COLUMBIA — When Charleston School of Law founders announced their plans to sell the school to InfiLaw System on Aug. 28, the transaction already had been in the works for more than a month.
READ MORE: To read Rep. Leon Stavrinakis’ letter to the commission, go to postandcourier.com.
To read a letter from the Alumni, got to postandcourier.com.
To review documents on the pending sale of Charleston School of Law to InfiLaw System, visit www.che.sc.gov
According to documents released online by the state’s Commission on Higher Education Thursday, law school owners signed a “contingent asset purchase agreement” on July 23.
Commission staffers at a meeting Thursday made a presentation on the status of the school’s planned sale to InfiLaw and the commission’s role in those plans. The process has been murky since law school founders announced July 25 that they had entered into a management services agreement with the InfiLaw System, which sometimes is the first step in a sale. And the picture cleared only slightly after Thursday’s meeting.
Julie Carullo, the commission’s deputy director, said law school founders told the commission on Aug. 29, the day after they publicly announced their planned sale to the for-profit InfiLaw, that they had entered into the purchase agreement on July 23. They have said they will provide a copy of that agreement to the commission, Carullo said, but they haven’t done that yet.
In an Aug. 28 letter to the commission, Robert Carr, one of the school’s founders, said his group held back in announcing the purchase agreement on advice of its lawyers and American Bar Association consultants.
Law school spokesman Andy Brack said the advice was “aggressively conservative.”
Many law school students, alumni and members of the Charleston legal community are opposed to the sale because they said they think InfiLaw’s three other law schools have the reputation of being “diploma mills.”
Renea Eshleman, the commission’s acting director of academic affairs and licensing, said a private, for-profit institution’s operating license is not transferable, so InfiLaw must apply for its own license. The company has sent a letter to the commission saying it intended to do that, she said, but it hasn’t yet completed and filed a license application.
The commission considers applications three times each year, she said, in the spring, summer and fall. The earliest InfiLaw’s application would be considered is in the spring, she said.
The commission evaluates such applications from a “consumer protection” standpoint, Eshleman said. It will consider factors such as the financial health of the company trying to purchase the school, and whether it plans to provide sufficient resources for students.
Law school founders have said they will consider viable purchase offers from other potential buyers, but it remains unclear if their purchase agreement with InfiLaw would allow them to do that.
Eshleman said that likely will be made clear when the purchase agreement is made available.
The law school’s Alumni Board sent a letter to the commission encouraging members to carefully scrutinize the potential sale to InfiLaw.
And some state representatives are closely monitoring the commission’s handling of the potential sale.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis sent a letter to commissioners Thursday stating opposition to the sale, because he doesn’t think InfiLaw schools aspire to meet the state’s higher-education goals for quality and affordability. The letter also was signed by Reps. Peter McCoy, Stephen Goldfinch, Bill Crosby, Robert Brown, Wendell Gilliard and Jenny Horne.
In an email response to the letter, Carr stated, “Although InfiLaw has not yet filed an application seeking approval of the Commission on Higher Education, both InfiLaw and the Charleston School of Law owners believe that this transfer meets the requirements of the commission and look forward to presenting the case at the appropriate time. We have worked with InfiLaw for a long time and believe that (Stavrinakis’) letter mischaracterizes InfiLaw’s approach to legal education and what they bring to the Charleston School of Law.”
John Finan, chairman of the higher education commission, said he thinks the Charleston School of Law issue raises questions about how the commission and the state handle license issues for all for-profit schools, and he plans to hold discussions on that. “Right now they come to us, they meet the criteria, we issue a license,” he said. “But what role should we play in monitoring performance once they are licensed?”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.