Chicago is getting its first public law school.
The University of Illinois System Board of Trustees unanimously approved a proposal Thursday for the University of Illinois at Chicago to acquire John Marshall Law School. The law school’s Board of Trustees also approved the proposal.
UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis said the acquisition will allow the growing school to add new degree programs that combine legal studies with programs like health studies, IT, and social studies.
He said he also expects to lower the current John Marshall tuition to match similar public law school tuition rates, which would allow more students to pursue a law degree.
“We are committed to having a law school that provides access together with excellence to the residents of the city and also a public law school that actively addresses issues the city is facing,” Amiridis said in an interview Thursday.
John Marshall enrolled 1,079 students in fall 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Enrollment has declined since 2011-12 when enrollment was 1,674 students. The number of law school students has dropped nationally over the years. The school currently has capacity for 1,200 students. School leaders are hoping the transition will encourage more local students to apply to the law program.
The new school needs to be accredited by the state Board of Higher Education, the American Bar Association, and the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits higher education schools in the Midwest. If approved, the school will start enrolling students in fall 2019.
Chicago is currently the largest city in the country without a public law school. Chancellor Amiridis said he recognized this void and pitched the acquisition to the John Marshall Law School Board of Trustees two years ago. Board President Paula Hudson Holderman said the board couldn’t ignore the opportunity a public law school would present for current and future students.
“I can’t honestly stand here and tell you that there is no bittersweetness about moving from an independent law school because there is a little bit,” said Hudson Holderman. “Most of us on the board are alums of the law school and served on the board for a long time and are intimately involved with operation. So, it is going to be a big change for us.”
John Marshall Law School will remain in its location in the Loop. Those buildings will be leased and transferred after five years. There will also be an asset transfer process. The acquisition will not require any additional state funds, which is key since the state’s budget woes have delayed higher education funding in the state.
“Over the next year, there’s going to be a little bit of exciting work as we introduce new degree programs and as we prepare to bring the students in,” Amiridis said. “But there's going to be a lot of mundane work that needs to be done and needs to be done well.”