Leaking roof among signs of deteriorating building, lack of funds delay improvements
Editor's note: Earlier this year, the disheartening news from U.S. News and World Report rocked the Law School.
The school was no longer in the top 100, dropping into the unranked, third tier of the annual report. It was a frustrating day for students in the school, said Philip Land, president of the Student Bar Association.
“When we see USC Law, we have so much pride,” Land said. “We want a ranking that reflects the level of pride we have. To see us fall into the third tier is to indicate somewhere along the way up, that level of pride isn’t shared.”
Dean Walter “Jack” Pratt said he didn’t consider the rankings valid. The slightest hiccup from a school can drop it dozens of spots, Pratt said, as so many schools are clustered together in the second tier.
“But we are concerned because students, faculty and law firms use them,” he said.
A look into the school through the eyes of a recent Blue Ribbon Report and a resolution passed unanimously by the Student Bar Association shows the problems inside the Law School are vast and could take years to fix.
This story is the second installment of a three-day look into USC’s Law School. Yesterday’s story focused on internal
issues within the school. Today’s story looks at the deteriorating building and the stalled effort to construct a new one. The series concludes tomorrow with a look toward the future.
On a third-floor hallway, there sits a rubber trash container to catch water leaking from the ceiling. On the can, there is a sign that warns only those with hazmat-certification training can touch the container.
The roof of the Law School center has leaked more than a dozen times in the past year, displacing students from classrooms and courtrooms inside the building. USC started the process of installing a new roof last month, with an expected completion date of Thanksgiving.
But there are problems besides a leaking roof and a contaminated trash can. It’s often hard for the school to fix broken air conditioners and heaters because the parts are no longer produced, Pratt said.
The almost 40 years old building has deteriorated. When a similar panel evaluated the school in 1997, it noted the same issues.
“It isn’t designed for the kind of teaching faculty and staff like to do today,” Pratt said.
But the school has been talking about a new building for years, and progress has stalled time and time again. Ask different people, and you’ll hear there are different people to blame.
To most, it doesn’t matter who is blamed. The building is simply bad.
“But a building that looked tired 15 years ago now looks dramatically behind peers with which you compete,” the panel wrote. “We believe that the challenge of what to do about the building has come to dominate, and to some degree prevent, meaningful progress on other strategic challenges of the school.”
The Student Bar Association’s resolution called the lack of facilities embarrassing.
“My public high school was in better shape than the law school,” Land said. “The building is unsafe. Just the other day, a set of ceiling tiles fell in. Luckily, a group of students weren’t seated below.”
It’s an interesting conundrum for a school that can’t make a decision. One option is to drastically improve the current building, putting millions of dollars of renovations into a facility in dire need of updates. The other option is to build a new building from scratch, which the panel said would be a “significant enhancement to the school.”
The panel wrote that the building situation has led to a cynical atmosphere from current students and graduates concerning future financial gifts to the school. It urged the school to make a choice soon, because it if doesn’t, the credibility of the University will diminish.
Provost Michael Amiridis said USC plans to make a decision in “months, not years.” He admitted progress on a new building has taken too long, and there are significant infrastructure problems within the existing center.
The provost said his goal is still to build a new center, which could cost $50 million or more.
“But we all know the situations we are in financially,” Amiridis said. “If someone doesn’t know, they must have come aboard in the past week.”
Pratt said funding has been the biggest issue during his term as dean. The school has recently worked to boost alumni relations, and Pratt said Amiridis, President Harris Pastides and Ted Moore, USC’s chief financial officer, are committed to finding funds.
Money is an issue with the school, which has raised tuition to more than $20,000 a year — among the highest in the Southeast. That has surprised some visiting alumni, Pratt said.
Alumni often believe that since USC is a state-supported school, the legislature should fund a new building. And it’s difficult to persuade them that that just won’t happen, the dean said.
“We’re working to improve the education for students when there’s just not money there,” he said. “And that’s disappointing.”