Seven law school deans ripped the principal law school accreditor American Bar Assocation(ABA) on a variety of charges, from opposing weekend law schools to imposing rules that suppress minority enrollment to blocking construction of inexpensive law schools.
At a time when law school tuitions at ABA-accredited schools have soared into the $30,000-to-$45,000-a-year range, Dean Kent Syverud of Washington University, St. Louis, asked, “Can we all exist as Ritz-Carlton law schools?”
His criticism of ABA requirements for building luxurious schools that drive up student tuition was cited by Dean Richard Matasar of New York Law School as support for allowing law schools to exist in ways that would allow them to cut educational costs.
Still another law school official, Associate Dean John Nussbaumer of Cooley Law School, Lansing, Mich., said the ABA “fought us every step of the way” when Cooley attempted to start the country’s first weekend law school for nontraditional students. “It took us over three years to do so.” Nussbaumer also charged the ABA fights law schools seeking to open branch campuses.
He said besides Cooley the only other law school granted such permission was Widener Law of Wilmington, Del., “and there has been 17 years in between those two. That keeps the door to legal education closed in underserved geographic regions that are not currently served by an accredited law school.”
The Wilmington dean said the ABA pressured Cooley into raising its Law School Admission Test(LSAT) score requirements so that “our African-American enrollment was cut roughly in half.”
Nussbaumer said Cooley had a five-year battle in which ABA threatened not to renew its accreditation if it didn’t comply. “But because of that, we were forced to choose, and we gave in (on LSAT). I’m not proud of it---but we were threatened with sanctions.”
Dean David Van Zandt of Northwestern University School of Law, Evanston, Ill., speaking for the American Law Deans Association(ALDA), said, the ABA “enforces a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of legal education.”
“The ABA standards should permit a law school to pursue its own mission in any way that it deems appropriate so long as it meets the minimum requirements of providing a sound legal education,” he said.
“ALDA does not believe that the standards should dictate that a law school have a particular mission or provide a legal education in a specified way as long as the legal education that the law school provides is a sound legal education.”
Van Zandt said that besides “restricting how the legal educators in each law school pursue their mission, the ( ABA ) requirements raise the cost of legal education to our students overall, a matter of great public concern.” Joe Harbaugh, dean of Nova Southeastern University Law Center, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., said ABA ’s present standards “do not allow very much flexibility for innovativeness on the part of law schools.”
He said legal educators should be free to “innovate and create so that there are differences between and among schools and progress in education.” Dean Jon Garon of Hamline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minn., said the ABA’s accrediting process “makes it difficult for schools to show any independence and creativity” and that ABA has “driven most creativity out of legal education.”
The law deans’ complaints appear in the new book “The Gathering Peasants’ Revolt In American Legal Education”(Doukathsan Press) by Lawrence Velvel and Kurt Olson, dean and assistant professor of law, respectively, at Massachusetts School of Law at Andover .
Velvel and Olson write, “The stifling of all missions but the one approved by the ABA is, unfortunately, perfectly expectable when there is an accreditation process which focuses on enforcing expensive input requirements instead of on whether schools succeed in teaching the competencies needed by practitioners of law…”
The co-authors said the federal Department of Education, Washington, which has renewed its recognition of ABA’s accrediting role, is “a thoroughly inept federal agency (that) pays no attention to the fact that the (ABA) enforces a single, high cost template on all schools instead of allowing schools to carry out individualized missions, especially a mission to educate the less affluent minorities.” #
(Sherwood Ross is a Media Consultant to the Massachusetts School of Law, Andover; reach him at email@example.com )