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San Francisco’s troubled Golden Gate University drops law degree, angers students

The entrance to a university building
Golden Gate University will no longer offer its Juris Doctor program, the main degree obtained to practice law in the U.S. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Golden Gate University told students on Thursday it is discontinuing a major legal degree program as the 122-year-old institution struggles to keep its law school afloat.

According to an email obtained by The Standard, the San Francisco school will no longer offer its Juris Doctor program, the main degree obtained to practice law in the U.S. Current students will have the option to finish their degrees at a partner institution.

The news comes months after students and faculty raised concerns about rumors that the university was preparing to shut down its law school. Administrators later informed students that the school would not close during the 2023-2024 academic year.

"To be clear, this decision applies to one program in the Law School," read Thursday's email, which was signed by university President David Fike and Board of Trustees chair Barbara Mendelson. "While the JD program will sunset, the Law School will continue serving students with standout legal education, as it has since its founding in 1901."

The law school will continue to offer other undergraduate and graduate degrees, the email said.

READ MORE: Golden Gate University Law School Faces Bankruptcy, Closure

In June, Golden Gate University faced uproar over speculation it may close or de-accredit its law school, which failed to meet the American Bar Association's requirements. The ABA requires that 75% of law students must pass the bar within two years of degree completion.

The ABA determined that the law school was noncompliant in 2021 for low bar exam passage rates. As a result, Golden Gate slashed law school admissions substantially in 2022.

"While the Law School has made strides to improve its standing with this accrediting body, the ABA’s Council on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar expressed concern about the School’s ability to maintain that momentum," the email read.

Golden Gate University's law school has struggled financially in recent years. A January 2022 plan to sell property in order to help the institution stay afloat fell apart due to the “precipitous devaluation” of Downtown San Francisco commercial real estate.

READ MORE: Shooting Near San Francisco Law School Leaves 1 Dead, 1 Injured

In Thursday's email, school officials pointed to the challenges facing legal education in the country with declining applications for JD programs and a shifting job market.

The news hit students' inboxes as they prepared for final exams in December.

"We recognize that the timing of this announcement will be challenging for some, yet we wanted to let our community know as soon as the decision about the JD program was finalized," the school said. "We know—and regret—the pain and disruption that will come from ending the ABA-accredited JD program."

“Most people go the route of getting a JD in California even though it is not a requirement to take the Bar exam,” sad Nicholas Kimura, who graduated from Golden Gate University in May, said, adding that if someone opts not to get their JD the process can take up to five years with a requirement to have an apprenticeship under a judge or attorney.

He said Golden Gate’s law school is one of the most diverse law schools in the state because the school has historically accommodated students of disenfranchised backgrounds.

“This message coming from a majority white board of trustees to a majority of people of color in the student body makes this especially stinging,” Kimura said.

Joel Umanzor can be reached at jumanzor@sfstandard.com