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Legal Daily News Feature

How Far Has the University of South Carolina’s Law School Fallen? By Rebecca Neely Earlier this year, the University of South Carolina’s School of Law plunged into the unranked third tier of U.S. News and World Report annual report.

11/23/10 Pratt said he considered the report a fair assessment of the According to a recent three part article series at dailygamecock. com, Philip Land, president of the Student Bar Association, was quoted as saying: ‘’When we see USC Law, we have so much pride. We want a ranking that reflects the level of pride we have. To see us fall into the third tier is to indicate somewhere along the way up, that level of pride isn’t shared.’’ Dean Walter ‘’Jack’’ Pratt said he didn’t consider the rankings valid. The slightest hiccup from a school can drop it dozens of spots, Pratt said, as so many schools are clustered together in the second tier. ‘’But we are concerned because students, faculty and law firms use them,’’ he said. Following the drop in rankings and increasing student concern, USC commissioned a Blue Ribbon Panel to investigate matters in the school. The group, comprised of top-level scholars and administrators, visited USC for three days in September, interviewing students, faculty and administrators. The report issued by the panel and released in late October, while it praised the school for the caliber of its students and teachers, revealed the Law School has many problems that could take many years to address. Among the problems, according to those interviewed, are an ongoing lack of consistent leadership in the school, the absence of new faculty members over a two year period, a dean unable to make timely decisions due to committees’ red tape, as well as poor communication between faculty and administrators, faculty and students, and administrators and the Board of Trustees.

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school, but he disagreed with the lack of communication findings. Expounding on the report’s findings, over a period of eight years, the school has had four different deans. Pratt’s term ends in May, and he decided not to seek reappointment. The resolution states that the school has ‘’no concrete goals or identifiable priorities other than the construction of a new building.’’, ‘’the school suffers from a sustained, omnipresent lack of effective organizational leadership’’ and lacks ‘’a clear and compelling mission, vision or strategy.’’ In addition, regarding the fact that no new faculty members have been hired, according to the report, “many faculty have retired or moved elsewhere, with the result that the current faculty is disproportionately divided between either longserving faculty with relative newcomers, with few members of medium seniority to bridge the substantial generation gap between the two groups.” Regarding the dean and committees, the report stated that the dean has little power, if any, due to all decisions being stalled by several committees which control matters, making swift change nearly impossible. The panel wrote: ‘’These and other provisions in your bylaws create a weak dean who must compromise on difficult decisions in order to achieve progress.”… Change at your school is thereby more difficult than at peer institutions with which you compete.’’ Pratt said he trusted the judgment of the panel on that conclusion.

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The report also encouraged USC to position itself differently from other law schools and to establish a clear and consistent vision to recruit top students and retain faculty. Provost Michael Amiridis said currently defining a vision is tricky. Since the school is in the middle of a search for a new dean, it is impractical to define a vision only for it to be later changed. Amiridis hopes to have a new dean in place for the 2011-12 school year. He was quoted as saying: ‘’You want a leader to come in and put his or her signature on the strategic vision. But if you’re recruiting people, you can’t say, ‘We’re not sure what we want to be; What do you want to be?’’’ The almost forty year old Law School center building is deteriorating rapidly, per the article at dailygamecock.com. Besides a leaking roof, the center isn’t designed for the type of teaching faculty does today, per Pratt. Significantly, per the panel: “But a building that looked tired 15 years ago now looks dramatically behind peers with which you compete. We believe that the challenge of what to do about the building has come to dominate, and to some degree prevent, meaningful progress on other strategic challenges of the school.’’ And the Student Bar Association’s resolution called the lack of facilities “embarrassing.” The panel wrote the building situation has led to a cynical atmosphere from current students and graduates concerning future financial gifts to the school. It urged the school to make a choice soon, because it if doesn’t, the credibility of the University will diminish. Amiridis said USC plans to make a decision in ‘’months, not years.’’ He admitted progress on a new building has taken too long, and there are significant infrastructure problems within the existing center.

Currently, the school is one of the most poorly funded law schools in the country. In analyzing the budget, it essentially operates as a private institution, receiving almost 90 percent of its funding from tuition and fees. Its total spending for the past year was between $13 and $14 million. Almost $12 million came from the students. ‘’To be a top-100 law school, we need top-100 funding,’’ Land said. ‘’If we want to be a top-50 law school, we need top-50 funding.’’ Amiridis said the University will give the school’s new dean a ‘’start-up package’’ to begin new initiatives, make crucial hires and develop a plan for the school. He’s also working with the school to change the internal regulations and rules for faculty and administrators. ‘’We have to be more flexible, more modern, if you wish,’’ Amiridis said. ‘’In today’s environment, that’s just the way it works.’’ Land is convinced the University’s central administration is committed to fixing the problems of the Law School. His interactions with Amiridis have been overwhelmingly positive, he said. ‘’I encourage student activism,’’ Amiridis said. ‘’When I worry is when students aren’t talking to me and I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t fix a problem if I don’t know about it.’’ Land said he remains committed to the school. ‘’It still has a great reputation in our state, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else,’’ he said. ‘’Even though we have problems currently, I have all confidence we’re going to excel in time. It’s simply the students’ responsibility as well to play a part in seeing that happens.’’ It would seem that USC is taking positive steps to correct problems that have taken years to develop - problems that are undoubtedly shared by many other universities.

Pratt said funding has been the biggest issue during his term as dean. The school has recently worked to increase alumni relations, and Pratt said Amiridis, President Harris Pastides and Ted Moore, USC’s chief financial officer, are committed to finding funds.

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How Far Has the University of South Carolina's Law School Fallen?  

Earlier this year, the University of South Carolina's School of Law plunged into the unranked third tier of U.S. News and World Report annua...

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