Edward Bell, the new president and managing partner of the embattled Charleston School of Law, made it clear that he’s not afraid to answer tough questions about the school’s future.
During his first address to students since his induction in October, Bell announced his phone number to the auditorium full of listeners and instructed them to text him their questions. Within seconds, he received 178 messages from students uncertain about their futures. Questions ranged from requests for career advice to “When will the school be healthy again?” and Bell vows to answer them all.
In response to a student who asked about not being able to find a employment after graduating, Bell said, “We’re going to help you find a job. You can’t find a job, you call me. … You should know when you come to this law school, you can find a job. I will get on the phone. I will talk to people. If you’ve done a good job in your classwork and you have got skills, you’ll get a job. One day, and it won’t be long in the near future, if you go to the Charleston School of Law, they will be begging you to come work for them. This is going to be the top-tiered school in this area.”
Discussing how he plans to improve the school, Bell announced that he has received calls from two local developers who want to construct a new permanent campus for the school. He said that both possible campus locations are downtown near the school’s current facilities, and he will begin touring the sites this week. One key factor for acquiring a new campus will be the school receiving nonprofit status and raising the necessary funds for construction.
“We can’t build a law school if we’re a for-profit. We can’t do it. We’ve got to raise money,” says Bell. “We’ve got to raise an estimated $50 to $80 million to build this law school. We can do it if we’re a nonprofit.”
According to Bell, he would like for the new campus to house a court of general jurisdiction where students can participate in actual trials and generate real-world experience that will help them in the job market.
“Can you imagine as a law student that you could actually try a real case with a real jury, with a real judge, and you’ve got to sit there and wait on that jury to come back and you get a real result?” says Bell of the in-campus courtroom, which would be open to both students and new alumni. “Can you imagine what an employer would say?”
In addition to the possibility of a new campus, Bell announced that the School of Law will begin offering first-semester classes in January for new students in hopes of boosting enrollment. He also fielded questions about former tenured professors whose contracts were not renewed. Several of those professors have filed lawsuits against two of the school’s owners, Robert S. Carr and George C. Kosko, for allegedly making fraudulent claims regarding the school’s financial troubles when terminating faculty. The former members of faculty claim that they lost their jobs for opposing the sale of the school to InfiLaw System, a company that runs a national for-profit system of law schools.
“It hurts me to know what happened. I know inside what the outcome should be, and I’m asking my question, ‘How can we make that happen?’” says Bell of the professors’ firings. “I’m meeting today with our lawyers to find out what in the world they are doing, and that’s all I need to say.”
Following questions about the fate of the tenured professors, one student asked where Carr and Kosko fit into the plans for the school’s future. Bell says that the two are interested in severing ties, but they cannot divest themselves totally until the decision is approved by the Bar Association.
“Sometimes people do the right things for the wrong reasons and sometimes they do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. It was a bad move,” Bell says of the decision to sell the school. He is currently negotiating with InfiLaw to settle the school’s debt.
While Bell may face an uphill battle when it comes to reviving the school, he has clearly made an impression on the students who have decided to stay. Closing out the question portion of the address, one student took the opportunity to thank Bell for his efforts in keeping the school afloat.
“Let’s go forward,” Bell said in closing. “You have all been given what I call a ministry to complete and let’s go complete it. Let’s go further. Let’s put our lives into this thing.”
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