The Middle Tennessee State University board unanimously approved plans Wednesday to transfer Indiana-based Valparaiso University’s law school to its Murfreesboro campus. The school’s leadership says the move makes sense for its mission and the region’s needs.
But before the transfer can officially occur, MTSU has to convince the state the law school is actually necessary. It’s now moving forward to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Valparaiso’s accreditor, the American Bar Association, for final review.
They will determine whether the school is necessary in Middle Tennessee, given that three other law schools already exist in the region. But, those schools are all private, says MTSU Provost Mark Brynes, and the region needs a public law school option.
“With a population that’s growing rapidly we think there’s going to be plenty of demand for this,” said Brynes. “We’ve had two feasibility studies done on this program. Do we really need this program? The answer is in our view a resounding yes.”
Despite MTSU’s analysis, THEC says it has hired an outside consultant to conduct a feasibility study with a research firm that specializes in the higher education industry. The commission says it expects to release results on Oct. 15.
Thus far, THEC says, there is “no precedent to a proposal of this nature” in Tennessee.
Valparaiso Law School announced last fall that it would no longer be admitting new students, after only 29 students enrolled in the institution. It said it would begin looking for merger options.
This proposal, more specifically, is for Valparaiso University to gift MTSU its law school’s curriculum infrastructure, American Bar Association accredited J.D. program and around 18 faculty members.
MTSU plans to reimburse the institution for interim expenses, such as faculty salaries, while the transfer is being settled.
Brynes says the deal helps MTSU fulfill its long-term expansion plans more cheaply.
“One of the reasons this is such an outstanding opportunity for us is we’re not starting from scratch. We’re taking a J.D. program that’s in existence and doing well and simply moving it from Indiana to TN,” he said.
MTSU plans to house the law school in its Miller Education Center, though it says it may spend up to around $3.5 million this year for renovations or added space.