The state’s Commission on Higher Education on Thursday gave Charleston School of Law leaders a green light to discuss a possible sale of the private law school to the public College of Charleston.
Edward Westbrook, one of the law school’s founders and a member of its board, had asked the commission to waive for 90 days a prohibition in the school’s operating license agreement that prevented law school leaders from discussing such matters with the college.
Commissioners said that while they voted unanimously in favor of permanently waiving the condition, they are not taking a stance on the sale. They simply wanted to remove an impediment to conversation on the controversial matter.
Retired U.S. magistrate judges George Kosko and Robert Carr, two of the three remaining founders and board members of the law school, however, announced Tuesday that they were proceeding with a sale to the for-profit InfiLaw System. Kosko and Carr represent the majority of the three-member board, and continue to say that a sale to InfiLaw is the best move for the future of the school,
Kosko and Carr said in August that they were willing to consider well thought out and financially responsible alternatives for the school’s future, but they didn’t receive any proposals by their Oct. 1 deadline. Some people and groups have proposed vague alternative proposals, they have said, but no one has come forward saying, ‘We want to buy the law school, and here are our plans to run it.’ ”
In a statement Thursday, Kosko and Carr said, “We are now obligated by contract to move forward with InfiLaw. Indeed, InfiLaw has filed its application for licensure with the Commission on Higher Education and we understand that process is moving forward.”
Many students, alumni and members of the local community have expressed outrage since law school founders announced in July they had entered into a management services agreement with InfiLaw. Outrage grew when they announced in August that they planned to sell the school to InfiLaw. Some of them think a sale to InfiLaw could diminish the value of a Charleston School of Law degree. The company owns three other law schools, which many consider to be “diploma mills.”
Westbrook, who attended the commission meeting, said he was pleased with the decision, which gives everyone concerned about the law school more time to explore options for its future, including transferring ownership to the College of Charleston. That option, Westbrook said, “is likely to be a lot less controversial than InfiLaw.”
Westbrook stated in a proposal last week that at least three other alternatives to InfiLaw exist:
Paying Kosko and Carr a portion of the value of their shares, and remaining a limited liability corporation while the school stabilizes. Kosko and Carr could stay on as board members, but the school also would have respected members of the legal community join the board. Kosko and Carr could redeem the rest of their interests after things have calmed down.
Redeeming all of Kosko’s and Carr’s interests, just as was done for Alex Sanders and Ralph McCullough, the final two of the original five founders.
Exploring transferring ownership of the school to the College of Charleston. Westbrook said that if that option were selected, he would be willing to donate his entire one-third ownership interest to the college.
Richard Sutton, the commission’s executive director, said InfiLaw has applied for a license, which it would need if it ultimately becomes the new owner of the Charleston School of Law.
The commission must approve licenses for all for-profit higher education institutions in the state, he said, and a new owner must apply for a new license.
The commission will work along two parallel paths concerning the law school, he said. It will being the often lengthy process of considering InfiLaw’s license application while communicating with law school leaders who are considering other options.
College of Charleston spokesman Mike Robertson said the college is interested in entering into discussions about a possible acquisition of the law school. “College leadership has heard from many South Carolinians about their concerns for the future of the Charleston School of Law. Given these repeated expressions of concern about the future of the law school and its role in Charleston and the state, coupled with today’s action by the Commission on Higher Education, the college is prepared to enter into these discussions if the Charleston School of Law indicates its interest.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.