Arizona State University wants approval to spend more than $130 million for a new downtown law school even though the university president acknowledges that moving the school is financially untenable.
To move ahead with the plan, the university would have to significantly increase law-school enrollment, raise tuition, enhance quality and launch a series of master’s degree programs.
ASU President Michael Crow told the Arizona Republic the university is weighing whether a new, downtown Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law passes financial muster. Crow said the university will move forward only if officials have high confidence the project will succeed.
“Otherwise, we’re not going to do it,” Crow said Wednesday.
That isn’t stopping planning for the move. The university is asking the Arizona Board of Regents to approve a plan that includes $129 million toward construction of a 294,000-square-foot law school in downtown Phoenix.
The complex would be built on a parking lot that formerly was the site of a Ramada Inn between the existing ASU nursing and journalism schools.
“This is essentially one step in a multistep review-and-approval process,” Lorenzo Martinez, the regents’ associate vice president for finance and administration, said of the Board of Regents request.
In an e-mail to the Republic, law-school Dean Douglas Sylvester said the college has “no current plans to grow our J.D. (Juris Doctor) class beyond its historical size and beyond the capacity of the college to continue to find productive employment for all of our graduates.”
Evan as ASU contemplates raising law-school enrollment, many other law schools are cutting incoming classes because the economy has made it difficult for law-school graduates to get jobs and repay student loans.
No timetable for the possible ASU law school has been set, although the plan presented to regents shows it among projects planned for fiscal years 2014.
University officials could decide to postpone or cancel the project even if it is approved. If construction begins on the law school, it would likely take 30 months to complete, said Rich Stanley, ASU senior vice president and university planner. The move would put the law school in the heart of the legal community, because federal and county courts and many big law firms are downtown.
“There are a lot of benefits to our students being nearer that action,” Stanley said.
ASU said in its regents documents that it hopes to increase law-school enrollment and degrees by 50 percent. The Tempe campus cannot accommodate that growth, the report says. The law school’s current enrollment is between 650 and 700 students and its space on the Tempe campus is about 165,000 square feet.
Proposed plans for the school include classrooms, an auditorium, offices, a 230-space parking structure, a law library and retail space. ASU also wants to host more continuing-education programs for attorneys.