UCSD Looks into Law School

    After decades happily buried in graduate engineering and microbiology, UCSD finally has something besides science on the brain.

    UCSD and the San Diego-based California Western School of Law have formed a joint committee to discuss the creation of a UCSD law school.

    Instead of having to build a new campus, the program would use the present Cal Western facilities under the UCSD name.

    The two institutes currently offer a joint master’s program in health law, under which credits can be earned toward a UCSD degree.

    According to Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Paul Drake, the proposal to merge the two schools is tentative, so no concrete timeline has been established.

    However, Drake said the school’s history of collaboration makes the newest proposal more feasible.

    “What’s great about this plan is we’re not starting from scratch,” Drake said.

    Similar proposals for a merger date as far back as the 1980s, but have always fallen through because the law school was deemed an unnecessary cost by the state. According to Steven Smith, dean of Cal Western, the new collaboration is likely to be successful because it will rely on the existing resources of both universities instead of public funding.

    “The old proposal involved a great deal of public funding, and that was a problem,” Smith said. “With the current financial strength of CWSL, the proposed combination is self-funding.”

    Smith said the law school has enough money — from tuition, income and grants — to cover operational costs.

    The UC Irvine School of Law, which opened Fall Quarter 2009, offered free tuition to its inaugural class, and halved tuition for the following year’s class, in hopes of attracting top students.

    However, UCSD’s new law school would not be able to grant a similar amount of free tuition.

    Smith said that San Diego is one of the few large cities without a law school, and the necessity for one has become increasingly important in the years since a partnership with Cal Western was first proposed.

    “The legal profession has become increasingly interdisciplinary, and needs connections to other academic programs,” Smith said. “Both UC San Diego and California Western have become much more sophisticated and more mature institutions in the last 30 years, and both have improved.”

    He added that the proposal is likely to succeed this time because the UC Board of Regents has become more open-minded in its approach to law schools. In addition to establishing the law school at UC Irvine last year, the regents have indicated that UC Riverside should consider a law school as well.

    The details of the merger are presently undecided, but committee discussions have ranged from the affiliation of certain minor programs to complete acquisition of Cal Western by UCSD.

    One area of concern is the differing academic priorities between the two schools. While UCSD is a top research university, Cal Western places limited emphasis in the area.

    “Cal Western will have to adapt to UCSD standards in research,” Drake said.

    He said that it is difficult for a new law school to break rankings, especially because the top-ranked law schools have held their positions for decades. Both Smith and Drake said they hope to move into the top 30 or 40 national rankings eventually.

    Warren College junior Emma Chan, who has visited the Cal Western campus, said she sees a disconnect between the two campuses.

    “Cal Western has a different vibe,” Chan said. “I feel like UCSD will just go in and restructure it.”

    However, Warren College junior Josh Grossman said the idea is financially practical.

    “The new law school seems like a good idea, especially for visibility, as it would increase UCSD’s prestige,” Grossman said. “I would go to a UCSD law school because it would be cheaper than private law schools.”

    The proposal for a merger will be officially drawn up in May or June of this year. It must be approved by Cal Western, UCSD, the UC Office of the President and the UC Board of Regents, which would probably happen by early 2011.

    Readers can contact Andrew Tieu at [email protected].

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