Valparaiso University announced Thursday that its law school would no longer admit new students. While such announcements sometimes mean a law school is closing, Valparaiso insists that is not the case there.
Rather, the university is going to seek to merge its law school with that of another institution, or to move the law school to another part of the country, where it might attract more students.
The law school is more than 130 years old, but it has been struggling to enroll enough students to function. Only 29 new students enrolled this fall, down from more than 200 as recently as 2013.
In an interview Thursday evening, President Mark A. Heckler said that the law school faced many of the same challenges confronting other law schools. And indeed, many have responded to declining applicant interest by reducing the size of their programs. In April, Whittier College announced that it would shut its law school.
Heckler said that the Valparaiso law school previously had a reserve fund, but that the fund had been depleted. He declined to say how much the university provided to the law school.
Beyond problems facing legal education generally, Heckler said that Valparaiso faced geographic challenges. The law school is among four in the state of Indiana. Further, because the university is located in the northwest part of the state, it is part of the Chicago law school market, and one of six law schools there, the others more centrally located in or near the city.
Asked why the university didn't follow the lead of Whittier and simply shut down the law school, Heckler said, "We have a 138-year tradition and very strong people."
Valparaiso, a Lutheran institution, is proud of the way its faith tradition has influenced its law school, Heckler said. "We think there is a need for a law school that sees the law as a calling, as a service," he said.
The university will consider locations anywhere in the country, he said. Further, it will consider affiliations with law schools that do not share the university's faith, provided there is respect for the law school's commitment to service. Faculty members would have to support the new location or partner, he said. Depending on location, accreditors and state agencies might also be involved in a review of any proposed change.
Heckler said that some discussions about affiliations or moves have already taken place, although he could not reveal any details about them.