UI trustees approve law school for Chicago campus

UI trustees approve law school for Chicago campus

URBANA —  After two years of talks, University of Illinois trustees Thursday approved a merger between the University of Illinois Chicago and the private John Marshall Law School.

The acquisition of the downtown Chicago law school by the UI's Chicago campus would take effect in fall 2019, with John Marshall transferring its students, faculty, funds and degree programs to the university over time.

Trustees approved a resolution supporting the plan and a formal proposal to establish the UI Chicago John Marshall College of Law. Trustees at John Marshall took similar action Thursday.

Outlining the benefits to students and faculty, UI Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis said he expects the needed approvals and transfer agreements to be completed by next July. He said the move follows  the UI Chicago's acquisition of independent medical, dental and pharmacy schools a century ago.

"We are confident we can follow the same tradition and the same excellence with a new law school," he said.

Amiridis said the campus will not seek any new state funds to support the law school.

As John Marshall is integrated into the UI Chicago, officials anticipate "the law school will continue to generate sufficient revenue through student tuition to support its operations and educational mission, and no internal reallocation of financial resources from other UI Chicago or University of Illinois System sources, and no new state appropriations, will be required to fund the UIC John Marshall Law School," the board item says.

Funds shifting; locations aren't

John Marshall and its foundation will move funds and endowments to the University of Illinois Foundation, "to be used according to their respective terms" for the law school. John Marshall will transfer "substantial" unrestricted funds to the foundation over the next five years after closing.

The law school will continue to operate in three buildings and other office space it owns in the South Loop area of downtown Chicago. The newly merged law school would accept its first class in fall 2019.

"This is a very exciting opportunity for UIC and the city of Chicago," said Trustee Ramon Cepeda, a UI Chicago graduate.

Enrollment for 2018 is expected to be about 1,000 students in three degree programs. The school will continue to offer its Juris Doctor, Master of Laws, and Master of Jurisprudence degrees, and separate requests to establish them as UI degrees will be reviewed this coming year by the UI Chicago faculty senate, University Senates Conference and the UI Board of Trustees.

The faculty senate and Senates Conference had signed off on the plan this spring.

"The faculty are clearly excited about this, not just the senates ... but rank-and-file faculty," said UI President Tim Killeen.

John Marshall Law School will be integrated into the academic reporting structure at the UI Chicago, with the dean reporting to the campus provost.

About 50 full time Marshall law professors will become faculty members at the UI Chicago. The school also has an "extensive" roster of adjunct faculty, including prominent attorneys and sitting judges, the board item says.

Filling a 'justice gap' in Chicago

The UI Chicago had announced last November that it was in merger talks with John Marshall, a diverse private institution in Chicago’s South Loop area.

Backers say almost two-thirds of the public universities designated as top-tier research institutions by the Carnegie Foundation have law schools. The UI Chicago, the second-largest university in the state, is among the 35 percent that do not.

John Marshall is an independent law school, and its affiliation with the UI Chicago would allow it to expand its current programs within a strong public university, creating the first public law school in Chicago, officials say.

A merger website set up by the two schools cites a natural alignment between the campus’ public mission and John Marshall’s commitment to provide access to students from underserved communities and fill a “justice gap” for Chicago residents. It also said Chicago is one of few major cities in the United States without a public law school.

Vikram Amar, dean of the College of Law in Urbana, made clear this week that the new school would be separate from the 121-year-old UI College of Law at the Urbana-Champaign campus, and that his school would continue its strong presence in Chicago.

Founded in 1899, John Marshall has about 900 students, twice the size of the more selective UI College of Law. Tuition at John Marshall is $48,600 annually.

But like other law schools, Marshall has seen an enrollment decline, down from 1,200 in 2011, according to American Bar Association reports.

The UI Chicago, on the other hand, has been growing steadily, with overall enrollment last fall up 5 percent to a record 30,539.

UI Chicago administrators have touted the academic benefits, including interdisciplinary programs for students and research opportunities for faculty that bridge law and other fields at the campus, including health sciences, engineering and technology, urban planning, public administration, social sciences, and business.

One initiative would be a guaranteed admission law track for students in the honors college, similar to an existing program in health sciences, Amiridis said Thursday.

Given the commitment to diversity by both institutions, Amiridis said, the merged program will contribute to the diversity of legal education and the law profession in Chicago.

Long in the making

The UI Chicago and John Marshall had tried to negotiate a partnership before, in 1998, ranging from an affiliation to a merger. But those negotiations ended in 2001.

More recently, the two schools held informal talks for 16 months before November’s announcement, which said a preliminary financial assessment by an outside consultant and an internal analysis concluded that a merger would be feasible.

Since November, faculty and staff from the two schools have been exploring issues related to a merger in more detail, including financial considerations, real estate, accreditation, academic collaborations, student interests and educational policy.

UI officials have promised that no funds currently allocated to other UI colleges would be used for the law school.

The merger does not require legislative action, but it would have to be approved by trustees from both schools, the Illinois Board of Higher Education and both the American Bar Association’s legal education council and the Higher Learning Commission, the accrediting agency for both schools.

John Marshall isn’t included in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the top 150 law schools. The UI College of Law currently ranks 37th. But according to John Marshall’s website, its programs in legal writing, trial advocacy and intellectual property law all ranked in the top 20.