Monday, November 9, 2020

Western Michigan University Votes to End its Affiliation from Cooley Law School

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Western Michigan University’s board of trustees voted Thursday to end its affiliation with the Cooley Law School. Western Michigan University will separate from Cooley Law School after hopes for the partnership failed to materialize over the last seven years.

The WMU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to begin a three-year process to withdraw from agreements that first created Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in July 2013. Under the agreement the schools had co-branding, but maintained financial and academic autonomy.

The affiliation agreement requires a written notice of three years if one party decides to terminate the agreement. The agreement stated that the institutions had hoped that the affiliation would improve the quality of education at both schools, but that did not happen.

Western Michigan University believed that affiliation with Cooley had become a distraction from the university’s core mission. In the past three (3) years, the law school has faced two public notices of accreditation compliance issues.

In May, the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar found that Cooley Law was one of 10 schools not in compliance with Standard 316, a recently revised accreditation standard that requires a bar passage rate of at least 75% within two years. The school’s ultimate bar passage, which is based on 2017 graduates, is 66.01%, according to ABA data.

The law school also received public notice from the council in 2017 that it was out of compliance with Standard 501(b), which focuses on admissions, and Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions.

The separation comes after Cooley announced another effort to downsize the law school, once the largest in the country, by merging its Grand Rapids campus with the location in Lansing.

Cooley once had campuses in Lansing, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Auburn Hills and Riverview, Florida, near Tampa. At its peak in 2010, it enrolled nearly 4,000 students.

There were 1,156 students enrolled at Cooley in the fall of 2019, according to its website. Once the Grand Rapids campus closes next year, only the Lansing and Florida campuses will remain.

Reducing the size of the law school has allowed Cooley officials to focus on enrolling students who can better pass the state bar exam, reduce tuition, continue operations without a significant deficit and shed unneeded infrastructure.

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