Smaller classes, larger library could be in law school’s future

The philosophy of outgoing law school Dean Jack Friedenthal will continue to spark debate after he leaves in June. Friedenthal said he believes reduced class size and a higher dollar amount spent per student are necessary to the school’s future.

However, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has expressed different ideas. Higher admissions are vital to a well-funded school, he says.

But as law students overflow from the lounge on the first floor of Stockton Hall and weave through the corridors of the building’s upper levels during class breaks, they say a dearth of space is a problem at GW’s law school.

A law school planning committee is debating plans for the future – struggling with suggestions to decrease class size to give law students more breathing room and increase the caliber of GW’s student body.

This planning committee distributed a report last month that sparked comment from law school faculty at a lunch meeting Monday.

The report cites faculty, student body, location and national reputation as GW Law School strengths. However, limited building space and underfunding are presented as GW weaknesses.

A major provision of the report suggests cutting the law school’s student body from its current 1,525 students to 1,200, a 20 percent decrease.

“The report was not put forward as a proposal,” Professor Stephen Saltzburg said. “We’re just interested in discussing (the future of the law school). It’s the first step in the understanding of what our choices might be – what the tradeoffs are.”

Saltzburg is one of nine members of the planning committee, which is chaired by Professor Thomas Morgan.

“The report was a proposal in the sense of being a statement of direction,” Morgan said.

Friedenthal said it was unfortunate the report was treated as an operational document last week when it was highlighted in an article in The Legal Times, a weekly newspaper serving the D.C. legal community.

“We ought to talk about (the report), not decide about it,” Friedenthal said.

The planning committee noted that students feel the day-to-day effects of learning in a small building.

“Finding any space to study is hard,” second-year law student Shari Lahlou said. “Even library space gets crowded.”

“For what we pay here, our facilities are not good enough,” third-year law student Thame Trotmaro said. “You come out of class and can’t move.”

GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he felt increasing space and decreasing enrollment do not work together.

“The law school has a long wish list of things that they want,” he said. “Almost all cost money. If you don’t have students, you don’t have money.”

Trachtenberg called the long-term planning report “a dream.”

At the meeting, faculty members asked whether the committee’s assumption in the report that reducing enrollment would help to maintain a higher caliber of students admitted to the school was correct, Professor Theresa Gabaldon said.

The sharing of tuition revenue between the law school and the University also was discussed. Gabaldon said a perception exists among faculty members that revenue sharing is getting better.

Gradually reducing enrollment would save more money than adding another building to the law school, the report concludes.

Meanwhile, the Law School Building Committee and the University’s Office of Architecture, Engineering and Construction collectively selected the firm of Kress Cox to draw initial plans for the annexation of the Old President’s House on 20th Street to the law school library.

“At this point, (the law school and University) are telling the architects what is the best of all possible worlds that our constituencies need,” said Scott Pagel, director of the law library and a member of the building committee.

Groundbreaking is at least a year and a half away, Pagel said.

“We clearly do need more space,” said Gabaldon, who is also a member of the building committee. “The situation will be alleviated a bit, but I don’t think decreased enrollment is the only solution to the space problem.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.