Top Charlotte School of Law leader steps down

Updated: Mar. 21, 2017 at 8:04 AM EDT
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Charlotte School of Law announced Monday that Scott Broyles, a longtime faculty member and...
Charlotte School of Law announced Monday that Scott Broyles, a longtime faculty member and former federal prosecutor, has been named interim dean of the school. He replaces Jay Conison (Charlotte School of Law)
After four years as dean of Charlotte School of Law, Jay Conison stepped down Monday. He will...
After four years as dean of Charlotte School of Law, Jay Conison stepped down Monday. He will remain on the faculty.

CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - With his school's future hanging in the balance, the dean of the beleaguered Charlotte School of Law is stepping down.

Jay Conison has led the uptown, for-profit school for almost four years. Charlotte Law announced his departure with a four-paragraph statement Monday afternoon. Conison will remain on the faculty, the statement said.

He will be replaced on an interim basis by Scott Broyles, a former federal prosecutor who joined the Charlotte faculty in 2006.

"I am honored that the faculty has placed its trust in me as we move forward," Broyles said in the school's statement. "While we face serious challenges, our aim is clear: to restore faith in our institution through consistent standards in admissions and best practices in the classroom."

The school's alumni, which in February called on Conison and school President Chidi Ogene to resign, applauded the change.

"We are excited about Dean Broyles' vision for the Charlotte School of Law and for his leadership," said Charlotte attorney Lee Robertson Jr, president of the alumni association. "Dean Broyles has been a respected and dedicated member of the faculty for many years, and our alumni are optimistic for the future of our law school."

Conison led the for-profit school during its most tumultuous era and leaves his leadership position while the uptown school straddles an uncertain future.

Charlotte Law, like law schools nationwide, was hit hard by the recession and the resulting shrinkage of legal jobs. But Charlotte Law's problems only grew from there.

In November, the school was placed on probation by the American Bar Association for longstanding problems with admission, curriculum and bar exam test scores. A month later, the Department of Education made the school the first-ever accredited law school to lose access to the federal student-loan program. The department singled out Conison and school President Chidi Ogene and accused them of hiding the seriousness of the school's shortcomings from current and prospective students.

Last year, the school's students received more than $48 million to cover tuition, fees and living expenses. The school is one of three for-profit law schools operated by the the InfiLaw chain.

In an interview with the Observer last month, Ogene has called that decision unprecedented and unfair, adding that it ignored reforms the school already had in place and punished students only weeks before the start of the next semester. Enrollment plummeted, and the school fired more than a dozen faculty members to cut costs.

In an email to students Monday, Ogene appeared to confirm that the Department of Education has approved a resumption of loans for the current semester for students who received them in the fall.

The long-range outlook for the money remains unclear, however. This month, Ogene and other school leaders met with the American Bar Association over what is known as a teach-out plan. Under the strategy, a closing school partners with another institution to make sure its current students can complete their educations. The bar association did not respond to an email Monday seeking an update on the school's status.

Charlotte law officials did not respond to an email seeking more information about Conison's departure and the school's current status. In an interview with the Observer last month, Ogene said the school will likely close if the student-loan money is not restored.

Ogene said in February that the school hoped for a fairer hearing from new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, believed to be a more favorably disposed to for-profit schools. Given the damage to its reputation, it's unclear whether the school can recruit well enough going forward to meet its stated goal of a more academically prepared student body.

Student leaders, who joined faculty and alumni in calling for the ouster of Ogene and Conison, said the change was necessary. But they wondered about the timing and why it stopped with Conison.

"I wish this would have happened months ago," said Margaret Kocaj, a third-year student scheduled to graduate in May. "It's not clear why it's happening now. I'm happy it's happening. I just don't know why it took so long."

Former faculty member Brian Clarke called Conison's resignation "a necessary move if the school is to have credibility with the students and remaining faculty. Jay had just lost credibility, justifiably or not."

But Clarke questioned whether the move will markedly improve the school's prospects.

"With Chidi still president and InfiLaw still in place, not much can change," he said.