Charlotte School of Law leaders have made some big mistakes, it seems. Unfortunately, the people paying for those mistakes are hundreds of innocent law school students.
According to recent reporting from the Observer’s Michael Gordon, students received little, if any, warning that the school has been under heavy accreditation scrutiny from the American Bar Association since March 2014, or that it has repeatedly been found lacking in its bar exam passage rate, academic rigor and its admissions standards. The ABA called it a “substantial and persistent” problem.
The 700 or so students at the private, for-profit law school in uptown Charlotte didn’t learn about all that until the ABA formally placed the school on probation in November, news that arrived just as final exams were about to begin.
That was followed by news that these same problems had prompted the U.S. Department of Education to block millions of dollars in student loans and other federal financial aid that would normally flow to the school.
The school had deceived students by masking the extent of its problems, the DOE said.
The school’s leaders dispute that, and say they are working to win back access to federal financial aid.
“Our students’ best interests are paramount,” Charlotte School of Law President Chidi Ogene told the editorial board Tuesday. “We are doing everything we possibly can so that their lives, careers and education aren’t disrupted any more than they already have been.”
It is unclear if classes will resume on Jan. 14 as scheduled.
But what seems abundantly clear is that students remained in the dark about this for months, even as they continued to write hefty tuition checks and take out student loans to cover $60,000 in annual tuition and fees.
It seems particularly unconscionable that the school’s leadership would let students enroll for this fall’s classes without telling them about what was going on – especially since an ABA noncompliance report issued in July required the school to do exactly that. Students surely suspect that the school’s leadership cared more about the income stream than their welfare.
These troubles are sure to revive talk that the taxpayer-funded University of North Carolina system, rather than the private firm Infilaw Inc., is better equipped to provide quality legal training here in Charlotte. Perhaps that is a question the General Assembly should revisit.
We certainly sympathize with students who have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the school. As the law school’s faculty said in an open letter last week, “the missteps of key decision-makers should never overshadow the positive contributions and capabilities” of students and alumni.
As “missteps” go, this one looks catastrophic. Lives have been scrambled, trust betrayed, and career dreams postponed or potentially dashed.
We hope this fiasco doesn’t cost students their financial aid or their futures. But if the bar association and federal education officials are right, we certainly hope it costs the responsible parties their jobs.