Law Schools

Western Michigan University trustees vote to end affiliation with Cooley Law, calling it 'a distraction'

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Cooley Law stadium

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Western Michigan University’s board of trustees voted Thursday to end its affiliation with the Cooley Law School. The meeting was livestreamed on the university’s YouTube channel.

The institutions entered into a formal association in 2013, according to a board of trustees agenda posted on the TaxProf Blog. Under the agreement the schools had co-branding, but maintained financial and academic autonomy. In the past three years, the law school has faced two public notices of accreditation compliance issues.

James McGrath, president and dean of the law school, did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal interview request.

The affiliation agreement requires a written notice of three years if one party decides to terminate it, according to the meeting agenda. It states that the institutions had hoped that the affiliation would improve the quality of education at both schools, but that hasn’t happened, and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a focus on the core missions.

“Ventures not at the center of WMU’s strengths and mission have been eliminated to maintain focus and stability through these unprecedented times. The board believes that affiliation with Cooley has become a distraction from the university’s core mission,” the agenda states.

In May, the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar found that Cooley Law was one of 10 schools not in compliance with Standard 316, a recently revised accreditation standard that requires a bar passage rate of at least 75% within two years. The school’s ultimate bar passage, which is based on 2017 graduates, is 66.01%, according to ABA data.

The law school also received public notice from the council in 2017 that it was out of compliance with Standard 501(b), which focuses on admissions, and Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions.

After the notice was posted on the council’s website, Cooley Law filed a lawsuit against the ABA, alleging that public notice of the school’s accreditation compliance violated the Higher Education Act and common law due process.

In March 2018, the legal ed section announced that the law school was back in compliance with the accreditation standard, and the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal in October 2018.

Based in Lansing, Michigan, the law school closed its campus in Kalamazoo, Michigan, this year and plans to close its Grand Rapids, Michigan, campus in August 2021.

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