What is the status of a potential merger between the University of Akron Law School and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law?

Officials from the University of Akron and Cleveland State University announced in August 2020 that they would form a committee to explore the idea of ​​merging their law schools.

The fact that it was even considered sparked interest not only from faculty and alumni in the local market, but also from higher and legal education watchers across the country. After all, it’s not something that happens so often.

There are only about 200 American Bar Association-accredited law schools in the United States, and mergers between them are not so common. The last two were in 2015 – one combined Hamline University with Minnesota’s William Mitchell College of Law, the other involved two Rutgers schools. Both were spurred in part by the lingering effects of the Great Recession that coincided with a sharp drop in law school enrollment.

It’s been nearly a year and a half since law schools in northeast Ohio announced they were considering a merger, which begs the question: what is the status of those merger talks? ?

According to the schools, the merger discussion is ongoing and will continue as CJ Peters, Dean of the University of Akron Law School, is replaced by Emily Janoski-Haehlen around this time next month.

According to a few committee members, however, who spoke confidentially, those talks appear to have failed, whether or not the universities said as much.

Following the 2020 announcement, a number of sub-committees were formed with a variety of faculty and school officials and other regional legal industry stakeholders.

These subcommittees include groups tasked with delving into aspects and impacts of a potential merger, such as finance and governance, faculty and curriculum, student opportunities, and competition in the market, administration and staff as well as elders and the community.

A few members of the subcommittee said they participated in a few meeting sessions, but they note that correspondence regarding future meetings was dropped around March 2021. They say that when they asked schools for updates or whatever it was in progress again, and they were effectively told no.

In particular, one member said, professors at the University of Akron Law School seemed particularly reluctant about the idea of ​​a combination. Some fear losing their jobs.

“If you don’t get the faculty moving, it’s hard to move something like this forward,” the member said. “Based on my conversations here, fusion is pretty much dead in the water.”

This person also indicated that some faculty were upset that they learned about the merger talks, as most of the public did through a press release and not through direct communications from the school. .

The deans of those law schools — including Peters, new UA dean Janoski-Haehlen and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law dean Lee Fisher — were recently scheduled to discuss the status of merger talks with Crain’s.

This meeting was canceled by school officials.

The deans provided the following statement in lieu of an interview: “In 2020, the University of Akron Law School and the Cleveland Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University began exploring the opportunities for strategic partnerships between the two law schools. The exploratory process involved input from faculty, students, staff, alumni and other stakeholders from both law schools. One of the first results of this collaboration has been a successful cross-enrollment initiative that allows students from each law school to take certain credit courses in the other faculty.This initiative, students can take advantage of the diversity of curricula and expertise of the body faculty at each law school. Both law schools continue to explore opportunities for collaboration, and those discussions will continue when Emily Janoski-Haehlen succeeds Christ opher J. (CJ) Peters as Akron Dean of Law on February 21, 2022. At this point, it is premature to publicly discuss the nature of the opportunities under consideration.

Asked about the comments provided by some members of the merger exploratory committee participants – including the feeling that the talks are “dead in the water” and that there have apparently been no new meetings formally held since last spring – Deans declined to comment beyond the statement provided.

Merger talks may have stalled over the past year, but they haven’t completely burned down when it comes to schools.

Some sources have indicated that the situation with the movement pushing Cleveland-Marshall to rebrand itself could also be a factor in the merger. Some UA faculty have reportedly expressed reservations about their connection to a school named after an influential Supreme Court justice who nevertheless has an admittedly questionable history related to slavery (he was a slave owner and trader) and the violation of Native American rights. Factors like these are why activists argue Marshall’s name should be dropped from the CSU college moniker.

You can read more about some of the factors that spurred the merger talks and what some observers consider important aspects of a combination between the schools in this Fall 2020 Crain article. You can also read more on how law schools in Ohio like these overlap. in terms of acceptance rate here.

Historically speaking, the merger is a familiar thing in Cleveland-Marshall.

As Fisher noted in a Jan. 24 “Monday Morning Message” newsletter email, key founders of John Marshall Law School included Cleveland attorneys Alfred Benesh (who is also a founder of the Cleveland-based law firm Cleveland known simply as Benesch today), Frank Cullivan and David Channing.

In 1946, Cleveland Law School merged with John Marshall School of Law, which created Cleveland-Marshall Law School. It was in 1969 that the school joined Cleveland State University, where it was renamed Cleveland Marshall College of Law.

This story is important to note because some people believe that Cleveland-Marshall is not named after John Marshall, but by Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer and civil rights activist who served on the Supreme Court as an associate justice between 1967 and 1991.

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