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Law Schools Building Multi-Million Dollar Facilities Despite Low Enrollment
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Law Schools Building Multi-Million Dollar Facilities Despite Low Enrollment

Summary: Law schools nationwide are carrying out construction projects that have been planned for years that will provide bigger, better space for students and faculty.

Although enrollment has declined nationwide for law schools, many are still expanding their campuses. The National Law Journal reports that four northeastern law schools have opened multimillion-dollar properties in the past month, and even more are planned or under construction in other states.

  
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Many law school deans clarified that the facilities were needed and planned before the legal job market dwindled and enrollment at law schools plummeted. For example, Fordham University School of Law began planning the Lincoln Center campus in New York City back in 1997, according to dean Michael Martin. The school’s 1961 campus was simply too small. The admissions office, as well as offices for clinics and international programs, were often spread into multiple buildings. Dean Martin said, “The [American Bar Association] would say, ‘Fordham, you have a great program but your facility is cramping it.’” The new building will be able to accommodate an additional 500 students. Dean Martin added, “We weren’t building for 2007 or 2014. We were building for the next half-century.” The building will also provide space for additional programs, including a master’s for non-attorneys.

Boston University School of Law’s tower on the Charles River also became an issue. The tower, built in 1964, needed an upgrade, according to dean Maureen O’Rourke: “The timing is bad in the sense that some people are thinking, ‘Is this the right time to be building?’ But in my view, the answer is yes. This was a necessity…our tower is 50 years old and needed an upgrade.” Approximately $180 million has been spent by the school for the new Sumner M. Redstone building and tower renovations. The buildings are adjacent and will be connected when the renovations on the tower are finished next year.

Quinnipiac University School of Law also has a new $50 million building. Although enrollment is less than 300 at the moment, the building will be able to accommodate 500 students. University president John Lahey said that the building was a symbol of the university’s commitment to the law school’s future.

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Many buildings demonstrate the changes that teaching the law has undergone in recent years. Instead of many large lecture halls, the schools have provided facilities that encourage hands-on learning and collaboration between students and professors. Smaller rooms for clinics and client interviews are also included in the designs. In addition, room for student organizations and law journals, which have also increased nationwide, are included. Rather than a gloomy library environment, these buildings have introduced light-filled atriums and even cafes and lounges. Syracuse University College of Law dean Hannah Arterian said, “The feel of the building is really powerful and positive. The sense I’m getting from students is that they’re happy with it. You would have to see our old facility to understand the magnitude of the difference.”

Of course, the expensive construction is risky for many schools, especially those that are not affiliated with a larger university. Thomas Jefferson School of Law floated bonds to build a $90 million property that opened in 2011, but as applications declined and faculty layoffs were implemented, the school missed a bond payment and now owes creditors $2 million. The school released a statement that said, “The parties are currently considering the various approaches that have been developed by the advisers to the school and the bond holders, and are confident that an agreement will be reached in the near term.”



Fundraising or projects are ongoing at Georgia State University College of Law, the University of South Carolina School of Law, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and Washburn University School of Law.

Doug Sylvester, dean of the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said, “I agree that the legal education ‘market,’ for lack of a better word, has serious problems. But they are not generalizable. It is just simply not true that ASU is experiencing, or that alumni are experiencing, the kinds of difficulties that so many others are.” The law school has planned a move from a 50-year-old building on the main campus in Tempe to a new $129 million building in Phoenix that is nearly double the old building’s size.

Photo credit: adhesives.org



 

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