WMU, Cooley Law School consider formal alliance

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A WMU-Cooley Law School partnership is under consideration.

KALAMAZOO—Building on more than a decade of cooperation that has led to a number of joint degree programs and shared facility initiatives in Grand Rapids and Lansing, Western Michigan University and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School are discussing the possibility of a stronger alliance that would create a formal affiliation between Cooley, a private law school, and WMU.

Informal talks between the leaders of the two schools have been under way for about three years. More recently, the boards and leadership of both schools have become involved in the informal talks, and late in December, both sides agreed to take a number of exploratory steps, with each organization reviewing the impact an alliance would have on its stakeholders, accreditation, financial responsibilities and growth potential.

WMU is a top-tier public research university with an enrollment of 25,000, seven regional locations and more than 240 degree programs. Cooley is the nation's largest law school, with five campuses in two states, and offers Juris Doctor—J.D.—and advanced Master of Laws—LL.M.—degrees. Both schools have a tradition of accessibility and a commitment to serving diverse populations that could be enhanced through the partnership. Under the model being examined, both schools would retain their independence, governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities. Cooley would become the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, continuing as an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity.

When the two administrations complete the exploratory process, the next step would be to submit a proposal for board approval. That could happen as early as this summer.

"The result of such an affiliation with Cooley would make our University one of fewer than 90 universities in the nation to have both a law school and school of medicine," notes WMU President John M. Dunn. "The benefits that accrue from that distinction would pay dividends to our students, faculty and staff for years to come.  The opportunity is made even more intriguing by the common mission and values of our two institutions."
Both schools promote academic theory and its practical applications as well as foster an academic culture that is inclusive and accessible. And both schools have long traditions of collaboration and community engagement.

"Cooley Law School and Western Michigan University share common educational and public service philosophies and have a long history of cooperation. An affiliation with this great university is an especially good match," says Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc.  "Students, faculty, staff and alumni of both institutions will benefit from the tremendous opportunities that would arise from this alliance."

Formal ties between Cooley and WMU have been strong for more than a decade. The following is a list of some of the highlights.

  • 2002—Cooley and WMU launch a partnership that brings a law school to Grand Rapids for the first time, when plans are announced to open a Cooley branch campus in conjunction with WMU's Graduate Center-Downtown in the Arena District. WMU completed a $1.6 million buildout of one floor of its Graduate Center to to meet Cooley's needs. In 2005, Cooley moved to its own facility near the WMU Graduate Center.
  • 2002—WMU and Cooley launch a joint Juris Doctor/Master of Public Administration degree program.
  • 2008—WMU and Cooley launch a joint Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration degree program.
  • 2011—The schools launch their third dual-degree partnership, providing West Michigan with its first-ever Juris Doctor/Master of Social Work degree program.

About Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Founded in 1972, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School is a private, nonprofit, independent law school accredited by the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission. Cooley has provided its more than 17,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world. Cooley offers its Juris Doctor program, Joint Degree programs, and Master of Laws programs three times a year with enrollment in January, May and September. Cooley Law School has campuses across Michigan in Lansing, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, and its new campus in Tampa Bay, Fla.

About Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University is a learner-centered, discovery-driven and globally engaged research institution with an enrollment of nearly 25,000. Classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a university with high research activity, WMU offers more than 240 degree programs, including 30 at the doctoral level. The University attracts students from every state in the union and 95 other nations. Its more than 900 faculty members have been trained at some of the world’s leading universities. In addition to its main campus in Kalamazoo, WMU has seven regional locations in Michigan.