The website is down. School officials are not returning emails. From all appearances, reports of the Charlotte School of Law’s demise were not greatly exaggerated.
News of the apparent closing broke Aug. 15 after the president of the school’s alumni association, Lee Robertson Jr., sent an email to the group’s members informing them that he had spoken to interim dean Paul Meggett and that there was apparently “no path forward” for the institution that has teetered on trouble for some time.
“First, the American Bar Association denied the school’s Teach-Out plan,” Robertson wrote. “Second, the North Carolina Board of Governors … declined to grant an extension of the law school’s license to operate.”
Robertson expressed both sadness and frustration on behalf of the current students whose legal educations and careers are at stake, and of Charlotte graduates whose “professional reputations” might take a hit.
In November, the ABA placed Charlotte on probation after officials determined that the school admitted students who did not appear capable of completing law school or passing a bar exam, and was failing to prepare those students for bar admission and participation in the legal profession.
Then, about a month later, the Department of Education announced that after Dec. 31, it would no longer provide federal student aid to Charlotte’s students. In a news release, the agency said that the move was intended to protect students and safeguard taxpayer dollars while increasing “institutional accountability among postsecondary institutions.”
According to the DOE, Charlotte’s noncompliance with ABA standards were “substantial” and “persistent,” and the school made “substantial misrepresentations regarding the nature of its academic program.”
In June, Charlotte officials were optimistic that its application to resume participation in the Federal Direct Loan Program would be approved and that the school would return to full operation. It submitted a Reliable Plan to the ABA and had hoped that the UNC Board of Governors would reinstate its license.
But in an Aug. 14 letter, the ABA informed Charlotte officials of its unanimous decision not to approve the school’s teach-out plan, which the ABA said assumed that the school would continue to operate as a degree-granting institution.
“At the time of the Council’s consideration, it was not clear whether that assumption was accurate,” the letter states.
What is clear, however, is that Charlotte Law has no money and no license to operate.
The Board of Governors had given Charlotte until Aug. 10 to submit an ABA-approved plan to bring itself into compliance. Charlotte sought an emergency meeting to extend the deadline, but the that request was declined.
After alumni association president Robertson’s letter became public, Charlotte’s communications office emailed students a letter from Meggett and school President Chidi Ogene intended to “clarify” and “supplement” reports they may have heard.
The letter stated that what was said between Meggett and Robertson was not intended for public consumption, but fell short of confirming or denying the school’s closing. According to the letter, the school may still assist students “in a variety of manners,” including conferring degrees to those who finished their coursework before Aug. 11.
The school may also, officials wrote, continue to undertake “non-degree related activities and various administrative functions to assist students, such as processing transcripts and providing career and counseling services.”
“Your best interests remain our primary concern and we will send any necessary updates as they’re available,” the email concludes.
Predictably, not everyone took the information as gospel. The law blog Above The Law posted excerpts of a letter it says it received from a former Charlotte student who transferred to another school after spotting red flags.
“Charlotte School of Law has never cared about its students, but the money they brought in,” the former student is quoted as saying. … “I do not wish terrible things on their families, but for all the faculty and staff at Charlotte School of Law, I wish the same fate the students will suffer upon them.”
After much uncertainty and speculation regarding the future of the school, which has seen its academic profile and employment outcomes decline in recent years, a statement The Charlotte Observer received from Attorney General Josh Stein leaves little doubt about the ultimate outcome.
“If it won’t (voluntarily close),” Stein said, “the attorney general will take action to ensure it complies.”