BOISE, Idaho — Hundreds of students and dozens of faculty members at the Concordia University School of Law are dealing with an unexpected closure. The Boise-based law school announced on Thursday they are closing forever.
Alex Hatfield is a current student at the school and is now trying to quickly transfer over to the University of Idaho Law School.
“I really enjoyed working with the professors, faculty and my fellow cohorts,” he said. “As far as what I’m feeling now, rushed. I think it is the one word I would use to describe what is going on right now.”
Just a few months ago, the school's parent institution, Concordia University-Portland, announced they were shutting their doors. This forced the law school to find a new parent school to take over control.
They tentatively came to an agreement with Concordia University St. Paul. Unfortunately, the two sides were not able to complete a deal.
The school administration alerted the students about the closure on Thursday. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement was made over an online Zoom meeting.
Hatfield told KTVB he couldn’t attend the meeting due to work but didn’t think the announcement would be one on closing.
“It’s probably nothing. It’s probably just that we’re going online this next semester because of COVID,” he said.
However, he caught up with a friend later that night who broke the news to him.
“What happened at the Zoom meeting? ‘Oh, the school is shutting down.’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. What really happened? Are we going online?’ He goes, ‘No really, the school is shutting down, check your email.’ So, I did, I checked my email and got the email from Dean Keith and was a little bit surprised, disheartened and immediately started to figure out what the plan is going forward,” he said.
The news of the closure came to a shock to alumni like Matthew Wolfe too. He graduated from the law school in 2016 and is now a Boise-based attorney. He practices real estate planning and business planning law.
“It's just hard to believe that in less than a month it’s going to shut its doors, never to re-open. I haven't fully processed that yet,” he said. “One minute there is this beautiful school and the next minute it is just gone.”
He told KTVB that Concordia University School of Law provided him many fond memories.
“That is the one thing I’m going to remember, just how close-knit everyone was at that school. It seemed even after I left that’s how it continued,” he said. “It honestly felt like a big family there.”
So much of a family, that neither he nor Hatfield carries any resentment or anger towards the law school’s administration and staff.
“They got blindsided just like what we did,” he said. “They were the glue that kind of held everything together on campus.”
Interim Dean Latonia Haney-Keith told KTVB the news of the closure was disheartening.
“Yesterday was an incredibly disheartening day and very sad to announce the closure, particularly in light of the situation,” she said. “This was an unforeseen frankly inexplicable issue that arose really at the last minute.”
Haney-Keith said the issue was out of the control of the law school. Adding they were still working on the transition to Concordia St. Paul in Minnesota. That was supposed to be wrapped up at the end of the month.
“This is not a situation where you have a law school that has done something wrong,” she said.
Haney-Keith told KTVB she was not able to go into specifics on why the school is closing. She said it was in part due to pending litigation in other related issues.
Currently, the law school's former parent institution is being sued by an organization called HotChalk, a company that helps universities offer degree programs online.
According to court documents filed in Oregon, Concordia University in Portland owes HotChalk more than $300 million.
The law school in Boise was named several times in the court documents. HotChalk alleges in the documents that the transfer of the law school to Concordia St. Paul was a fraudulent transfer.
The timing of the closure comes as the law school saw the largest enrollment class in its short history. The law school added 89 new students last August.
The school has also been recognized as one of three institutions in the country to have a 100% ultimate bar passage rate. The ultimate bar passage rate means every graduating student passes the Idaho bar exam in at least two years following graduation. This means they can fail it once and retake it.
Concordia Law earned full American Bar Association in 2019. The school also aimed to provide legal counsel to underserved and underprivileged communities.
According to a press release issued by the school, the most recent graduating class provided more than 4,600 hours of pro bono legal services. This totaled nearly $1 million dollars to members of the community.
“It really has been the service ethic, our faculty and staff, it is infused in all of us. It’s something we all do,” Haney-Keith said. “We are really at this point where we were right at financially breaking even and viable and trying to take off from here, with the national recognition on Bar passage but also, we are also one of the institutions in the nation where applications were up.”
The interim dean told KTVB her priority right now is to take care of the students, both current and incoming.
“At the end of the day we have to focus on the students,” she said. “At the end of the day it is to ensure I can get them all on a path to complete their education.”
There are currently around 150 students at the law school and around 30 faculty members and staff. Haney-Keith said she wants to try and get the faculty and staff other employment opportunities.
When asked if there was a chance the law school could re-open, Haney-Keith said there is no chance.
“I absolutely wish that I could say yes to that, at this point unfortunately given the issues that are in our way there isn’t a way around that,” she said. “This will be the end and its incredibly disheartening for me, for our students, faculty and staff but also for the Idaho community.”
It’s also disheartening for current student Hatfield and Wolfe, who is an alum.
“The fact that that name is essentially rendered meaningless now is really disheartening, it frankly sucks for everybody who has already graduated that we can’t really continue that tradition and carry on,” Hatfield said.