Indiana Tech's law school, which opened in 2013 with far fewer students than expected, failed in its first attempt at accreditation and graduated its first students this year — only one of whom passed the state bar examination — will close, The News-Sentinel has learned.
The school on Maumee Avenue just east of downtown built its $15 million law building to accommodate up to 350 students and expected 100 in its initial class but attracted 28. At the time, some critics doubted the need for the school, saying first-year law school enrollments had dropped 28 percent since 2010 to their lowest level since 1973.
Indiana Tech Arthur Snyder said the university has lost $20 million on the law school and, given projected enrollments, expected the deficit to continue. “This was an extremely difficult decision for all involved," Snyder said. "Over the course of time it has become apparent that the significant decline in law school applicants nationwide represents a long term shift in the legal education field, not a short-term one. Specific to Indiana Tech, the assessment of the Board and our senior leadership team is that for the foreseeable future the law school will not be able to attract students in sufficient numbers for the school to remain viable.”
Indiana Tech Law School currently has a total of 71 students, and Snyder said they will have the option to complete the year, with those in their third and final year having the ability to graduate from the law school in May. First and second year students will have the option to transfer to other law schools at the start of the January 2017 semester, or to complete the year at Indiana Tech Law School and then transfer for the start of the fall 2017 semester.
Chris Mackaronis, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing one of the faculty members affected, said the university’s Board of Directors had recently voted unanimously to close the school at the end of the academic year in June 2017. The vote, he said, conflicts with years of representations to the students, faculty and the American Bar Association regarding the university’s commitment to pursue full accreditation and long-term success for the law school.
“Most of the faculty accepted their appointments at great professional risk (based on that commitment)," Mackaronis said, calling the closure a "complete betrayal of what the university and the Board of Trustees represented to the faculty, staff, and students repeatedly over the last few years . . . By all measures, the plan was working,” he said.
The American Bar Association rejected the school's first accreditation bid in 2015 — something school officials said was not uncommon. But the school won conditional accreditation this year, allowing graduates to take the bar exam needed to become practicing attorneys.
That seemed to provide a boost, with school officials announcing in August 50 new students had enrolled for the fall semester. "The news about accreditation, coupled with a program that works from day one to prepare students for careers in law, has made our school very appealing to students from around the country, We received nearly three times as many applicants this year over last year, said Dean Charles Cercone, who succeeded the school's first dean, Peter Alexander after his resignation in May 2014. The incoming class included students from 45 colleges and universities in 15 states.
Of the 20 students who graduated in May, 12 took the exam and one passed.
In a News-Sentinel guest column published in April, Indiana Tech President Arthur Snyder gave the law school a vote of confidence.
"While other law schools may have increased faculty size and expenses to service larger enrollments of the early 2000s and now have to cut back through painful layoffs, Indiana Tech Law School is dedicated to remaining small, and to delivering a program that will teach students how to practice law right after graduation, increasing their attractiveness to potential employers who don't have to spend money training them," he wrote. As recognized by other community leaders in Fort Wayne, our law school has already been an important partner in addressing community challenges."
Mackaronis said his client does not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, but stated that the decision "throws into chaos the lives and academic plans of the student body. The law school’s tuition is just under $20,000. You don’t have to be a lawyer to be repulsed by this outrageous bait and switch.” Although no legal action against the school has been filed because of the closure, that is possible, Mackaronis said.
Other operations at Indiana Tech will not be affected by the closure, officials said. The Law School building will be used for other purposes.