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RWU to phase out night law school, bolster day school

Roger Williams University, which has Rhode Island's only law school, says it will boost scholarships and flexible scheduling in its daytime law division.

April 9, 2004

BY EDWARD FITZPATRICK
Providence Journal Staff Writer

BRISTOL -- The Roger Williams University law school plans to phase out its evening program over the next four years.

While the school's day division is "booming," enrollment in the evening division is dwindling, Dean David A. Logan said yesterday. So Rhode Island's only law school will consolidate into one division, with the last evening class starting in August and graduating in 2008.

The full-time day division had 185 students this year and expects nearly 200 for the class beginning in August. By contrast, the three most recent classes in the part-time evening division averaged 43 students, with attrition shrinking the classes to the mid-30s by graduation.

Yet, Logan said, "we are obligated to provide substantially equal education and substantially equal attention of the full-time faculty to both divisions. That's a misallocation of resources."

The American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools require that full-time faculty provide two-thirds of the instruction in each division, Logan said in a letter to students, judges and bar-association leaders. "That means that in recent years the School of Law has been required to devote a disproportionately large share of its resources to the small number of students -- approximately one-fifth of our student body -- in the extended division," he wrote.

Opened in 1993, the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law received accreditation from the American Bar Association in 1997. And now it is seeking membership in the Association of American Law Schools -- which Logan called "the logical next step for an ambitious school."

Logan said the membership process requires a "comprehensive self-study," and as part of that study, the college "identified a major challenge to significantly improving the quality of our educational program and to the success of our AALS candidacy: the need to divide our efforts between an increasingly popular full-time regular division and a withering part-time extended division."

The law school does not plan to cut jobs once the consolidation is complete, Logan said. Rather, he said the school plans to reduce class size and add electives.

For example, he said, Roger Williams law Prof. Carl T. Bogus is a national expert on the Second Amendment and gun control, but he must teach "core courses" because the school has one faculty covering two divisions. When the school has one division, Bogus will be able to teach a seminar on gun control, Logan said.

While it is eliminating the evening division, the law school is healthy, Logan said, noting that enrollment in the day division has nearly doubled in the past five years. "We are a hot school," he said. "The idea of having a law school in Rhode Island has really caught on."

When the school first opened, "there was substantial demand for part-time legal education in Rhode Island," Logan said. But these days, law schools are more likely to close night programs than open them, and 85 percent of law students are in full-time day programs, he said. "They want to get it done in three years, take the bar exam and start practicing," he said.

By contrast, students spend four years in the evening program, which includes classes at night and on Saturdays, and is called the "extended division."

But, Logan said, "we will not turn our backs on nontraditional students who find it difficult to undertake the full-time study of law." He said he and nearly all tenure-track faculty will teach in the division during the phase-out period.

And beginning in 2005, the school will offer scholarships to help local, "nontraditional" students attend the day division part-time or full-time. "We want the folks that populate our evening division to be able to pursue their dream of having a high-quality legal education by combining targeted scholarships and flexible scheduling," Logan said.

In his letter, Logan said faculty members and administrators admire how evening-division students juggle busy lives. "I assure you, it is with some regret that they agreed this step was appropriate," he wrote, "but they have concluded that phasing out the evening division is in the best interest of the School of Law."

With the last evening class starting in August, Logan said prospective students need to take the Law School Admissions Test by June at the latest.