The governing boards of Middle Tennessee State University and Valparaiso University have endorsed the transfer of Valparaiso's law school to the Murfreesboro campus, leaders from both institutions announced Wednesday.
MTSU's Board of Trustees approved an agreement outlining the transfer, as well as a recommendation to create a College of Law and establish a Juris Doctor degree, at a special meeting Wednesday. The vote followed approval of the document last week by Valparaiso's Board of Directors.
The proposal now goes to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission for consideration."This would be the only accredited, public law school in the region, and would provide access to a legal education to many residents of Tennessee who cannot relocate to attend school elsewhere or afford a private law school," said MTSU Board Chairman Stephen Smith after the vote.
"This proposal would be transformational for our university," Smith said. "It would be of great benefit to students who want a more affordable and accredited legal education near Nashville, the seventh-fastest growing region in the U.S."
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said the agreement approved by trustees "sets out the conditions under which the transfer of the law school will occur."
"It makes clear that we are not purchasing the law school or its assets, although we will reimburse Valparaiso for some expenses that it will incur on our behalf during the transfer period," he said. "It also makes clear that the transfer is contingent upon receiving approval from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the acquiescence of the American Bar Association to the transfer of assets and change of control of the law school to MTSU."
McPhee said MTSU went through "an extensive due diligence process" that included two separate feasibility studies confirming the need for an accredited, public law school in the Middle Tennessee region; visits by MTSU senior staff to Valparaiso to meet with university and law school administrators, faculty and staff; and meetings with ABA staff regarding continuation of its accreditation of the law school during and after the transfer.
"We have been in discussions with Valparaiso University since November of 2017, and I tell you this because I want to make clear that we have gone to great lengths to assure that this opportunity is in the best interests of MTSU, the city of Murfreesboro, and the citizens of Middle Tennessee," McPhee said. "This has been a very deliberate undertaking and one that I feel confident is both academically and fiscally sound."
Middle Tennessee residents are farther from an accredited, public law school than residents of any other of the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S., said Peter Cunningham, MTSU's vice provost for academic programs.
"This proposal would create the only public, accredited law school in Middle Tennessee," Cunningham said. "It would also be well positioned to serve Central and Western Kentucky, and Northern Alabama."
"Simply put, much of the area between Tuscaloosa to Louisville, and Memphis to Knoxville, is not served by an accredited, public law school," he said.
Valparaiso, a private university that shares the name of the northern Indiana town where it is located, sought a new home for the law school as part of a strategic restructuring. Founded in 1879, Valparaiso's School of Law has a long and distinguished history of public service and a demonstrated commitment to diversity.
"I'm pleased that the Valparaiso University Board of Directors and the board of Middle Tennessee State University have voted in favor of the Educational Collaboration Agreement," said Valparaiso Board Chair Frederick G. Kraegel. "This is an important step forward in the review process, which now moves to approval from the accrediting bodies.
"I'm confident this agreement will continue the great legacy of Valparaiso University Law School and serve an area of the country without an accredited, public law school," he said after his board's approval. "I am grateful for the teams from both institutions who have worked in concert to shepherd this agreement to adoption and appreciate their hard work and dedication."
Valparaiso President Mark Heckler also praised the work of the "dedicated teams from Valparaiso and MTSU that have worked diligently during many months" to ready the proposal.
"I am truly grateful for their work, along with the continued dedication of the Valparaiso Law School faculty and staff, who we hope will have the opportunity to continue their good work together," Heckler said.
"Throughout this arduous process, our goal has remained clear -- to ensure the proud legacy, values, and core ethos of Valparaiso University Law School remain in place for future generations."