LSU’s main campus set to absorb law school

LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge is set to absorb the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, in a move that university President F. King Alexander said will make LSU stronger and better positioned to compete with other flagship schools around the country.

Although the law school currently sits on LSU’s campus, it is considered a separate institution, with a separate chancellor. It also goes through a separate accreditation process.

Accreditation is the process schools use to prove their legitimacy as degree-granting institutions.

LSU’s Board of Supervisors approved what is being called a realignment of the law school under the main campus’ umbrella during a meeting in Shreveport on Friday.

“If you look at the schools we compete against, we are the anomaly. We are the only one that is set up this way. They’re not separate at the University of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan, and no other SEC school is structured that way,” Alexander said, referring to the Southeastern Conference.

Combining the two institutions also will cut some of the red tape.

Accrediting rules require that LSU and the law school enter into a contractual agreement for law students to have access to the university’s health center, dining halls and recreational facilities. Merging the two institutions would eliminate the need for that kind of bureaucracy, Alexander said.

He added that the move will be done slowly over time, allowing both institutions to ease into a new relationship where they will be sharing services and collaborating more closely.

One of the most obvious advantages of the new structure will be a new prelaw program for undergraduates — an area that LSU has been lacking. LSU can also expect to move up in the national rankings by integrating the law school into the main institution.

Friday’s board decision is similar to a decision made last fall to merge the LSU Agricultural Center with the university’s College of Agriculture. The two entities operated jointly until a split in 1972.

Similarly, the law school was part of LSU until they separated in 1977.

Both institutions could see some marginal savings by sharing resources, Alexander said, but the main point was collaboration.

The law school will also maintain a large share of the autonomy it has, he said, including the ability to set tuition.

Louisiana colleges and universities operate under some of the strictest tuition rules in the country. Schools can raise tuition in one of two ways: meeting or exceeding dozens of performance standards spelled out in the 2010 LA GRAD Act or securing a two-thirds vote from the Legislature.

Law school Chancellor Jack Weiss said the realignment gives the law center a permanent seat at the LSU family table.

“This way, we’re not some sort of cousin that gets invited every now and then,” Weiss said. “This gives us a regular seat.”

Weiss added that becoming a part of the flagship campus will give law school students more chances to take classes in fields that can further their careers. For instance, a student studying in the law school’s Energy Law Center, specializing in training lawyers in all matters of energy law, will have an easier time enrolling in science and engineering classes, Weiss said.

“This is good for us,” Weiss said. “We need the affiliation of a great research university to compete effectively in the law school world.”

Weiss said the agreement between institutions comes with enough autonomy for the law school to ease any concerns he has. “We’ll have the benefit of a closer relationship with LSU, while maintaining our traditions and appropriate levels of autonomy,” he said.

Because Alexander serves as both president of the LSU System and chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus, it appears as if Weiss’ title will change eventually.

“The first priority is to get the two institutions lined up for the betterment of both,” Weiss said. “We’ll figure out the other issues, like titles, later.”

A number of different accrediting, educational and legal organizations will have to sign off on the merger before it becomes official.