Tennessee agency rejects proposal to move Valpo Law

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The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has killed a proposed agreement to move Indiana-based Valparaiso University’s law school to Middle Tennessee State University.

Commissioners of the agency voted 8 to 5 to deny the proposal, Tennessee’s Murfreesburo Post reports. The Times of Northwest Indiana also has a story.

“As the state’s higher education coordinating board, the responsibility for weighing both the benefits and challenges of program proposals is at the core of THEC’s mission,” THEC executive director Mike Krause said via email. “Today’s decision reflected a thoughtful analysis and dialogue that was inclusive of all perspectives. We are grateful to [MTSU President Dr. Sidney] McPhee and his board for their collaboration throughout the process.”

Valparaiso University expressed its disappointment in the decision, stating in an email the proposal “was designed to serve prospective students in the Nashville area seeking a legal degree from an accredited, public law school in the Middle Tennessee region.”

“We will continue to provide the opportunity for all currently enrolled students at Valparaiso University Law School to complete their legal education through Valparaiso University Law School in a timely manner,” Valparaiso University wrote.

Tennessee has three ABA-accredited law schools, and some have said that Middle Tennessee should also have a public law school. Valpo Law, a private institution that would have become public with its transfer to MTSU, is the only law school in northwest Indiana and one of the state’s four law schools.

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University officials announced in June that they’d signed a nonbinding letter of intent to transfer the law school to MTSU, the Post Tribune of Northwest Indiana reports. Governing boards of both universities announced last week that they approved the proposed agreement.

Valparaiso’s board of directors decided in November 2017 to suspend the admission of first-year students at the law school for the fall of 2018 in light of “severe financial challenges” and falling enrollment. That news came a few days after the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar removed a 2016 public censure stating the law school was not in compliance with admissions standards. By 2017, the law school got its median LSAT score up to 151 and the censure was lifted. But that year there were only 31 students in Valpo Law’s first-year class, according to its 509 Report.

The law school currently has approximately 235 students, according to a Murfreesboro Daily News Journal report.

The Middle Tennessee State University president said in a news release that this would have been a multimillion-dollar gift, and the area’s only public law school. “THEC’s decision denies a legal education to Nashville-area students financially unable to attend an expensive, nearby accredited private institution or unable to relocate to a public institution hundreds of miles away in Knoxville or Memphis,” McPhee said in the release.

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