A new master’s in the study of law program at the University of Iowa will not dilute the quality of a traditional UI law student’s education and experience, according to the College of Law dean.
But before the Board of Regents earlier this month approved the new non-traditional one-year degree for students interested in studying law but not practicing law, board members raised questions about how the program would affect the UI college’s reputation and its traditional students.
“I was troubled when I first took a look at this,” Regent Ruth Harkin said during the board’s December meeting. “I thought it diluted the prestige or our law school.”
Board members asked how the new degree will differ from the college’s traditional degrees, how it will affect the classroom experience, whether it will drive down admission standards, and whether all that will harm the law school’s prestige.
UI officials say they believe the new master’s degree will bolster programming, not harm it. And with the number of traditional law school applicants down nationally and locally, officials contend the abbreviated one-year degree could bump up UI enrollment.
The new master’s program is expected to launch in fall 2015.
“There are so many people who need to know more about the law just to do their own jobs well,” she said.
Before moving forward with the program, the college must obtain the acquiescence of its accrediting body, the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. And it first needed regent approval, which board members provided at their Dec. 3 meeting.
standards not as ‘rigorous’
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UI law professor Christina Bohannan, who will serve as the program’s inaugural director, said she and Agrawal plan to attend the March 11 board meeting in Iowa City to share more about the program. Agrawal also has provided a written response to some of the board’s questions, including the notion that having students pursuing the less-intensive “study of law” degree in the same classroom as traditional juris doctor students will “dilute the quality of the JD classroom experience.”
“No,” Agrawal wrote in a response provided to the Board of Regents on Dec. 10, explaining that mixing students “with different academic and work backgrounds enhances the classroom experience.”
In fact, she said, that blending of students already happens. The College of Law allows graduate students from other colleges to enroll in law school courses, and upper-level undergraduates occasionally enroll in law school courses with the consent of an instructor.
“Law students are also permitted to enroll in graduate level courses across the campus,” Agrawal wrote.
And many do, she said.
As for questions about admission standards, Agrawal said, the College of Law for all its degree programs thoroughly reviews an applicant’s file. But, she said, students interested in the new master’s program won’t necessarily have to take a standardized test for graduate level studies, and the college won’t have a “minimum admission standard.”
A combination of high ACT or SAT scores and strong undergraduate performance could be used as a substitute for a graduate-level standardized test in the admissions process, according to Agrawal.
“Because it is not a professional program, admission standards do not have to be as rigorous,” according to regent documents.
As proposed, the new master’s in the study of law will educate students and professionals who don’t want to practice law but need to “recognize and respond effectively to legal issues in their work,” according to regent documents. It will require 30 credit hours to be completed either in one year or in up to four years on a part-time basis.
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The proposed curriculum combines traditional cornerstone courses on legal reasoning and methods with more advanced cross-disciplinary courses. The goal is to be flexible based on individual needs, allowing students to build their own course of study or follow a designated specialty track.
Specialty track options include a “business and innovation track” and a “law and public policy track,” according to regent documents.
Tuition will be substantially less than for the juris doctor program, according to law school officials. Resident students enrolling in the new program will pay $700 per credit hour, while nonresidents will pay $1,300 per hour.
Bohannan said because traditional law school applicants have declined, the college is prepared to handle additional students — including those following a non-traditional path.
In just the last month, she said, 10 to 15 people have expressed interest in the new program.
“If we have more students who are interested, it would be a good problem to have,” Bohannan said.