Concordia University in Portland to close; fate of downtown Boise law school unclear

John Sowell Idaho Statesman//February 10, 2020

Concordia University in Portland to close; fate of downtown Boise law school unclear

John Sowell Idaho Statesman//February 10, 2020

Concordia Law School in Boise. File photo

Concordia University in Portland announced Monday that is shutting down its Portland campus after 115 years, though its leaders say they are in discussions to keep the School of Law in Boise operating.

In an interview with the Idaho Statesman, interim Concordia Law School Dean Latonia Haney Keith said leaders are talking with “multiple institutions” interested in taking over the law school. She said she could not publicly identify the schools.

But the University of Idaho is not among them. The U of I law school dean said he didn’t know Concordia Law’s future was in doubt until an Idaho Statesman reporter called seeking comment. The U of I operates a Boise branch of its law school in the former Ada County Courthouse.

“We have reached out to institutions that we thought have a mission alignment with us and our core values that really believe in what we’re doing here in Idaho,” Haney Keith said. “We’re hoping to be able to give more information in the next couple of weeks.”

School officials met with students to let them know about the situation before a public announcement was made at 11:15 a.m.

“We’ve asked for their patience as we work through this ,” said Keith, who has worked for the law school since 2015 and was named interim dean in August. “We will be meeting with them regularly and be as transparent as we possibly can throughout this process. But we want them to be really focused on their education.”

Three students standing outside the law school Monday afternoon declined to comment.

The Concordia University School of Law opened in fall 2012 with 75 students. About 150 students are enrolled at the law school now. The school has seen the number of students interested in attending increase since full accreditation from the American Bar Association was obtained in March 2019.

NInety first-year students began law school last fall — twice as many as the previous year’s class — and Concordia is on track to have an even bigger incoming class this fall, she said.

Jerry Long, dean at the University of Idaho College of Law, said he was saddened to hear about Concordia’s closing and its law school being thrust into uncertainty.

“We’re worried for their students and their employees,” Long said. “We obviously don’t like to see things like that happen.”

Long said the U of I isn’t one of the schools Concordia has reached out to about taking over the law school.

Back in 2014, when Concordia was unsuccessful in obtaining provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association, the U of I law school accepted 53 of Concordia’s students. Forty-two later graduated from U of I’s program.

“Should that need arise again, we’re more than happy to do what we can to help people out,” Long said.

Idaho’s law school has about 160 students each at its Moscow and Boise campuses. While the school has a moratorium on accepting transfer students, Long said an exception would be made for Concordia students, if needed.

The Lutheran university’s board of regents made the decision Friday to close the Portland campus. The closure came after years of mounting financial challenges and a changing educational landscape, the school said in a news release.

“After much prayer and consideration of all options to continue Concordia University — Portland’s 115-year legacy, the Board of Regents concluded that the university’s current and projected enrollment and finances make it impossible to continue its educational mission,” interim President Thomas Ries said in the release. “We have come to the decision that is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and partners.”

The university has more than 6,000 students in Portland, Boise and through online classes.

Concordia will hold its final commencement ceremony at the Portland campus on April 25. The law school commencement will take place in Boise on May 2.

Concordia, which opened in 1905, said it is working with its accrediting groups to help students transfer to other colleges and universities. Concordia has 15 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in education, management and law.

Faculty and staff members will also receive help finding new jobs.

After Concordia closes, the Portland campus will be turned over to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and one of its lenders, the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. It is expected the 24-acre campus will be offered for sale.

Concordia announced plans in April 2008 to open the law school in Boise the following year, though delays kept the school at 501 Front St. from opening until fall 2012.

The school spent $10.2 million to remodel a two-story building and add a three-story addition. Boise businessman George White and his wife, Geri, donated $1 million toward the building.

Between the time Concordia announced it would open a law school in Boise and the time it began admitting students, the University of Idaho opened a Boise campus for third-year law students. It later added first- and second-year-students.

Concordia had trouble obtaining accreditation for its program from the American Bar Association. The bar association put off making a decision for a year in 2014 after visiting the school and seeking additional information.

That year, 12 students were in their final year of classes. Without accreditation, they would not qualify to take the Idaho State Bar Exam, which they needed to pass to practice law. Concordia received provisional accreditation in June 2015, allowing the 11 first graduates to take the bar exam.