The already reeling Charlotte School of Law has fired much of its faculty – a possible response to what’s expected to be a significant drop in enrollment when the school reopens next week, the Observer has learned.
Sources said that up to two-thirds of the school’s professors and staff were notified in the past two days. The massive cuts come less than a week before the school is supposed to reopen despite crippling financial problems that threaten to overwhelm it.
A fired faculty member who asked not to be named out of concern of retaliation told the Observer that Dean Jay Conison made personal phone calls to the affected staffers starting Wednesday night. Those calls continued Thursday morning, the former faculty member said.
The Observer has also learned that the faculty cuts will kill some of the school’s legal clinics, which give students experience in handling legal cases involving nonprofits, entrepreneurship and such pressing social issues as homelessness and immigration.
The immigration clinic alone had more than 50 ongoing legal cases that now will be closed, sources say. That means many of the people served must now go elsewhere for help.
“The problems at the school are now reaching beyond the students and are hurting the population of Charlotte,” said Margaret Kocaj, a third-year law student and outspoken critic of the school administration’s handling of the ongoing crisis. “We’re hurting people who needed the help of these clinics who now will not get it.”
School spokeswoman Victoria Taylor said Thursday that the school does not comment on personnel decisions. But she did say that the school expects “to have fewer enrolled students in the spring than we did in the fall,” while adding that “The good work that CSL faculty and staff have done in the community through our clinics will continue.”
According to the class schedule for the new semester, which was released Thursday for the first time, six of the school’s clinics will remain open.
Former faculty member Brian Clarke, now teaching at Western Carolina University, said the faculty already had been hit by high turnover before the firings.
“I think, overall, there’s just sadness,” he said, when asked to describe the mood of his former colleagues. “We all know in our hearts that Charlotte School of Law could have been a good school and done a lot of good.
“Then for all of it to come crashing down, and in a way that met our worst fears. … The levels of frustration have just become overwhelming. We were all trying to do something good, and it just went bad.”
The faculty firings are the latest public setback for the uptown, for-profit school. In November, the American Bar Association put the school on probation, citing chronic problems with admissions, curriculum and bar exam scores. In December, the Department of Education made CSL the first accredited law school ever to lose access to federal student loans. Last year, students at the Charlotte school received almost $50 million for tuition, fees and living expenses. Both the government and the bar accused school leaders of intentionally hiding its problems from students in hopes of protecting enrollment.
This week, the crisis facing the school seemed to worsen.
On Wednesday, the Department of Education announced that negotiations with the school over the return of millions of dollars in student loans have broken down. A top education official accused school leaders of reneging on a preliminary deal that would have restored some of the lost money.
Thursday, school President Chidi Ogene and Conison issued an extraordinary statement in which they accused the Department of Education of breaking the law and violating its own rules by cutting off loans to students last year.
“It is regrettable that the Department of Education leadership, in the very last days of its tenure, has chosen to jeopardize the future of all our students,” the statement said. “… That is why we will continue to fight aggressively for the interests of every one of our students when the new administration takes responsibility for the department.”
School leaders said they are continuing “to work aggressively to protect our students’ rights. … We are not holding our students’ education hostage to these negotiations.”
Kocaj of Charlotte said Thursday that contrary to their statement, school leaders in fact do hold their remaining students hostage by withholding vital information solely to minimize the financial damage to the school.
“We have students who couldn’t make an informed decision for a life-altering plan because the school chose not to share information,” she said. “Again, it’s just infuriating. We’re smarter than that. You guys (Ogene and Conison) should have told us this stuff beforehand. You have held our futures hostage.”