Can law school be saved?

The Charleston School of Law building on Meeting Street. (File/Leroy Burnell/Staff)

If anyone has a viable idea for how to resurrect the Charleston School of Law, now is the time to come forward. Saving it would be a boon for the community.

The last two board members of the Charleston School of Law told the faculty this week to expect the school to close. Permanently, barring a miracle.

Enrollment is down and appears unlikely to rebound. InfiLaw, which tried to buy the school and make it its fourth law school, met with strong resistance and has all but washed its hands of it. Apparently no other viable offers have been made to purchase or otherwise save it.

The founders even said that the school’s fate was in the faculty’s hands, not theirs. The founders said that any professor with a plan to keep it alive should take it up individually with InfiLaw.

Some still wonder if this suggestion is just the latest effort to promote the sale of the law school to InfiLaw, as the last gasp for its resuscitation.

But the signs more generally point to the likelihood that the Charleston School of Law will close imminently.

That would be unfortunate for obvious reasons. The law school had a sound reputation, and its graduates are earning respect in their careers.

Also, people involved in business development have said that Charleston’s colleges are key to attracting jobs. The area has several four-year colleges, a technical college, a medical university, a college of the building arts and a college of art and design. The College of Charleston hopes to add to its advanced degree programs. A law school rounds out the higher education picture.

If the law school folds, it will be a loss to the area as well as to the students, faculty and alumni who put their trust in the institution and whose careers could be affected by its demise.

Of course, the five men who founded the school have prospered. They each received $5 million in profits from the school. Two were bought out, leaving three remaining owners.

One of them, Ed Westbrook, had hoped to find a way for the Charleston School of Law to become a non-profit organization. Some had hoped it would become part of the College of Charleston. But both ideas have faltered.

The Charleston School of Law was established as a private school, so in a sense the owners are not answerable to the public. But the school benefitted from the support and good will of the community. And owners led students, faculty and the community to believe that the school was sustainable. Given its early success, it should have been.

It is a disappointment that the law school has come to this point. Since it has become increasingly evident that the InfiLaw option isn’t going to fly, the focus should shift to other prospects.

A column on today’s Commentary page, signed by a majority of the faculty, clearly shows the professors’ dedication to the school and its students. And the school has other assets — its campus, its accredited program, its students, and the recognized value of the degrees they have earned. There ought to be a way for a non-profit to assume control of the college. Presumably, that would require current owners to lower any further financial expectations or forgo them altogether. (Mr. Westbrook has previously stated his support of and willingness to contribute financially to that idea.)

Saving the college as a non-profit institution could restore some of the good feeling and high hopes that accompanied the opening of this ambitious enterprise 12 years ago and helped it thrive for many years thereafter.