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Appalachian School of Law Continues to Struggle
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Appalachian School of Law faces many challenges, from enrollment to its location, if it wants to thrive.

Summary: The future of Appalachian School of Law is uncertain, as numbers have declined and many feel the best move for the school is to merge with other colleges, even if it means relocation.

Appalachian School of Law is fighting to stay afloat after its applicant pool sharply declined over the past couple of years, InsideHigherEd.com reports. The school, located in Grundy, Virginia, witnessed its entering class decline from 146 students in 2011 to just 48 students last year. Many professors have left the school as well, and roughly eight professors remain to teach next year.

  
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Understandably, alumni and others who are close to the school are concerned about its future. Many have accused a prominent member of the board of sabotaging many efforts to save the school. These individuals argue that the school should be moved outside of Grundy to save it, but the move would likely hurt the community of Grundy, which has about 1,00 residents.

Others are concerned about the school’s quality. Currently, the school accepts students with some of the lowest LSAT scores in the nation.

Lowering LSAT scores may have serious consequences for law schools.

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The head of an alumni group, Tara Bartosiewicz-Blom, who also serves as a member of the law school’s Board of Trustees, wrote an angry letter to the other trustees. In that letter, she alleged that 47 percent of the school’s student body were failing at least one of their courses, and that the school was so desperate for tuition that it posted an ad on Facebook, stating that it had no minimum LSAT score requirement for admission.

The LSAT is used by law schools to predict students’ first-year academic performance. The American Bar Association has explicitly forbidden schools from admitting students that are not likely to succeed.



Many feel that the school’s location is its biggest problem. The school was opened in Grundy to provide a legal education for rural students. However, as the number of law school applications nationwide has dropped, the school is struggling to enroll students and retain professors.

Donna Weaver, a spokeswoman for the school, said that the school has a few professors it is recruiting, and that one of the eight remaining professors will be away all of the next school year and may not teach any courses.

The letter supposedly written by Bartosiewicz-Blom (she would not confirm writing the letter) expressed concern that there may not be enough professors at the school to decide whether applicants deserve a professor position. The letter read, “Are there plans for retention of new faculty? Who will screen and approve faculty credentials?”

Many alums feel that the school should either affiliate or merge with a college that wants to open a law school, even if this means moving the school outside of Grundy. A member of the class of 2009, Amber Floyd Lee, said that if the school does not move, “it will stay there and run into the ground and lose its accreditation.”

However, many accuse Mickey McGlothlin, the son of a wealthy coal operator and a trustee, of halting efforts to relocate the law school. Grundy is known as a coalfields town.

Lee commented, “It’s unconscionable, and I believe they have breached the fiduciary duty to the law school, to the students, and to the public.”

McGlothlin is very involved in the Grundy community. He is the president of the Appalachian College of Pharmacy in Oakwood, a nearby town. He was formerly an attorney for Buchanan County, where both Oakwood and Grundy are located.

McGlothlin recently said that a compact between the school and Buchanan County is the reason why the school cannot be moved. According to that compact, made with the county’s industrial development agency, the law school cannot be moved without county approval.

In December, national law school enrollment was at a 27-year low.

McGlothlin was the county attorney when the compact was created, and now he serves as a board member, causing many to raise their eyebrows, hinting that there may be conflicts of interest present and that maybe the compact is unenforceable.

Others feel that McGlothlin is so intent on protecting the town by keeping the school there that the school may suffer. The alumni letter said, “The board members have a vested interest in their community; however, they also have a duty to the position they hold. It is with impartiality that the board should make decisions that are not conflicting with any other concerns or interests.”

The spokeswoman for the law school, Weaver, said that the best decisions will be made. “I assure you we will. There is a body of people devoted to the school’s viability, whatever course we take, all stakeholders considered.”

The law school has discussed becoming affiliated with other colleges. Emory & Henry College, a 960-student private college located about 45 minutes from Grundy, and East Tennessee State University, roughly two hours away, have both expressed interest in acquiring the school.

Emory & Henry confirmed that it was discussing a move with Appalachian, but that part of the delay seems to be the law school’s Grundy location. Dirk Moore, a spokesman for Emory & Henry, said that both schools hired consultants who opined that moving the school may be the better option. Officials at Emory & Henry were concerned about managing two separate campuses. Currently, a decision will not be made until the fall.

Interestingly, Mickey McGlothlin’s brother James is in the process of funding a $20 million arts center at Emory & Henry.

East Tennessee also does not have a law school, and approached Appalachian about moving to Johnson City, Tennessee. For both East Tennessee and Emory & Henry, there are advantages to taking over an already-accredited law school, as opposed to creating one from scratch.

Should the law school leave Grundy?

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Although Brian Noland, the president of East Tennessee, has not discussed a move with Appalachian, the school’s head attorney, Ed Kelly, spoke with people close to the law school, sources say.

Law school enrollment has dropped nationwide.

Kelly is a former professor of Appalachian, and his offer attempted to protect the town of Grundy after it lost the law school. His ideas included opening a rural family clinic in the law school building to provide medical care, and he said that scholarships could be offered to Buchanan County residents.

Of course, students who remain at Appalachian are also the center of concern. On top of low LSAT scores, the school also does not use a letter grade grading scale “to alleviate peer competition.” Many students at schools with such a system complain that this makes transferring difficult. In fact, according to DCInno, such a system makes transferring “nearly impossible.”

Sandy McGlothlin is the associate dean for academic affairs, and is married to Mickey McGlothlin. On January 21, she emailed faculty, instructing them not to give first-year students letter grades. She said, “I continue to receive requests from law schools asking that I translate first-year grades into a standard letter grading system so that potential transfer students can transfer all credits for courses in which they received a C or better in their first year at A.S.L. In the event that you receive any such requests, please remember that we cannot assign letter grades to students in the first-year courses, nor can we rank them. To do so would be in violation of our academic standards.”

According to Weaver, the grading system meets American Bar Association standards.

Source: Inside Higher Ed

Photo credit: pbase.com



 

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