Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

For the past year, WMU and Cooley have been actively working to implement a formal affiliation agreement between the two schools that would deepen a decade-old relationship and offer the opportunity to launch a number of significant new initiatives. The boards of both institutions approved the agreement in 2013. Since then, Cooley and WMU have been pursuing the approval of their respective accrediting bodies.

Questions and Answers about the Affiliation:

What is the Affiliaton?

Thomas M. Cooley School and Western Michigan University have entered into a formal naming affiliation.

Cooley is the nation's largest law school, with five campuses in two states, and offers Juris Doctor (J.D.) and advanced Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees. WMU is a top-tier public research university with an enrollment of 25,000, seven regional locations and more than 240 degree programs. Both schools have a tradition of accessibility and a commitment to serving diverse populations that will be enhanced through the partnership. Under the affiliation, both schools will retain their independence, governance structure, and separate fiduciary responsibilities. Cooley is now called Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. It is continuing as an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity.

The affiliation became effective upon review and authorization by the schools' accrediting agencies, the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The affiliation needs further approval in Florida from the Florida Commission on Independent Education. That approval is pending.

Will either institution change its corporate structure or governance?

This is an affiliation between Cooley and WMU, not a merger of them. Thus, the affiliation does not change the governance of either institution by its respective board. The institutions remain autonomous.

Cooley remains a private, independent, non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational corporation. It is not a public or taxpayer-supported institution.

WMU likewise remains a Michigan constitutional public corporate body.

What are the financial ramifications of the Affiliation for students or the taxpayers?

The affiliation will not involve an exchange of funds or financial support, although as the relationship builds the institutions might enter into subsequent agreements, for example relating to the use of the other's facilities.

No taxpayer dollars will be expended beyond incidental expense.

No change in the tuition rate is contemplated as a result of the affiliation. Cooley students will continue to attend a private, non-profit law school.

Does the Affiliaton apply to all of Cooley's campuses?

Yes, the affiliation includes all campuses.

When did the Affiliaton become effective, and how long will it last?

The affiliation became effective upon the review and authorization of the accrediting agencies. The affiliation's term is ten years.

The presidents of the schools will jointly review the affiliation annually. The term will automatically extend for one year following each annual review unless the presidents take action to change the term of the affiliation.

The affiliation can be terminated by either school with three years' written notice to the other school's president and board chair, and with shorter notice for certain specified causes.

Why did the American Bar Association need to review this Affiliation?

Under ABA Standard 105 and its Interpretations, the affiliation is a "major change" that required the acquiescence of the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Cooley applied for and obtained the council's acquiescence.

Why have the institutions Affiliated?

Cooley and WMU currently have three formal academic programs (shared J.D.-M.B.A., J.D.-M.P.A., and J.D.-M.S.W. degree programs) and have been informal partners for fifteen years. The two institutions share a deep commitment to access, practical education, and community service. Through this affiliation, they intend to develop the nation's most comprehensive integration of law and other disciplines, as well as to integrate many current programs, projects, and services currently operated separately by each school.

ABA Standard 209 encourages independent law schools like Cooley to provide the benefits of being part of a university by developing working relationships with other educational institutions. The affiliation serves this purpose well while enhancing Cooley's reputation as the nation's leading practice-oriented law school.

The affiliation likewise expands opportunities for WMU students and enhances WMU's status as a nationally-ranked, comprehensive, research university. Already a top-100 public university, WMU will become one of less than 90 public universities in the nation affiliated with both a medical school and a law school.

What previous associations have the two schools had?

Formal ties between Cooley and WMU have been strong for more than a decade. The following is a list of some of the highlights.

  • • 2002—Cooley and WMU launched a partnership that brought a law school to Grand Rapids for the first time when they announced plans to open a Cooley branch campus in conjunction with WMU's Graduate Center-Downtown in the Arena District. WMU completed a $1.6 million build out of one floor of its Graduate Center to meet Cooley's needs. In 2005, Cooley moved to its own facility near the WMU Graduate Center.
  • • 2002—Cooley and WMU started a joint J.D./M.P.A. (master of public administration) degree program.
  • • 2008—Cooley and WMU began a joint J.D./M.B.A. (master of business administration) degree program.
  • • 2011—Cooley and WMU launched their third dual-degree partnership, providing West Michigan with its first-ever J.D./M.S.W. (master of social work) degree program.

