Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California will no longer accept new students, following a vote by the Whittier College Board of Trustees. The school will close for good once all current students have graduated, making it the first accredited law school in the country to permanently shut its doors.
In a statement released by the Whittier board on April 19, Chairman Alan Lund said a subcommittee was appointed in 2015 to explore options for the law school. It considered working with the administration and faculty to redirect resources, and considered ways to improve student outcomes. The board also invited a faculty task force to independently assess the law school.
“We believe we have looked at every realistic option to continue a successful law program,” Lund said. “Unfortunately, these efforts did not lead to a desired outcome.”
BAR EXAM PASS RATES HAVE FALLEN
Whittier Law School was first accredited in 1978. It employs 27 full-time faculty, 29 part-time faculty, and 11 administrators. In recent years, application numbers have fallen dramatically, from 1,579 in 2013 to 934 in 2016. About two-thirds of the student body are minority students.
The school has suffered academically, as well. In July 2015, only 38% of Whittier Law graduates passed the California bar exam, putting the school about 20 percentage points under the statewide average.
According to Above The Law, last July’s percentage was even lower, with only 22% of Whittier graduates passing the bar.
OTHER SCHOOLS HAVE MERGED AND SIZED DOWN
Many law schools are dealing with financial problems, largely because of a multi-year nationwide application slump. Last year, Kaplan Test Prep surveyed more than 100 law schools by phone and found that about two-thirds agreed it would be good if at least a few law schools closed.
Other schools have dealt with financial issues in a number of ways, including merging multiple schools and shutting down campuses. In the Whittier board’s statement, Lund said administrators entered into conversations with entities capable of investing in, merging with, or acquiring the school — but no viable plan emerged.
COMMITTED TO CURRENT STUDENTS?
Marc Stevens, a spokesman for the school, told the New York Times that officials are committed to finding a way for current students to finish their education. Nearly 400 students are midway through the program.
“We don’t know how that will occur,” Stevens told the Times. “We are going to do whatever it takes.”
Some students have publicly criticized the Whittier board’s handling of its decision. “Dropping this bomb on all of us three weeks before final exams and commencement ceremony demonstrates a lack of loyalty to everyone, especially the students,” Antonia Reyes told the Los Angeles Times.
Whittier Law School’s faculty are also dissatisfied with the board’s decision. According to Inside Higher Ed., a faculty-authored statement criticizing the decision was posted to the school’s website. The statement has since been removed.
“We are obviously devastated by the Whittier College Board of Trustees’ decision to discontinue the program of legal education at Whittier Law School,” the statement read. “Sadly, our sponsoring institution opted to abandon the law school rather than provide the time and resources needed to finish paving the path to ongoing viability and success. We believe this action was unwise, unwarranted, and unfounded.”