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State Board backs UI law school expansion in Boise, rejects UI Law enrollment cap

The State Board of Education, in a special meeting this morning, has voted 5-3 in favor of adding a second year to the University of Idaho’s law school program in Boise, which currently offers only the third year of law school; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The vote came after much debate, during which past opponents of the move said they’d support it if it came along with a cap on total UI law school enrollment.

“I certainly have felt that the quality of the program, both in terms of instruction, in terms of enrollment, etc., would be improved by being in the Boise market where it’s so close to the center of state government, and so close to the business community in the Boise area, and also legal professionals in the Boise area,” said board member Rod Lewis. “It’s not their intent that by doing so, they would significantly expand the size of the school.” He proposed a cap on total law school enrollment of 360, which is slightly over the average enrollment for the past five years, to accompany the funding.

UI President Don Burnett said, “We do think that the second year program (in Boise) will make the law school more attractive and more competitive. I do think the principal effect will be quality and giving more access to students in areas where they want to get either specialty training or get their training at a place advantageous to themselves and their families, economically and professionally.” But, he said, “Our preference is not to have a cap. … Our preference is that we be given the same sound discretion that other academic units have, rather than a cap, even though the 360 is a figure we could live with.”

Adding the second year in Boise would cost the state about $400,000 a year. Board member Richard Westerberg said, “Frankly, I’m still conflicted, because what we’re really talking about here is almost another million-dollar annual subsidy to produce lawyers. … If we actually got another million dollars going forward to spend on something, is the highest and best use to produce attorneys?” But he said he’d support the move with the cap attached.

Lewis said there’s an oversupply of attorneys nationwide, but Burnett said those statistics don’t count the 30 percent of UI law graduates who choose to go into another profession, rather than practice law. Board members noted that Concordia Law School, a private law school, has opened in Boise and already attracted more than 70 students. “Concordia is showing us that there is a demand to have this kind of education in Boise,” Lewis said, adding that he believes the UI law school should be moved to Boise. Burnett said Boise is the best location for students in some fields, and Moscow is the best for others; he said Idaho is a net importer of attorneys, with only 28 percent of those admitted to the bar in Idaho in recent years having graduated from the U of I. He added, “We are nowhere near saturating the legal education market. We are still admitting only about half of the applicants,” Burnett said.

Board member Emma Atchley called a cap “a very bad precedent,” and board member Bill Gosling suggested it might even violate the Idaho Constitution’s requirement that the UI law school provide legal education throughout the state. Atchley said, “I guess I’m rather amazed that we would even take a step of this nature.”

Gosling made a substitute motion to back funding for the second-year Boise program with no mention of a cap; it passed 5-3, with just Lewis, Westerberg and member Ken Edmunds dissenting. Those voting in favor were Gosling, Atchley, Don Soltman, Tom Luna and Milford Terrell. The proposal now goes to the governor and the Legislature.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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