Politics & Government

Seen as last hope, Charlotte School of Law dean resigns three weeks into job

Scott Broyles, a faculty member at Charlotte School of Law since it opened in 2006, resigned Thursday morning as dean after only three weeks on the job.
Scott Broyles, a faculty member at Charlotte School of Law since it opened in 2006, resigned Thursday morning as dean after only three weeks on the job. Charlotte School of Law

Scott Broyles, whose appointment as dean of Charlotte School of Law temporarily reunited students, faculty and alumni behind the struggling school, unexpectedly resigned Thursday morning after three weeks on the job.

Broyles said he submitted resignation a little after 9 a.m. As he was packing up his office, Broyles told the Observer that he felt “I was no longer being effective in my job.”

Broyles’ appointment to the No. 2 position at Charlotte Law drew universal approval from students, graduates and faculty, which had all called on top school leaders to resign in the wake of massive problems with the federal government and the American Bar Association that still threaten to close the for-profit, uptown school.

Asked why he was leaving now, Broyles cited disagreements with the administration over strategies to best serve the school, and a growing frustration with the Department of Education’s continue refusal to release loans to cover tuition and living expenses of Charlotte Law’s students. He called the students’ financial plight “tragic.”

He also said that his “frank” public comments about the school’s problems, which he made after his appointment, ruffled other administrators.

“A lot of straws continued to pile on the camel’s back,” he said. “If I felt I could effect anything positive for the school at this point, I would not have resigned. I’m not able to do that anymore.”

Last fall, the bar association placed Charlotte Law on probation – citing longstanding shortcomings in its admissions policy, academic rigor and its graduates’ passage rates on the bar exam that had dropped to the lowest in the state. In December, only weeks before classes were to reopen, the Department of Education made Charlotte Law the first accredited law school ever to be disqualified from the federal student-loan program. The agency accused the school’s top leaders of trying to hide the seriousness of the problems from teachers and students in order to maintain enrollment along with tuition payments of $40,000 per student.

School leaders appealed, accusing the agency of making a political and punitive decision that left Charlotte Law and its students with little time to respond. Embattled school President Chidi Ogene did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Last year, Charlotte Law students received almost $50 million from the program to cover tuition and living expenses. Cut off from that money, hundreds transferred. Over the past year, enrollment has dropped by more than 70 percent to about 220 students, with half of those scheduled to graduate in May.

Those who stayed struggled to come up for ways to pay for rent, food and classes. The faculty and some school administrators set up an emergency food bank.

Broyles and other school leaders thought they had an agreement from education officials that would extend the loans for student who had received them last semester. With only weeks remaining in the semester, the money still has not arrived. Broyles said the situations for students who depend on the loans has “deteriorated further and further.”

Broyles said he plans to return to the classroom. Word of his sudden departure caught the school’s constituents by surprise.

Charlotte Law faculty member Scott Sigman said teachers and students are trying to concentrate on upcoming exams and graduation, but Broyles’ departure has made that harder to do.

“I think both faculty and students had a lot of faith in him and that we were turning the corner. Now there's a question mark when we don’t need any more question marks.”

Alumni president Lee Robertson Jr., a Charlotte attorney, said he was scheduled to have lunch with Broyles on Thursday to discuss the school’s future.

“Obviously, I’m confused by this and concerned by what it may mean,” Robertson said. “The law school had been lobbying the Department of Education to restore federal student loan(s) ... and we were all hoping for a positive announcement in the next few days. I still hope to hear that those efforts have been successful, but am concerned for what this may mean.”

Third-year student Margaret Kocaj of Charlotte said the news brought her to tears.

“He is a man of great integrity, a former federal prosecutor,” she said, minutes after she learned of Broyles’ decision. “I can only imagine that something challenged that integrity.”

Now, Kocaj said, the future of the school seems more imperiled than ever.

“He gave us hope. Without him, I feel that there is no hope,” Kocaj said. “I don’t know what is going to happen. In a couple of weeks I do know that I’m going to graduate. Thank God.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS