing to what they see as poor performance indicators at other Infilaw schools. Still others said they felt the faculty probably felt “betrayed” by how the sale was put together. Others questioned if small things, like repairing broken copy machines, would be done in a timely fashion if fixes have to follow corporate chains.
“We get ‘PR’ (public relations) lines whenever questions are asked,” said first-year student Matt Kelly of Savannah, Ga., one of about 40 who attended the question and answer session.
Kelley also questioned what a “for-profit” operation had to gain and if it could keep quality levels consistent by taking over the Charleston school.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.