At a press conference this morning, officials from Western Michigan University and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing announced a partnership that will bring a satellite campus, and eventually a full-blown branch campus, of the law school to Grand Rapids. The school will be based on the fourth floor of WMU’s Downtown Graduate Center. Classes will start in January at WMU’s East Beltline Graduate Center, and eventually occupy buildings on the corner of Oakes Street and Commerce Avenue, as well as part of 121 Commerce Ave.
But this morning’s announcement has ruffled some feathers elsewhere.
“We think the WMU/Cooley program is unnecessary and, at this time of state budget difficulties, unwarranted,” said Matt McLogan, Grand Valley State University’s vice president of university relations.
That’s because GVSU, Michigan State University and MSU-DCL College of Law also have collaborated on a program that will result in a law course being offered next month on Grand Valley’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids and in the development of a law curriculum in the near future.
GVSU officials call the WMU/Cooley agreement an effort “to duplicate the law program in Grand Rapids and the collaboration between the three schools that has been underway since 1999.”
GVSU Counsel Tom Butcher said, “I’ve been working as the point person on this project for five years. Our goal has been to bring a quality law program to West Michigan in collaboration with the Grand Rapids Bar Association. We believe MSU-DCL College of Law promotes the highest standards in the practice of law and is a good fit for West Michigan.”
WMU’s efforts to bring the prestigious Cooley Law School to Grand Rapids also has been in the works for at least a year, and was the result of communication between the schools’ presidents. Cooley President Don LeDuc said research by his school showed that Grand Rapids was the largest metropolitan area in the nation not served by a law school. “Some cities of this size have two,” added Jim Schultz, regional director for WMU Grand Rapids.
GVSU officials say their program will enhance legal education in West Michigan by creating the Legal Education Institute of West Michigan in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Bar Association. Additionally, they point out that GVSU’s Steelcase Library on the Pew Campus houses the city’s most complete law library, which is a joint undertaking of GVSU and the G.R. Bar.
But WMU/Cooley will counter with a law library on the ground and first floors of the Oakes Street building. LeDuc said the library is another step in helping Cooley become a branch campus on which law students can start and complete their law degrees in West Michigan.