Politics & Government

Fed up Charlotte School of Law alumni target top leaders

Charlotte School of Law reopened Monday

After a stormy week that included layoffs of staff and faculty the Charlotte School of Law opened its doors again for classes and students.
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After a stormy week that included layoffs of staff and faculty the Charlotte School of Law opened its doors again for classes and students.

The alumni of Charlotte School of Law has become the latest group to call for a change of leadership to save the foundering uptown school.

In a letter sent Tuesday morning, the graduates have demanded that President Chidi Ogene and Dean Jay Conison immediately resign.

If the two continue in their current jobs, the school’s reputation “and thereby the reputations of its students, faculty and alumni will suffer irreparable harm,” according to the letter from the Charlotte School of Law Alumni Association.

The group’s president, Charlotte attorney Lee Robertson Jr., told the Observer on Tuesday that almost 800 association members took part in a special referendum last month, with “the overwhelming majority” voting no confidence in Ogene and Conison.

In a response released Tuesday morning, school spokeswoman Victoria Taylor said Conison and Ogene “are working to ensure that all CSL students can complete their legal education here in Charlotte. To this end, CSL is open, classes are underway, and our faculty, staff and students continue to serve the Charlotte community through involvement in legal and non-legal programs.”

The school’s faculty, which was cut in half by layoffs last month, have issued a similar demand for a change at the top. Students have been publicly critical of Ogene and Conison’s handling of the accreditation and financial crisis now threatening to swamp the 10-year-old, for-profit school.

In November, Charlotte School of Law was placed on probation by the American Bar Association, which cited the school’s chronic failings with admissions standards, curriculum and its graduates performance on the bar examination – by far the lowest in North Carolina.

In December, the Department of Education made Charlotte Law the first accredited law school ever to be expelled from the federal student-loan program. Last year, the school received almost $50 million in federal dollars to cover tuition and living expenses.

Both groups accused Conison and Ogene of willfully hiding the extent of the school’s problems from current and future students to maintain enrollment – and tuition payments that can top more than $40,000 a year.

The loss of student loans, which occurred only weeks before the start of the new semester, set off a mass desertion by students. Many of those who chose to stay are struggling to pay rent, buy food and stay in school. Students have filed a series of state and federal lawsuits accusing the school and administration of deception and fraud.

Charlotte Law is owned by InfiLaw, which also operates for-profit law schools in Arizona and Florida.

Ogene and Conison say Charlotte Law continues to fight the federal decision over student loans. In the administration’s statement Tuesday, Taylor said the school has “submitted a plan to address the issues raised during the American Bar Association accreditation review process. CSL remains accredited by the ABA.”

The alumni, however, say they have seen enough.

The steps taken by the bar association and federal education officials “have brought to light the misguided acts and decisions of CSL’s past and current administration and the Infilaw System,” their letter states.

When the alumni association raised concerns about falling admission standards, increasing class sizes and deteriorating bar exam passage rates, and “dismal” employment statistics, “Consistently our concerns were ignored or discounted.

All the while, they say, Ogene, Conison and InfiLaw “attempted to justify what cannot be ignored or justified.”

When asked if the president and dean intend to remain in their jobs or meet with alumni to address their concerns, Taylor said the pair are keenly focused on the restoration of federal financial aid at Charlotte School of Law and on ensuring that current students, who desire, have the opportunity to complete their education at Charlotte School of Law.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS