Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) joined the fired former deans of the Antioch Law School yesterday in urging the D.C. City Council to grant the embattled school a special charter that could permit it to break away from its parent Antioch University.
The city's nonvoting spokesman in Congress paid an unusual visit to the chamber where he once served to propose that the city re-establish the old Urban Law Institute, which became Antioch Law School in 1971.
The institute was founded in 1969 by Edgar Cahn and his wife, Jean Camper Cahn, who built it into the nation's foremost school of clinical legal education. They were fired as co-deans last month in a dispute with the university's trustees and administration over financial autonomy.
The Cahns, who testified after Fauntroy endorsed the special charter idea, left no doubt they would like to reclaim control of the legal institution.
While J. Hardy (D-Ward 7), who presided at yesterday's informal investigative hearing, said at the outset that its purpose was to seek ways to protect the school's programs and students and not to take sides in Antioch's dispute with the Cahns.
But Hardy echoed the praise of the Cahns voiced by Fauntroy, who said, "I am not neutral . . . It (Antioch Law) is on the verge of destruction because the people who created it gave it life are about to be gone."
The audience of about 75 was composed mainly of Antioch students, many of whom testified that, without the Cahns, the school would lose its sense of mission and become just another law school.
In a news conference before the hearing, Pennfield Tate, speaking for the school's Student Alliance, expressed concern that the school would lose a $420,000-a-year federal grant that finances legal aid by students for the city's poor.
A stop-gap grant of $35,000 a month will expire Feb. 29. Antioch University, based in Ohio, has been warned by the federal Legal Services Corp. that it must re-establish the board of governors of the law school that was disbanded in the dispute with the Cahns, and that it should rehire the deans.
Joseph Meng, acting dean of the law school, said the governing board is in the process of being re-established, but that "under no circumstances will (Antioch University) reinstate the deans." Meng told the council that "my role is to preserve Antioch Law School, not to change it at all."
Under Fauntroy's proposal, the District would issue a charter -- the first of its kind -- to the Urban Law Institute, with the idea that it would reclaim the property and programs of the law school.