It’s been a crazy two months for Thomas M. Cooley Law School. In July, the institution announced that it would hold off on enrolling the Ann Arbor campus’s entire fall class of 2014, and that it might even shut the campus down. Last week, it officially became the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The name change will immediately apply to Cooley’s four Michigan campuses, MLive reports. It’ll have to be approved by the Florida Commission on Independent Education before going into effect at the Tampa campus.
Meanwhile, the layoffs Cooley warned about last month are finally happening this week. The nixed employees are getting severance packages, but the school is keeping silent on how many of them it has laid off.
Cooley Law and Western Michigan have had a relationship since 2002. They’ve partnered on three joint degree programs: a JD/MBA, a JD/Master’s in Public Administration, and a JD/Master’s of Social Work. They began planning their engagement in April 2013; now that they’ve been joined in holy matrimony, they’re preparing to launch a law minor for Western Michigan undergrads and a 3+3 program for aspiring lawyers who want to rack up a bachelor’s and a JD in six years.
The benefit to Cooley Law is obvious. To put it lightly, the school’s reputation could use work. Along with the whole potentially-shutting-an-entire-campus-down thing, the school is known for having high tuition and low employment rates, as well as for being sued by former students for misrepresenting its employment statistics. (The lawsuit was dropped, but the fact that it existed—and garnered widespread attention—is bad enough.) In April, Above The Law named it the worst law school in America.
Plus, in general, unaffiliated law schools tend to suffer from reputation problems. In a report titled ‘Law Schools Respond to Fundamental Changes in the Legal Industry,’ Moody’s Investor Service wrote, “As students evaluate the return on investment for a high-priced professional degree, law schools without premier brands or the resources of a comprehensive university will face greater credit stress and risk of closure . . . .” Western Michigan isn’t Berkeley, but it’s still a large public school—and that’s dependable.
Western Michigan President John Dunn explained his side of things to MLive. “This move will broaden the range of opportunities available to students, expand the collaboration and research options available to faculty members, and improve the range of services to students, employees and our respective communities,” he said. Law schools are quickly losing their status as the cash cows of academia, but there’s probably still something to be gained from expanding students’ options—even if that means partnering up with Cooley.