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Valparaiso University Law School runs out of options, will close its doors within two years

Wesemann Hall at the Valparaiso University Law School is pictured. The university's board of directors has voted to teach out the remaining students and close the law school. 

VALPARAISO — After nearly 140 years of training attorneys, Valparaiso University Law School will soon cease operation.

Students, faculty and staff were informed Monday of the VU board of directors' decision to shutter the doors of the school which has produced thousands of attorneys scattered across the globe.

The decision to close the school came after a deal fell through earlier this month with Middle Tennessee State University to transition the Valparaiso law school to the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, campus. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission voted against MSTU creating a juris doctor program.

"That was the only viable option," VU President Mark Heckler said Tuesday.

At a board meeting on Friday, the VU board of directors voted to teach out the remaining students and cease operations.

"It is the only option for us at this point," Heckler said.

In November 2017, Valparaiso University announced its decision to suspend admission of a first-year law school class in fall 2018, and its intention to pursue strategic alternatives regarding the financial viability of the law school. Significantly declining law school enrollment, especially in the Great Lakes region, and a lessening demand for those entering the legal profession significantly impacted the sustainability of the law school, according to VU officials.

Heckler said the university must now work with two accrediting agencies, the Higher Learning Commission and the American Bar Association, to finalize its plan for the remaining law students at Valparaiso University.

Heckler said there are currently 80 third-year law students who will complete their law degrees by May 2019. 

It is the 17 second-year law students whose education is in question. There had been 29 second-year students, but 12 have already transferred out of the university.

Heckler said they will meet with each of the students and review their options. They will have several options, including remaining at VU, transferring to a different law school or remaining enrolled at VU while taking classes at another law school.

Heckler said they have to develop a plan that meets the needs of the students along with the criteria of the two accrediting agencies. He said they intend to have a plan in place by Thanksgiving.

Heckler said it is "premature to speculate" how many second-year students may transfer and whether or not that could mean the law school would close its physical facilities at the end of this academic year.

As for faculty and staff, Heckler said they signed severance agreements last year when the university announced it was suspending admissions and seeking alternatives. They were given a "stay bonus" for returning this academic year. They will have the option of applying for other jobs within the university if they qualify.

The law school, he said, must maintain certain staffing requirements to meet accreditation standards.

"It has been very painful for everybody," Heckler said about the decision, calling it a "very sad day."

"This has been an extremely difficult decision and is the result of several years of careful discernment," said Frederick G. Kraegel, chairman of the board of directors of Valparaiso University. "We have explored a number of strategic alternatives. Despite these efforts, we have not been able to achieve a more positive outcome."

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.