Today the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education met in Charleston. Among the agenda items was an update on the Charleston School of Law. Executive Director Sutton gave the update and reported that the strong groundswell of public interest in the law school’s future has demanded significant time, energy, and research from the CHE staff. He noted that the CHE has been hearing from numerous constituencies, including students, alumni, faculty, and others, and he specifically referenced the recent correspondence from Ed Westbrook to the other founders of the law school seeking dialogue on his proposed alternatives to Infilaw.
Dr. Sutton also reported that the CHE had requested a letter of opinion from the Attorney General on whether the redemption of the shares of Judge Sanders and Mr. McCullough represented a transfer of ownership under the meaning of the CHE’s licensure statute and regulations. The AG declined to issue a letter but authorized the CHE to seek an opinion from private counsel. The private counsel (who was not named) opined that the redemption of two of the members of the LLC did not represent a change of ownership that would trigger the need for a new operating license.
Dr. Sutton then suggested that the Commission could discuss a temporary suspension of the condition of CSOL’s license that has throughout its history prohibited the school from even discussing merger or absorption by a state-funded institution of higher learning.
After a brief discussion, Commissioner Hood Temple made a motion to do just that. Without expressing an opinion on whether he would support such a plan, Mr. Temple spoke in favor of giving all those with a potential interest in the law school’s future the freedom to openly discuss a merger with the College of Charleston. Commissioner Lewis Vaughn indicated that he did not oppose conversations but was not in support of such a merger. And Commissioner Bettie Rose Horne spoke up on behalf of students and alumni, arguing that their voices deserve to be heard during this process.
When the motion was called, it passed by unanimous voice vote.
While the Alumni Association has no doubt that Infilaw will continue to press for a speedy approval of its plan to take over the school, we are cheered by this development, as it signals the CHE’s willingness to exercise fully its discretion as a neutral regulator to ensure that the best interests of the CSOL community and the state are protected.