Archive for Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Doubling up

Plans to build a new law school building at Washburn University again raise questions about duplicate academic programs at state universities.

July 24, 2012


Washburn University officials announced last week plans to build a new $40 million law school building. The current building, which opened in 1969 after the university suffered tremendous damage from a tornado, is about 96,000 square feet and accommodates approximately 420 students.

Washburn President Jerry Farley said the new 152,600-square-foot building would be financed through a $20 million fundraising campaign, plus $10 million from the university’s reserve fund and another $10 million in short-term bonds.

Farley, who has done an excellent job for Washburn, said it was important to improve the law school building for a “signature program” at Washburn. He added, “When I hear people around the country talk about Washburn, they always mention the excellence of the school of law. It has truly developed a phenomenal reputation. But right now, we don’t have the building we need for a world-class school of law in the 21st century.”

Farley would not be doing a good job for Washburn, its students and the city of Topeka if he didn’t try to improve the university’s facilities and aim for excellence.

However, the law school effort brings up a longtime debate: Does Kansas, with a population of something less than 3 million, need two law schools within 30 miles of one another? At a time when the cost of higher education continues to escalate, does it make sense to duplicate efforts at two schools located so close together?

The Washburn plan extends the debate. If only one law school is needed, which one should be closed: Kansas University or Washburn? The same question could be raised about many other duplicated programs such as engineering schools.

Washburn’s expansion plans come at a time when KU law school officials forecast smaller enrollments in their school as they seek higher levels of excellence among both students and faculty. There also seem to be far more attorneys and law students looking for jobs than there are current job openings.

Although there are sure to be naysayers, KU is the “flagship” academic and research institution for Kansas. There are significant efforts under way to raise the overall excellence of the school, and KU has the potential, if there is the leadership, to be a true regional and national leader in many areas.

This does not mean the other Kansas Board of Regents universities are not good and cannot be better, have high goals, conduct sound research and be outstanding in various fields. But KU should be the state’s truly distinguished institution. There are only so many dollars available for the 32 schools under the regents’ umbrella, and, at some point, the regents are going to have to get serious about the waste or unnecessary expenditure of dollars on duplicate academic programs. This means KU may have to reduce or eliminate some of its programs and that other schools, such as Kansas State and Wichita, may have to do the same if Kansas and its taxpayers are to get the biggest bang for the millions of dollars they are spending for higher education. Generous alumni and friends can only be expected to dig into their pocketbooks so often and so deep to help fund the never-satisfied money appetites of chancellors, presidents and athletic directors for money year after year.


Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 11 months ago

All of the issues raised above are very good questions.

But I would propose another route. Why not smaller law schools all across Kansas, instead of one KU law school? It's like medicine - the Salina medical school is a new venture.

The same should be true for law schools. KU should not have the only school, with all the money. In principle, it's the same as the proposed rec center - the bigger it is, the better it is. But THAT ISN'T NECESSARILY TRUE or valid.

It's the same kind of thinking that has ruined so many aspects of social and human life in this country - BIGGER is not necessarily BETTER.

We need different people in office who can think in different ways, not just the repeated bigger is better approach, and that especially includes KU. It's like with Vietnam or Iraq - it's a form of group think.

One high official has another high official, who has the same point of view, come on board. Soon the whole university can only think one way. I'm sorry, but in this day and age, with change coming in all directions, that is not true any more. A lot of these people need to leave the university (but they won't, because they make very good money there) so that new people, with different ideas, can come in and look at things with a different perspective.

Bob Forer 5 years, 11 months ago

Washburn is a city university. And the word is "moot" not "mute."

classclown 5 years, 11 months ago

So basically, what you are saying is that people should be forced to go to an inferior school just for the "privilege" of attending KU?

Formed in 1903 the Washburn School of Law was one of the first in the country to have a legal clinic where students are able to actively practice the legal profession. Today, it is in the minority of law schools to employ a full time faculty for its law clinic. The Washburn School of Law had the highest pass rate of the Kansas State Bar Exam of any law school in the state of Kansas. The Washburn Law Library houses over 380,000 volumes and is the largest in the state. It has been ranked as one of the top 20 law school libraries in the country.

If there can be only one, then it should definitely be Washburn.

Evan Ridenour 5 years, 10 months ago

You make it sound like Washburn is somehow the "better" law school, but it really isn't. Even with the nose dive in rankings that KU has suffered over the last few years, KU is still a ranked tier 1 law school and Washburn is an unranked Tier 4 law school.

I am guessing you are a Washburn alum by your obvious bias. Good for you.

classclown 5 years, 11 months ago


Isn't Washburn a private college? Duplication of state funded programs would be a mute arguement if so.

July 24, 2012 at 7:15 a.m


Washburn I believe is a municipal university which makes it funded by the city rather than the state. So it is public rather than private.

Mostly everyone is intimidated by the presence of a better school nearby and of course want big brother make it go away so they can go back to deluding themselves about how great they are.

justoneperson 5 years, 11 months ago

What's the tuition for law school at KU and Washburn? Maybe they serve different demographics? I'd like to know more about the actual programs, students, costs, etc. other than they are both law schools.

As with many fields (such as engineering) there are many subfield splits and specializations (chemical, electrical, mechanical), do they specialize or excel in some areas over others? Maybe the question is similar to what someone above has noted, we shouldn't be looking toward one giant, all encompassing program, but smaller, more specialized programs.

Closing one law school will not reduce the numbers of students seeking out law school, they will just look elsewhere (and not necessarily to the other school in the state).