What are some of the benefits to the schools and their students?

The affiliation enhances the breadth of academic life at both institutions, providing great benefit to the students and faculties of each school. The schools envision:

  • • expanded shared degree programs
  • • an accelerated program by which students will be able to obtain both an undergraduate and law degree in a shortened time at reduced cost
  • • improved student services
  • • shared research and teaching projects
  • • enhanced clinical and externship opportunities,
  • • stronger symposia, academic conferences, and speaker programs
  • • broader student activities

WMU is now affiliated with one of only 202 degree-conferring, ABA-accredited law schools. Of the 181 university-related accredited law schools, 82 are part of public universities. Affiliating with America's largest law school further elevates the status of WMU among the nation's leading universities.

Cooley, currently one of 21 independent, ABA-accredited law schools, is now affiliated with one of a select group of 147 public universities in the nation that are identified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as research universities, 73 of which are rated as high research, including WMU.

The schools will coordinate WMU's Center for the Study of Ethics in Society with Cooley's award-winning Professionalism Program and that program's concepts, including programs on principled administration for university leadership.

The students will benefit from access to a widely dispersed and highly successful alumni body of more than 250,000 WMU graduates and 18,000 Cooley graduates located in every state of the nation and in many foreign countries.

How is the Cooley-WMU Affiliation a good match?

The schools share overlapping missions and goals, including graduating students who possess requisite knowledge, master appropriate practical skills, and understand and embrace professionalism and ethics.

Both schools are deeply committed to providing access to education and improving diversity within their educational programs and the society into which their students graduate. WMU's commitment to diversity is enhanced by Cooley's initiatives and programs. Cooley enrolls more minority students than any other law school in the nation. Similarly, WMU enrolls a large minority population, which aids Cooley's efforts to provide under-represented groups with access to the legal profession.

Will there be a law school building on WMU's main campus?

There are no current plans to place a law school facility on WMU's main campus in Kalamazoo, though some law school classes likely will be offered on that campus. Cooley's Michigan campuses are located in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Auburn Hills, and Ann Arbor, proximate to many of WMU's regional locations, which are located in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Metro Detroit, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, and Traverse City.

What will happen to Cooley's relationship with other universities?

Cooley presently has shared degree programs and other institutional relationships with Olivet College, Davenport University, and Eastern Michigan University. Cooley is free to continue and expand those relationships, through which it looks forward to expanding the range of educational opportunities for students.

Will Cooley students become WMU students?

Cooley students will attend class and graduate from what will be known as Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The schools will maintain separate educational programs. Except for students admitted to the shared-degree programs, Cooley students will not be admitted separately to WMU.

Will Cooley employees become WMU employees and vice versa?

Employees of each institution will continue in their respective employ, although Cooley employees will work for what will be known as Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

How should Cooley alumni refer to their school on resumes and for other purposes?  Can alumni obtain updated diplomas?

Alumni of the School may now, if they wish, refer to Cooley as Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Sometimes context will warrant using one name over the other. We are currently using WMU-Cooley Law School or WMU-Cooley Law as a shorthand version of our name.

Alumni may also, if they wish, obtain an updated diploma through the alumni page of the website at cooley.edu/alumni. The cost is $60 ($50 for current members of the Alumni Association) plus shipping. 

Will the name for Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing change?

There are no current plans to change the name of Cooley Law School Stadium.

Whom do I contact for more information about the Affiliation?

James D. Robb
Associate Dean for External Affairs
Thomas M. Cooley Law School
(517) 371-5140 ext. 2008

Cheryl P. Roland
Executive Director of University Relations
Western Michigan University
(269) 387-8412


James D. Robb
Associate Dean for External Affairs
Thomas M. Cooley Law School
(517) 371-5140 ext. 2008

Cheryl P. Roland
Executive Director of University Relations
Western Michigan University
(269) 387-8412