Tuesday, November 9, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle U Acquires UPS Law School -- News Of Deal Shocks And Angers Students On Tacoma Campus

Gratitude was not the first reaction among University of Puget Sound law students after they learned their school was being sold to Seattle University.

Startled and angered by news of the unusual deal, hundreds of future lawyers greeted UPS President Susan Pierce with silence at a special meeting last night. Some hissed.

But after lambasting the UPS president and trustees for negotiating the departure of Washington's largest law school from Tacoma, students enthusiastically applauded the man who initiated talks, Seattle University President William Sullivan.

"I really believe that 10, 15, 20 years from now we have the opportunity to have one of the premier law schools in the United States right in the heart of Seattle," Sullivan declared.

Seattle University's acquisition of the University of Puget Sound Law School was announced yesterday after UPS trustees approved the deal, which had been under discussion since July.

Bill Weyerhaeuser, chairman of the UPS board, described it as a "win-win-win" situation that allows UPS to focus on undergraduate studies while Seattle University expands its already substantial graduate programs.

The talks were conducted in such secrecy that Don Carmichael, acting dean of the law school, was informed of them only yesterday.

That secrecy angered many of the students who packed a lecture hall at the law school last night. "I wonder if it crossed anyone's mind for a fraction of a second to tell students what was happening," said Dan Bridges.

"You didn't sell a building, you sold our futures," said another student.

Officials of both universities told worried students the takeover will enhance, not reduce, the prestige of their law degrees. Weyerhaeuser called the SU takeover a "long-term strategic decision" that had to be made by board members.

David Skover, a constitutional law professor, told students he, too, was upset when he first heard the news. But after some reflection, he said, "I'm thrilled, I'm absolutely thrilled. . . . I don't believe there was a commitment to this law school by the main university any longer."

Carmichael said he favored moving the law school because it faced "somewhat bleak prospects" in a university that has jettisoned several graduate programs to focus on its undergraduate program.

The law school officially becomes part of Seattle University next September. Students are expected to continue taking most of their law classes in Tacoma's Broadway Plaza for the next five years while SU plans and builds a new law school on its Seattle campus.

Students now enrolled may choose whether to be identified as graduates of the UPS or SU law school. The school's impending departure is a setback - but not a fatal blow - to the revitalization of downtown Tacoma, local business leaders said.

"Anytime a major institution like that is leaving, it has to be a disappointment," said Karl Anderson, chairman of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

David Graybill, the chamber president, recalled that the UPS law school was an urban pioneer in the Tacoma renaissance. "They came downtown when it wasn't popular to be downtown. They provided an institutional anchor."

Downtown Tacoma is roaring back to life, softening the impact of the law school's departure, Graybill and Anderson said.

Initial reactions at SU were favorable.

"I was very surprised," said senior Bill Pedersen "because I heard the law school at UPS was rated very high. I was surprised UPS was willing to let it go. I think it definitely adds prestige to SU. It gives it another positive to draw students."

Wallace Loh, dean of the University of Washington School of Law, also welcomed what he called SU's "friendly takeover" of UPS Law School. Loh said SU and UW could collaborate by offering joint courses in specialized fields.

Loh said his one concern might be how much strain SU law students might put on the UW law library, the largest such library west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. The library has an open-door policy and is used on occasion by UPS law students who live in Seattle.

Top officials of UPS and SU declined to say how much money Seattle University is paying for the acquisition, which includes the UPS law school's library. Sullivan said the acquisition will be financed from SU's reserve fund. Current law-school faculty will be retained, he said.

The two college presidents said they began talking about a move of the school after Sullivan received several calls asking if a move was afoot. He called Pierce to discuss the unfounded rumors. As they talked, they realized the idea had serious possibilities.

"I was not riding up and down I-5 trying to find a law school. If I had been, this would have been my first choice," the SU president told law students last night.

UPS, which enjoys a growing reputation among private liberal-arts schools, has been retrenching since undertaking a self-examination in the 1970s, shortly after the law school opened. The university has dropped its master's programs in business administration, public administration, English, comparative literature and the sciences.

Seattle University currently offers professional and graduate degrees in business, education, engineering, nursing, public administration and pastoral ministry.

A specific site for the law school has not yet been selected, nor did SU officials have an estimate for the cost of a new building.

The law-school building will follow a series of major developments on campus over the past few years. The university is wrapping up a $55-million fund-raising drive to build a new university center and chapel, pay for remodeling of several other buildings and provide a number of endowed professorships.

The law school will be the subject of an additional fund-raising effort, said SU Provost John Eshelman, though he added school officials haven't explored that yet. "This has happened so quickly," he said.

Since it was founded in 1972, UPS' law school's enrollment has grown to 800 students, and the editors of "Top Law Schools" list it as one of the 56 best law schools in the nation. Acquisition of one university's graduate school by another is uncommon, but not unprecedented.

Quinnipiac College in Hamden, Conn., took over the financially troubled University of Bridgeport's School of Law last year. And the University of the District Columbia in 1986 took over a law school that had been operated in the nation's capital as a branch of Antioch College, whose main campus is in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Seattle University's acquisition of the UPS Law School will bring to 14 the number of Jesuit universities in the United States with law schools. SU was the only Jesuit college on the West Coast that did not have a law school, said SU spokesman Paul Blake.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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