KALAMAZOO, Mich.—After reviews by the Higher Learning Commission and the American Bar Association, an affiliation agreement in the works for more than a year has led to a new identity for the nation's largest law school—the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Completion of the arrangement between the private nonprofit law school and the public research university drew officials from both schools to the WMU campus this week to announce that the affiliation is now effective. They also used the occasion to roll out the law school's new visual identity and reveal a number of initiatives that will benefit current and future students of both schools as well as the communities they serve.
Listen to remarks by WMU President John M. Dunn and President and Dean of Cooley Don LeDuc here.
Law classes to be offered in Kalamazoo
Initiatives unveiled included an announcement that WMU Cooley Law will offer first-year law classes on WMU's Kalamazoo campus in fall 2015. In addition, faculty at both schools have begun the work of developing both a law minor and a 3+3 program at WMU that will allow students to earn both a bachelor's degree and a law degree in just six years.
"We were delighted that our respective accrediting bodies have given the nod to the affiliation between Cooley and Western Michigan University," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "This move will broaden the range of opportunities available to students, expand the collaboration and research options available to faculty members and improve the range of services to students, employees and our respective communities."
The affiliation agreement won the approval of both schools' governing boards last year and was signed and awaiting only the review of the accrediting agencies. The agreement is expected to enable initiatives that will leverage the common commitment both institutions have to educational access, diversity, applied research and professional preparation. Under terms of the agreement, both schools retain their independent governance structures and separate fiduciary responsibilities.
A long-standing relationship
The affiliation agreement builds on a decade-long relationship between the two schools that includes three existing graduate dual-degree programs and, for a time, shared physical facilities in the Grand Rapids area. Cooley and WMU's joint degree programs currently lead to these degrees: a Juris Doctor/Master of Public Administration, a J.D./Master of Business Administration and a J.D./Master of Social Work. In addition, preliminary discussions have begun on the potential for leveraging such shared areas of expertise as ethics, health care, life sciences, intellectual property, entrepreneurialism, homeland security, tax law and sustainability.
"Now is a great time for our schools to affiliate in a deeper relationship. I have been excited about this from the start," says Don LeDuc, president and dean of Cooley. "WMU just affiliated with its medical school and has had an interest in adding a law school affiliation. We have been looking to expand and deepen relationships with a university, and WMU is the right choice for Cooley because of the similarities of our missions, operating philosophies, academic programs, student bodies and locations."
Since the board approvals last year, faculty and staff from both schools have met a number of times to begin the process of identifying areas of potential in which an affiliation could have the biggest impact. Preliminary discussions have revealed a number of mutual interests that could develop into future joint programs. The Aug. 13 gathering at WMU also signaled the launch of two campuswide committees—one to manage operational issues and another for faculty members to discuss curriculum development.
Moving forward, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School will continue as a private, independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity. Employees at both schools will continue their respective employment status. Law students must still be admitted separately to the law school, and students in dual- or shared-degree programs must be admitted by both schools independently. Tuition at both schools is unaffected by the affiliation.
While no plans are in place to build a law school facility on the WMU campus, planning is already underway for Cooley to offer a handful of first-year courses at WMU next fall. Cooley also has Michigan campuses in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Auburn Hills and Ann Arbor, and the name change outlined in the agreement extends to those campuses. Changing the name of Cooley's fifth campus in Tampa Bay, Florida, is subject to the additional approval of the Florida Commission on Independent Education, which meets next in the fall.
Founded in 1972, Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School is the largest, most diverse law school in the nation, with an enrollment of more than 2,400 students.
WMU, founded in 1903, has regional facilities in Battle Creek, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, metro Detroit, Benton Harbor and Traverse City.