KALAMAZOO—Officials, alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School met on the WMU campus Sept. 17 to witness the formal signing of an affiliation agreement between the schools and celebrate a range of initiatives expected to grow out of the move.
Some 200 people, including leaders in the legal community from central and southwest Michigan, attended the ceremony and demonstrated their support for the initiative that leverages the resources of the nation's largest and most diverse law school and one of the nation's top public research universities.
The agreement won the approval of both schools' governing boards earlier this year, and it paves the way for Cooley to become the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. That move has encouraged the schools to discuss future opportunities and a range of initiatives that will leverage their common commitment to access, applied research and professional preparation in a way that will benefit current and future students, alumni of both schools and citizens of the region.
Many mutual benefits
"This move is good for our entire University community and good for our colleagues and the students, alumni and communities that Cooley serves," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "The energy and cross-disciplinary advances that may result could benefit many of our academic offerings and allow us to have a greater positive impact on the professional and legal environments of our state and nation."
Cooley's board of directors voted to support the move early this year. WMU's trustees gave their full support at their most recent formal meeting in July. Since then, a growing number of the 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.
"I've been tremendously excited about the possibilities of this affiliation from the start," says Don LeDuc, president and dean of Cooley. "As our faculty and staff members have begun to meet and get to know each other, we've seen a growing realization on both sides that, together, we can develop the nation's most comprehensive integration of law and other disciplines as well as integrate some of the marquee specialties of both institutions."
More joint programs possible
Preliminary discussions have revealed a number of mutual interests that could develop into future joint programs. Faculty and administrators will conduct further exploration into potential WMU-Cooley initiatives in areas such as professional ethics; intellectual property rights; health care, life science and environmental law; entrepreneurship; and a 3+3 program that would allow WMU students to earn both a bachelor's and law degree in less time and at lower cost.
No plans are in place to build a law school facility on the WMU campus, although some law school classes could be offered on the Kalamazoo campus with future planning.
Before any of the items under discussion can be fully decided upon and planned, there must be a review of the agreement by the schools' principal accrediting agencies, the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission. That review is now underway and expected to be completed this fall. An ABA standard encourages independent law schools like Cooley, one of 21 such schools in the United States, to develop working relationships with other educational entities in order to provide the benefits of being affiliated with a university.
The affiliation agreement builds on a long and successful relationship between the two schools that includes existing graduate dual-degree programs and shared physical facilities for a time in the Grand Rapids area. Cooley and WMU already offer joint degree programs leading to a:
- J.D./MPA (Master of Public Administration),
- J.D./MBA (Master of Business Administration) and
- J.D./MSW (Master of Social Work).
Cooley 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, Fla., is subject to the additional approval of the Florida Commission on Independent Education.
WMU has regional locations in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Metro Detroit, Benton Harbor and Traverse City. The two campuses are also discussing use of each other's facilities in locations where both do not already have a presence.
Under terms of the agreement, both schools retain their independent governance structures and separate fiduciary responsibilities. Cooley would continue as an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity. Employees at both schools would continue their respective employment status. Except for students admitted to dual- or shared degree programs, students would continue be admitted separately by both schools and tuition at both schools would be unaffected by the affiliation.