After months of contentious, distracting debate, it's time for the Charleston School of Law to focus on its mission: educating people to become ethical, community-minded lawyers.
InfiLaw, the Florida-based corporation that would like to purchase and operate CSOL, last month chose to abandon, for now, its efforts to obtain the necessary license.
And while InfiLaw leaders say they're still in the game, CSOL leaders should acknowledge that the school has suffered while a public debate has raged over InfiLaw's ownership bid. CSOL can expect more of the same while waiting for InfiLaw to seek licensing. Julie Carullo, director of external affairs for the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, said if InfiLaw still wants to be licensed to operate CSOL, it will need to start the application process all over again. Its initial effort had gone on almost a year when InfiLaw withdrew its application.
School founders should resolve the issue by moving forward to make the Charleston School of Law not-for-profit. Right away. Already the school has lost at least 50 students - 32 transferred out, and 18 who were accepted and planned to attend CSOL changed their minds, possibly due to the school's uncertain direction.
There is uncertainty, too, among faculty and staff members who opposed InfiLaw's takeover, particularly since two of the three founders who are still active at CSOL continue to support the InfiLaw deal.
The third founder, Ed Westbrook, who openly opposed the sale, wants CSOL to become a non-profit school. So do representatives of both the current student body and CSOL alumni.
Only a handful of law schools in the country are for-profit, and Mr. Westbrook says wide support for a locally operated CSOL, demonstrated during the months-long dealings with InfiLaw, augur well for such a change that would keep it local - and viable.
The prospect of CSOL becoming a non-profit entity guided by a dedicated and knowledgeable board would resolve widespread objections to the sale and render moot the questions about InfiLaw and its plans for the college that were left unanswered when it unexpectedly withdrew its licensing application.
While there has been debate about the school's financial situation, Mr. Westbrook said in a prepared statement, "Before the two Founders entered into the InfiLaw transaction, the Charleston School of Law had never borrowed any money (except startup funds), had never lost any money, had consistently made a profit since startup, had never laid off an employee, never cut salaries" and enjoyed widespread internal and external support.
Mr. Westbrook also insists that any shortfall CSOL might face is a result of the planned sale to InfiLaw, including the loan of $6 million to pay Alex Sanders and Ralph McCullough for their shares in the school.
Mr. Westbrook has said it is the moral responsibility of the founders who brought in InfiLaw to make up any shortfall. Although he voted against the association with InfiLaw, he has offered to pitch in.
The Charleston School of Law has been an asset to Charleston and to the legal community during its decade of local ownership.
And the fall semester begins 10 weeks from now. The school's owners and administrators need to act quickly in the interest of CSOL students and alumni, who want a concrete plan to make CSOL a "community-centered, non-profit school which strives to serve its motto, 'pro bono populi.' " They believe that can be accomplished by the end of the summer.
That would be good news for CSOL and for the communities it benefits.
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