George Mason University, long thwarted in its efforts to establish a law school at its campus in Northern Virginia, announced plans yesterday to buy one.
In a joint announcement, the International School of law and the George Mason University Foundation said the Foundation had agreed to buy the law school's 11-acre site in Arlington.
The foundation is a nonprofit corporation set up to serve the needs of George Mason University and the International School of Law is a private, unaccredited law school operating out of an old Kann's department store in the Clarendon section of Arlington.
In a formal statement, John T. Hazel, Jr., chairman of George Mason Univertsity's Board of Visitors, said the move is a "tangible indication of the dedication of George Mason University to the merger of the International School of Law as the law school of George Mason."
Ralph Norvell, dean of the law school, said in the announcement that the agreement reflects an "unqualified commitment of the International School of Law board of directors to merge with George Mason University."
Any merger of the two schools is contingent on approval of the State Legislature and the Council of Higher Education for Virginia which was directed by the legislature this year to study the feasibility of a public law school at George Mason.
State Sen. Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, said yesterday whatever decision the legislature makes likely will be governed by the outcome of that study and review of the costs of such a step. As to purchase of the law school site by the foundation he said, "It's a private foundation and it's their business."
Twice before, the council has rejected proposals to establish a law school at George Mason. Officials of the school have complained that the decisions reflect what they sometimes view as George Mason's "stepchild" status in the state college system.
In its previous decisions, the council rejected a law school at George Mason, arguing that it would be too expensive and that there already are too many lawyers in the state. The legislature also has refused repeated requests by Northern Virginians for approval of the law school.
Officials at George Mason agreed yesterday that the possibility of affiliation with an existing law school with the enrollment of nearly 600 could be helpful in persuading the council that a public law school is, in fact, feasible.
"There are potential mutual benefits," said Robert Krug, acting president of George Mason.
Founded just over five years ago when 26 students showed up in a makeshift classroom in a borrowed church basement on 20th St. NW in Washington, the International School of Law has lived a hand-to-mouth existence for much of its life, but its enrollments have climbed steadily.
A year ago in March, it moved into the old Kann's store, a block from the future Claredon Metro station. There, in a stark three-story building, budding lawyers study wills and torts where appliances and bedroom suites once were displayed.
Despite its growth, the school has not been able to satisfy accreditation standards of the American Bar Association, which means its graduates are unable to take bar examinations in many states.
Currently, Virginia permits graduates of International School to take bar exams, but Maryland does not. The District of Columbia has, but will not in the future.
It could not be learned yesterday how much the George Mason Foundation was paying for the school of Law had an option to buy the site from Kann's for $3 million.