The Potomac School of Law, unaccredited and faced with declining enrollment and a deteriorating financial situation, yesterday told District of Columbia licensing officials that it has taken steps to close down the school as soon as its current students graduate.
For the long run, only a major influsion of money will keep the institution alive, school officials said.
The school board's decision, made at a meeting last Monday, effectively ends the institution's six-year struggle for survival as a traditional law school -- a struggle marred by constant mismanagement, false promises and wishful thinking, according to students and former school officials.
More than 600 student have spent some $3.5 million in those six years in the hopes of becoming graduates of an accreditated institution.
Richard Granat, the school's sixth president in as many years, told the D.C. Educational Licensure Commission that the school's board of directors had agreed that Potomac would not admit new students unless the school could become financially stable.
Since its founding in 1975, Potomac has never been on solid financial footing. With a current debt of about $300,000, Granat conceded that it was unlikely that sufficient funds could be found any time soon.
"I don't like to use the term 'phase out', but that's what it is," Granat said in an interview. He said his main focus for the short term is to protect the interest of the school's current 145 students, down from a high enrollment of 350 students three years ago.
Granat said he will still pursue a long-term plan to convert Potomac into a profit-making school -- not the nonprofit, tax-exempt educational institution it now is -- and revamp the curriculum to focus on the growing use of computers in legal research, hoping to entice money from high technology corporations.
In the meantime, Granat said he was in "sensitive negotiations" with a number of schools to work out "strategies" for taking care of the existing students. Some students still may be able to take the bar exam in Georgia, the only state regularly to permit Potomac graduates to take its qualifying exams.
Another option might be to place as many as the existing students as possible in already accredited institutions. Some students already are seeking enrollment in other schools, he said.
In his letter to the commission, Granat also outlined a plan in which accredited institutions might accept Potomac students as special students and allow them to take up to 24 hours of credits at those schools. The students would then return to Potomac to get their degrees.
Under American Bar Association rules, students who complete 24 hours of study at an accredited school, even it they graduate from an unaccredited institution, may be permitted to sit for the bar exam in any state. Potomac students have never been routinely permitted to sit for the D.C bar exam, but might be able to do so under the proposed option.
Begun with high hopes in the spring of 1975, Potomac occupied plush quarters at the Watergate office building for most of its existence. Several city judges served at one point on its faculty and board.
In recent interviews, several students pointed out that school authorities never claimed the school was accredited by the ABA. They said that all Potomac students, many of whom had been unable to go to accredited schools, understood that accreditation was necessary to allow them to take the DC. bar and most other state examinations.
Even so, the students said that, given the impressive faculty and facilities, they had every reasonto believe school officials' that ABA accrediation was near or that merger with an accredited school was a clear possibility.
About 80 grduates have passed the Georgia bar examination, a step which enables them to qualify for the Maryland bar exam. Approximately 20 are practicing in those states.
The school presently shares space in downtown Washington at Benjamin Franklin University.