CHARLESTON – Now that its pharmacy school is up and running, the University of Charleston might turn its focus to starting a law school.
Last month, UC President Ed Welch said the school's board of trustees had agreed to accept Dow Chemical's Building 82 along MacCorkle Avenue in South Charleston. The first thought was to turn the 11-story brick office tower into dormitories for the pharmacy students, but Welch now says the school is weighing all of its options.
Then, last week, South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb sent a letter to Welch urging him to consider using Building 82 to create a law school. Welch has mentioned UC might create a second professional school.
"I do not know what this school might be but I urge the University of Charleston to consider once again a law school," Robb wrote. "Contrary to what some might say, I believe a law school would be beneficial both to the community and to the university."
A few years ago when UC pondered its first professional school, Welch said a law school was the second choice behind pharmacy.
"We made a commitment to bring the issue back up after the pharmacy school was in operation," Welch said. "Well, we're there now. We've appointed a committee to look at the options of a second graduate school and what it should be."
Back then, Welch said the school did a study on the need for a law school.
"The old study from four or five years ago said many people in West Virginia say there is a need for lawyers in West Virginia," he said. "But it would have to be good for the school and good for the state. As you know, people either love the idea or hate it.
"Charleston, obviously, is the hub of activity in the state. A case could be made for saying there was a sufficient level of interest (in the old study)."
Welch said the committee will update that study. The committee will meet soon, and Welch said the plan is to have a decision by January.
In his letter to Welch, Robb mentions recent talk of Marshall University also possibly starting a law school.
"However, I suspect West Virginia University will discourage any public initiative of this nature," Robb wrote of the state's only current university with a law school. "This only serves to add the Huntington area to your student population base. There may even be some in your own camp that will support WVU's continuing monopoly of this educational venue."
Robb wrote that one of Charleston's best kept secrets is a thriving legal community.
"Many firms employ graduates of other than West Virginia University," he wrote. "This thriving legal community also provides a base for the university to recruit fulltime or adjunct faculty."
Robb, an attorney himself, also dismisses the notion that the state already has enough lawyers.
"There is still a premium on justice in our area," he said. "I attribute this objection primarily to the selfishness of other lawyers wanting to maintain a market monopoly. Many of these same naysayers advocate greater educational opportunities yet turn around to disparage further legal education."
Robb, who obtained his law degree from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1980s, also mentions all of the law schools in Ohio, including ones in cities such as Dayton, Toledo and Akron.
"South Charleston can as well," he wrote.
On Tuesday, Robb reiterated the comments in his letter.
"This is something that I am convinced needs to be done," he said. "It would be progress for southern West Virginia."