The imperiled Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana may get a new lease on life nearly 500 miles and two states away.
Officials at Middle Tennessee State University announced on Friday that the campus is in preliminary talks with Valparaiso to transfer the law school there. The two institutions have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to that effect.
The proposed transfer for the law school would be a gift, not a purchase or merge, according to a statement released by Valparaiso University president Sidney McPhee.
David Cleveland, interim dean at the law school in Valparaiso, Indiana, declined to comment Monday. But a Valparaiso University spokeswoman confirmed that administrators are in preliminary discussions about a transfer.
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The fate of the law school has been uncertain since November, when the university’s board of directors voted to suspend new student enrollment in the fall. Enrollment had dwindled, officials said, and the 138-year-old school was no longer financially sustainable. The university said last fall that it would seek to relocate or merge with another law school.
Should Valparaiso transfer to Middle Tennessee—a change that would require the approval of both campuses’ governing bodies and the Tennessee High Education Committee—it will be Indiana’s second law school to depart. Indiana Tech Law School shuttered in 2017 after just four years due to enrollment struggles. Even without Valparaiso, Indiana will still have three American Bar Association-accredited law schools: The University of Notre Dame Law School; Indiana University Maurer School of Law—Bloomington; and Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
Meanwhile, Tennessee would see its number of ABA-accredited law schools grow from five to six. Two of the state’s law campuses—Belmont University College of Law and Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law—opened within the past decade.
Each of the existing schools is in either Nashville, Knoxville or Memphis. Middle Tennessee, by contrast, is located in the center of the state in Murfreesboro, about an hour’s drive southeast of Nashville. Unlike Valparaiso, a private Lutheran institution, Middle Tennessee is a public university.
Valparaiso enrolled just 29 new students in the fall of 2017, compared with 208 new students in the fall of 2013. The ABA publicly censured the law school in 2016 for failing to comply with admissions standards. The median Law School Admission Test score of new students fell from 149 in 2011 to 144 in 2013. The school raised the Median LSAT score in subsequent years but took in far fewer students in the process.