Bowing to increasing public pressure, the two Charleston School of Law directors who brought Infilaw to Charleston have finally admitted what many suspected for weeks: In addition to having signed a management agreement, they also have agreed to sell the school to Infilaw. Their grudging admission raises as many questions as it answers.
For instance, why did they keep this secret? The answer in their public statement refers vaguely to advice “from our lawyers and ABA consultants.” Why did it take a public outcry and a public relations crisis to realize this was bad advice all along?
While finally admitting that a sale agreement exists, the two directors (former federal magistrate judges Robert S. Carr and George C. Kosko) still refuse to answer any meaningful questions about it or to release its contents, claiming privacy.
But the students who pay the tuition that supports the school; the legal community that has given time, effort, and support to the school throughout its formative years; and the city that has embraced the school all deserve better. They deserve to know what will happen when the directors “transfer ownership” to Infilaw.
Is Infilaw buying everything that the school as an entity owns — its property on Woolfe Street, its leases, its employment contracts with faculty and staff? What are the other essential terms of the sale, such as the sales price and manner of payment? Has Infilaw already paid the school or any of its directors any money, and for what purpose? If the sale goes through, will Infilaw have the unfettered right to increase the student population, to move the school, to fire any or all of the professors or administrators currently there?
Those who support the law school are entitled to better. The two directors pushing the Infilaw deal should disclose the agreement in its entirety.
The law school currently has a Board of Advisors composed of leading figures in the legal community. Apparently, even they were not consulted about the decision by the two to sell the school. They, like the rest of us, are in the dark about the details. The law school is subject to regulation by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. The CHE, too, appears to have been shut out of plans to sell the law school.
The need for public disclosure of the “transfer” terms is especially critical because judges Carr and Kosko have announced that they will only consider alternative offers if submitted within 30 days. Some may be skeptical whether they are truly interested in facilitating other offers. The 30-day deadline certainly suggests they are not.
By their own admission, Carr and Kosko have been dealing with Infilaw for years and discussing this “transfer” with Infilaw for a long time. Now they give others just one month to submit alternative proposals. Is there any reason to believe these proposals will be given fair consideration? Or have they already been marked for rejection on the basis that they were too hastily prepared to be seriously considered?
And without disclosure of the terms of the Infilaw “transfer” agreement, how can other interested parties know what terms they must meet to be favorably considered by the two who sit in judgment on the future of the school?
If Carr and Kosko did not see fit to seek the advice of their Board of Advisors on such an important issue as sale of the school, how can they be relied upon to exercise good judgment in evaluating alternative offers?
The Board of Advisors should be consulted in reviewing any new proposals. And the CHE must be given and must critically review every agreement already in place or under consideration between the CSOL directors and Infilaw. The school’s directors do not get to decide if these agreements are relevant to CHE’s oversight —that is the job of the CHE, and we will continue to demand that these documents be turned over to the organization whose job is to be a higher education watchdog for students and citizens.
Though there is still far too much we do not know, we do know that the owners of the law school cannot transfer ownership without the approval of regulators, and we will continue to press for those regulators to exercise their oversight fully and with the best interests of current and future students in mind.
And we also know this: the owners may be able to put buildings and fixtures of the law school up for sale to the highest bidder, but they do not control and, therefore, cannot sell the only things that matter: the good will and support of the CSOL community — the stakes upon which the school’s reputation is founded — are not for sale to Infilaw.
Alissa Collins, secretary of the Charleston School of Law Alumni Board, is an attorney with the Stuckey Law Office.