University plans to raise prestige of its law school

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

The University of Toledo college of law wants to shrink by about 20 per cent to eliminate weaker students and result in smaller classes, according to a strategic plan announced yesterday.

The detailed plan, according to Provost Henry Moon, will “help our university regain its prominence among the nation’s law schools” and is “the most progressive academic plan I’ve ever seen at the University of Toledo.”

“This is a historic moment for the college of law,” Dean Phil Closius said.

Among the highlights of the nine-page plan:

* Over the next two academic years, the size of the college will shrink, from 523 students to about 430. That will allow for closer interaction between students and professors and make it easier for the college to provide resources to students.

The university’s night school will be among the hardest hit, as incoming classes will drop from about 50 students to about 25.

It will give a boost to a few key statistics by which the university is measured in the legal community.

Last year, UT finished seventh out of the nine Ohio law schools in its students’ passage rate on their first taking of the state bar exam.

The university ranks in the fourth and lowest quartile in the annual U.S. News & World Report ranking of American law schools.

Eliminating low-end students likely would raise the bar examination passage rate, as well as the average test scores and other statistical data U.S. News uses to evaluate schools.

One of the goals in the strategic plan is for the law school to move into the second quartile of the U.S. News rankings by the 2003-04 school year; another is to rank in the top three among Ohio law schools on bar passage.

Mr. Closius’s predecessor, Albert Quick, started the policy of reducing the law school’s enrollment in 1995, partly in response to complaints from the Ohio Board of Regents that the state’s law schools were producing too many graduates.

In 1995, the law school enrolled 675 students, a number that has dropped by at least 35 students a year ever since. Mr. Quick stepped down in June, 1999.

* Mr. Closius said he wants to better market the college to potential applicants. He said an improved presence on the Internet would help attract students, along with better contacts in the business community to find people in their careers who may be interested in adding a law degree to their qualifications.

The plan’s goal is to increase applications by 45 per cent by 2003-04. Mr. Closius said the marketing efforts the college has begun are working: applications for fall admission are up 33 per cent over last year.

Related to those efforts will be the college’s attempt to improve its reputation in the legal community. The strategic plan calls for more emphasis on bringing “high-profile speakers” to campus and arranging for UT law professors to get exposure on television talk shows and other media.

* The plan calls for an improved coordination of efforts with other colleges of the university.

A new major in the arts and sciences college – law and social thought – will be initiated as an option for pre-law students. The major will be created with the input of law school faculty, who will teach some of the undergraduate classes.

“That’s a level of interaction with undergraduates that I’ve never seen from any law school,” Mr. Closius said.

The plan calls for the installment of an automatic admission program for UT undergraduates. Under the program, UT students who have certain standardized test scores and a certain grade point average will be guaranteed admission to the law school. That could help raise undergraduate enrollment, Mr. Closius said.

The strategic plan was approved unanimously by the UT board of trustees’ academic affairs committee yesterday. The full board is expected to approve it today.

The document has been in the works for 14 months, since Dr. Vik Kapoor took office as president in January, 1999. Dr. Kapoor and Dr. Moon asked the law school to evaluate how it should change to improve. Since then, Mr. Closius and faculty members have been meeting to come up with the document.

Similar strategic reviews are ongoing for the other seven colleges at UT, along with the honors program and the library system.

Mr. Closius and Dr. Moon emphasized that many of the goals expressed in the document are specific and easily quantifiable, and they said they expected to be held accountable for their success or failure in making the changes they believe the colleges need.

“This is a highly specific plan, and we will all be judged by it,” Dr. Moon said.

“A few years from now, the university leadership will be able to look back and see how we did,” Mr. Closius said. “If we’ve done what we said we would, Dr. Kapoor and Dr. Moon and I will get together and start on a new strategic plan. If we haven’t, then it might be a very short conversation.”

Decreasing enrollment without raising tuition will decrease the college’s income. University officials said they did not know how much that shortfall would be, but university spokesman Joseph Brennan said that Dr. Kapoor has pledged to hold overall funding for the college constant to give the school the opportunity to make the proposed changes, even if the college produces less money.

Mr. Brennan said he did not know where the extra funding for the law school would come from, and whether it would mean decreased funding for other university programs. “We see this as an investment in the college of law, and we think it will pay off,” Mr. Brennan said.

Part of the loss of funds will be dealt with through a smaller faculty. Dean Closius said that the school usually has 31 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, a number that he said would drop to 28.

But 28 faculty would be an increase from the current 26, in part because of several law professors taking advantage of the university’s early retirement plan over the last two years.

Faculty response seemed to be mostly positive. More than a dozen law faculty members present at the plan’s unveiling gave it a loud round of applause.

“I’m very happy,” said Professor Howard Friedman. “It’s a well-thought-out plan, and there are going to be very visible benefits for students and the community.”

John Barrett, an associate professor, said that reducing the number of students would create a higher standard of education.

“You get the ability to focus more attention on individual students and on intensive writing projects,” he said. “You also allow yourself to not admit marginally qualified students

“It’s going to help the law school become a much more prestigious place, and that’s going to reflect better on the university as a whole,” he said.