Those opposing the pending sale of the Charleston School of Law on Friday urged S.C. Commission on Higher Education members to deny would-be owner InfiLaw a license, at a crowded hearing in North Charleston.
InfiLaw representatives and supporters, who were greatly outnumbered in the audience of about 150, said that despite what some people would prefer, the company meets all the regulations and should be granted the license it has requested.
"InfiLaw has the proven ability to own and operate a law school," said Peter Goplerud, president of InfiLaw Management Solutions and former dean at InfiLaw's Florida Coastal School of Law.
Many Charleston School of Law students, faculty and alumni, and some community leaders including Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, believe the change in ownership would lower the school's standards and harms its reputation.
"I'm proud to be at Charleston School of Law, and I can't say that pride will remain if the sale goes through," student Julian Ferguson said.
Faculty member Allyson Stuart said that some of the Charleston School of Law's top students made plans to transfer to other institutions soon after the sale was announced in July.
Charleston School of Law is one of an estimated half-dozen accredited for-profit law schools in the county. InfiLaw runs three of them, in North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona, and last summer agreed to buy the 10-year-old Charleston school.
Charleston School of Law was founded by five local judges and lawyers, four of whom have retired or are retiring. One of the owners, Robert Carr, said the school has improved lives, and improved Charleston.
The school's first class was admitted in 2004, and the school received public support aimed at making it a new downtown institution, including the city's decision to sell property to the school at a below-market price with favorable terms.
One of the school's owners, Edward Westbrook, opposes the sale to InfiLaw. In remarks that were followed by a standing ovation from most of the crowd, Westbrook said Charleston School of Law was meant to be a community institution, not one driven by how much money could be made.
The S.C. Commission on Higher Education arranged Friday's public hearing and will hold a second one Monday at 11 a.m. in West Columbia at Midlands Technical College, 1260 Lexington Dr. On Monday afternoon the commission's Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing is expected to make a recommendation on InfiLaw's licensing application, with a decision from the full commission expected in June.
A number of Charleston School of Law students an alumni expressed concern Friday that InfiLaw's schools have weaker criteria for admission and high attrition rates, resulting in students who don't graduate but end up with large debts.
"Why would you admit someone to law school and take their money if there is not a good chance they will pass the bar (exam)," said Charleston School of Law alumni John Robinson.
State Rep. John King (D-Rock Hill) is a law student at InfiLaw's Charlotte school, and he urged the commission to approve the company's license to operate in Charleston.
"I can tell you, from first-hand experience, I am receiving a solid legal education," King said.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552