The future of the troubled Charlotte School of Law appeared even murkier Tuesday after the Department of Education confirmed discussions with school leaders about a government program typically reserved for schools closing their doors.
In response to a series of Observer questions this week about the school’s status, a department spokesman acknowledged that it is in “conversations with Charlotte School of Law about students getting an option to participate in a teach out for next semester.”
On its website, the department defines a teach out as “a written course of action a school that is closing will take to ensure its students are treated fairly with regard to finishing their programs of study.”
Whether the teach-out discussions indicate that Charlotte School of Law is shutting down remained unclear Tuesday. The Department of Education did not immediately respond to Observer questions about the future of the 10-year-old, for-profit school.
Despite being battered in recent months by being placed on probation by the American Bar Association and then losing the lifeblood of taxpayer-backed student loans, CSL announced last week that it will reopen in two weeks for the spring semester.
The school, however, already has canceled its regular weeklong Intercession program, and it has announced it will not be admitting new students for the next semester, which is scheduled to begin a week late on Jan. 23.
In a Tuesday statement to the Observer, school leaders say they are “close to completing” an agreement with the DOE to allow eligible students to receive federal loans for the spring semester and to arrange alternative financing for those who need it. They also said they are developing a teach out plan that would allow students “to complete their legal educations in Charlotte under the auspices of another ABA certified law school.”
When asked by the Observer whether the school plans to stay open beyond the coming semester, a school spokeswoman did not respond.
Third-year law student Margaret Kocaj of Charlotte said she faced similar uncertainty during a meeting this month with school leaders when she says she pressed school President Chidi Ogene and its dean, Jay Conison, for specifics about CSL’s future.
“I have no idea how long it will take me to finish this degree,” she said Tuesday. “At this point I don’t know what to believe. I do know that I do not believe the administration. Their story changes with the tide.”
Students have filed two federal, class-action lawsuits against the school, its leaders and its corporate owner, InfiLaw. The complaints allege fraud and deception after the bar association and the Department of Education accused the law school of intentionally hiding its problem from current and future students to maintain enrollment – and the flow of tuition payments.
The school’s graduates scored the lowest pass rates in the state on last year’s bar examination, and government critics say CSL’s admission policies and curriculum leave students with little chance of securing the necessary legal jobs and salaries to repay six-figure school debts. Tuition and fees average about $44,000 a year. Last year, CSL students received almost $49 million in aid from the Department of Education, most of it in tuition loans.
School leaders say improvements already are in place. But as the CSL crisis bleeds into its third month, students, parents and faculty continue to complain that they have been kept in the dark by Ogene and Conison. The faculty already has issued a vote of no confidence against the pair.
Meanwhile, Camille Davidson told students on Monday that Conison asked her to resign from her post as dean of academics. Davidson, who joined the school a semester after it opened, told the Observer that she had voted with the “overwhelming majority” of teachers in expressing no confidence in the school’s leaders. She will remain on the faculty.
“The students have suffered the most,” she said in a statement Tuesday, “and (as a full-time faculty member) I will continue to advocate for them.”
Asked whether teach-out discussions indicate the school is closing, alumni association president Lee Robertson said Tuesday that he hopes “plans for the future of Charlotte School of Law will be made available soon.”
“We know that (students) need information to make informed decisions about their legal education and their futures,” the Charlotte attorney said. “We know that the administration is working tirelessly to ensure that our students have the ability to continue their legal educations.”
Whether that will take place at CSL or some other school is still to be determined.