Lawschool profs. delay vote on combined bachelor’s/law degree

Law School professors held off on voting on a combined bachelor’s/law degree at their Friday meeting. They will continue to mull over information provided to them by an optimistic Law School Curriculum Committee and could approve the degree as early as November.

Although faculty support for the program at the Friday meeting was mixed, top administrators, including President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Interim Law School Dean Roger H. Trangsrud, endorse it. The proposal also received unanimous support from the Law School Curriculum Committee.

The program, which would admit a select group of high school seniors, allows students to complete their bachelor’s degree and law degree in six years at a fixed tuition rate. Administrators believe the proposed B.A./J.D. degree and current combined degree programs allow particularly ambitious students to save money and time; most combined degree programs last one year less than traditional professional programs.

Law faculty had a variety of questions that they said needed to be answered before they could make an informed decision about the proposal, Transgrud said. Professors wanted to know which other schools have the programs and how an undergraduate GPA and class rank would transfer to the Law School.

Trangsrud said the faculty’s attitude was “hard to tell.” Some were “sympathetically optimistic” while others were opposed.

Arthur Wilmarth, a law professor who is also president of the Faculty Senate, said there was no indication of whether faculty would vote for the proposal. The Faculty Senate is comprised of professors from all undergraduate and graduate schools.

The law faculty’s opinion would be partly contingent upon how many students are in the program, Wilmarth said.

“A large program would be more controversial. Five or 10 students is very different from 50 to 100,” he said.

Several faculty members were concerned about whether the American Bar Association would be willing to grant waivers to program participants who would not have taken the LSAT. No one in the law school had approached the ABA about the issue, Wilmarth said.

Law professors will likely vote on the proposal at their Nov. 12 meeting if their questions are answered. If passed, the combined degree would then be submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval. Officials hope to have the degree in place for the 2006 freshman class.

The B.A./J.D. program is an endeavor the GW administration is promoting heavily. Administrators first introduced the concept last fall, and Trachtenberg talked about the program in his speech to an audience of faculty members last month.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, called combined degree programs “synergies of strength” and said he would like to see an engineering/law program for people interested in patent or environmental law, as well as a business/law combination program. With 87 undergraduate majors and dozens of graduate degree offerings, GW is strong enough for more joint degree programs, Chernak said.

Trachtenberg said he sees other benefits to these types of programs, such as “having (the) intellectual challenge of working with a special group.”

The new programs could also raise GW’s academic reputation, he said.

“(The new program is) just a further effort to look for every conceivable way to improve the University and add value to our program,” Trachtenberg said in an interview earlier this month.

Chernak pointed to the existing seven-year B.A./M.D. program, now in its 13th year, as an example of the success of combined degree programs. Interest in the program is high among prospective students, with more than 500 applying each year for an average class of 20.

Chernak and Trachtenberg dismissed concerns that admittance of high school seniors to a top law school might threaten its rank or caliber of instruction. Chernak said the programs will draw top students from across the country, including those who would have ended up at schools like Yale or Stanford universities as pre-law students.

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