Carol Bowen 5 years, 11 months ago

When we chose to live in Lawrence, I did not about KU. (KU is known for basketball. I do not follow college sports.) I was very aware of Washburn's reputation for its law school. It is unusual to have two law schools in a state. I say keep Washburn and assist with the funding to make it affordable.

Phasing out a program is not easy or instantaneous. There are students in the system, research obligations, and personnel to phase out. Are we sure we want to do that? What law is KU's specialty? Could they be merged with the Business school, for example?

We also have two schools of architecture, KU and KSU. There are not very many architecture schools on the U.S. By the way, is KU known for any of it's academic programs outside of the state?

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 11 months ago

It is not at all unusual to have two law schools in a state. Nebraska does. Iowa does. Wisconsin does. Minnesota and Oklahoma have three. Missouri has four.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 11 months ago

Oops. Strike " It is unusual to have two law schools in a state."

nativeson 5 years, 11 months ago

Washburn received funding from the State of Kansas, but not at the level of the other public institutions in the state. It is governed by a separate board, but the appointments are made by city and state officials.

The problem with merging schools is endowment. Private dollars funding higher education contribute to their alma mater, not a generic law school for the state. The Board of Regents made several runs at combining law schools, engineering schools and other disciplines. The same obstacle exists > How much private funding is compromised as a result?

It makes perfect sense to have one law school, but since when does academia look at things from a tax efficient standpoint? They build separate ivory towers.

Tony Kisner 5 years, 11 months ago

How do you become the "Flag Ship' Institution? By declaring it so before anyone else does.

When I see the leadership provided by the "Flag Ship" institution on eliminating duplicate degree programs (Engineering = KSU Education = ESU) I will take one of these columns seriously.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

I don't see the debate. Washburn Law School has been around a long long time. If my memory serves me well my grandfather graduated Washburn Law School. He passed away many years ago.

Education is good for the economy. Which is why I will never understand why Douglas County has not invested in a state of the art Vocational-Technical School. People love coming to Lawrence,Kansas to become educated.

It has been proven for several decades students are a solid investment for Lawrence,Kansas which is more than can be said for:

Baur Farms Riverfront Plaza Tanger Mall Over built retail tons of empty rental properties the Lawrence bedroom community

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

It has been proven for several decades students are a solid investment for Lawrence,Kansas which is more than can be said for:

Baur Farms / Riverfront Plaza / Tanger Mall / Over built retail / tons of empty rental properties / the Lawrence bedroom community

oldbaldguy 5 years, 11 months ago

Texas has a law school in every major city or so it seems.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

Few outside of Kansas know Washburn exists. It's a third tier law school that get the students that don't get accepted to KU. What is Jerry Farley smoking?

Bob Forer 5 years, 11 months ago

You are spot on, Jack. Yes, it is a third tier school. I used to tease a friend of mine that being on the Washburn Law Review was the equivalent of merely being accepted to KU Law. Washburn entering classes usually have some of the lowest LSAT scores and GPAs in the country.

Farley is merely cheerleading for the school. I am sure he knows better than that.

SnakeFist 5 years, 11 months ago

“When I hear people around the country talk about Washburn, they always mention the excellence of the school of law."

I lecture periodically at Washburn Law School, and I can tell you that the quality of students has dropped markedly in the last few years. Five years or so ago, I would have said its a good school and its graduates were equal to KU (in fact, I worked with some and they were very good attorneys). Not anymore.

Bob Forer 5 years, 11 months ago

Wasburn graduates some good attorneys. But as a whole, the student body is mediocre.

bad_dog 5 years, 11 months ago

Albeit a bit dated, if one examines the data available at this website, you can see there is very little difference between the two schools in terms of low/high LSAT scores, GPAs, faculty to student ratios and bar passage rates:

notaubermime 5 years, 11 months ago

The logic of this editorial is truly horrible. Take, for example, that the concluding paragraph discusses how there is only so much money available through the state. Now cut back to the introductory paragraphs and you will see that the starting point for the article is a building whose construction isn't even being paid for with state funds.

The rest of the editorial is a mashed-up mix of half-thought and/or generalized statements which, in the end, say nothing concrete at all. No solid analysis of whether programs are duplicated, no examination of which school performs better, nor any mention of whether the same categories of students attend both.

Then there is this gem: "Generous alumni and friends can only be expected to dig into their pocketbooks so often and so deep to help fund the never-satisfied money appetites of chancellors, presidents and athletic directors for money year after year." Yes, the reason education costs are skyrocketing is all because of chancellors, presidents, and athletic directors. It has nothing at all to do with the failure of the nation's high schools requiring more and more people to go to college to receive an employable level of education or any of the other factors affecting this nation. Nope, let's just scapegoat a handful of people to justify our hatred of academia.

ljwhirled 5 years, 11 months ago

Why not eliminate both law schools and be done with it?

While we are at it, can we get rid of the lawyers too.

There is an old saying about the legal profession:

"Isn't it a shame how 99% of lawyers give the profession a bad name?"

LloydDobbler 5 years, 11 months ago

If both law schools are flourishing, I don't see that there is a problem. If we really only need one law school, wouldn't the market have made that determination? I would also be careful about playing that "flagship" card. KU could end up minus some Engineering, Arcitecture, and science curricula. University comes from the root word universal meaning that students have access to a broad range of educational experiences. You can't just cut programs wholesale and still provide a broad-based education. Many degrees are already too narrow...reducing opportunities just exacerbates the problem.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 11 months ago

Law graduates are having. Hard time finding employment. The same is true for architecture. While a university is not a vocational school, academic field should provide information about the careers they prepare for.

I agree that wholesale deletion of programs is not a smart thing to do. I would hope that programs would continuously evaluate and report the options for their potential graduates. I do not believe that they are doing that.

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