WilmU breaks ground on law school at Brandywine campus
BRANDYWINE – Wilmington University symbolically broke ground Thursday on its new law school and a convocation center that will also serve as home to the university’s Criminal Justice Institute at its Brandywine campus off U.S. Route 202.
“When I saw the bulldozers on site this morning I got a very excited feeling,” President Dr. LaVerne Harmon told the array of university trustees and officials, builders, architects and bankers on hand for the occasion. “These new buildings represent an exciting and pivotal moment in Wilmington University’s history,” she said.
Both buildings are budgeted at $71 million and are expected to be completed in 2025. The new law school will be three stories high at 52,000 square foot. Meanwhile, the 85,000 square foot convocation center will seat 2,000 people.
“I’ve asked the architect of the convocation center if we can’t squeeze in a few more seats,” Harmon added.
The new law school, which started classes last fall, is planning to distinguish itself by two innovations: affordable tuition and a curriculum that makes better use of law education’s third-year programs. Initial tuition rates are $24,000 annually for full-time students and $18,000 for part-time enrollees, which are less than half of fees charged by Delaware’s only other law school, operated by Widener University.
Wilmington University students will have a required course load for the first two years that will provide a cross-discipline of legal subjects for students but will have flexible, experiential learning during the third year of studies – a year many students traditionally view as unnecessary.
According to Law School Dean Phillip Closius, students can spend this third year in doctrinal classes or in some specialty that they’re interested in or a combination of both while also allowing for Delaware’s five-month clerkship requirement for bar admittance.
“We have finished the first semester of classes,” Closius said, “and have done so remarkably well. We have seven faculty members for this year and will add two more next year.”
As with all startup law schools, Wilmington University will have to seek accreditation by the American Bar Association, a necessary requirement for graduates to be able to take the licensing bar exam in the various states. That process has already begun, Closius said, and it is possible that accreditation might be granted as early as next year.
“We are committed to having a diverse student body,” he said, “and we’ve told the chief justice [Collins J. Seitz, Jr.] that we are willing to work with him in his mission to have a more-diverse bar and bench in Delaware.” Among the challenges cited in a recent Supreme Court report were the costs of a law degree and the need to expand access to underrepresented students graduating from community college or from bachelor’s degree programs.
During her remarks, Harmon emphasized that the idea of establishing a law school has been on the university’s agenda for several years but that the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down its plans.
Closius said that much thought went into the design of the new law school.“We stressed early that it had to be welcoming when students arrive on campus,” he said. “It will have a three-story glass atrium looking out into the woods that provides an instant ‘Wow.’” There also will be student lounges on each floor as well as 15 study group spaces and state of the art technology features.
Harmon said the words to the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” had been repeating through her head the past two days, but there was a break in the rain as the symbolic shovelfuls of dirt were tossed into the air.