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Speakers blast no-tenure accreditation plan at Legal Ed hearing


Photo of Terry Smith courtesy of the DePaul University College of Law

The governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar got an earful of feedback on its latest proposed changes to law school accreditation standards.

Much of the feedback came in response to the council’s tentative decision to eliminate the so-called tenure requirement in the current standards. But several commentators also voiced support for a 15-credit-hour experiential learning requirement and an aspirational goal of 50 hours of pro bono service for each law student.

The council has tentatively approved two alternative approaches to the tenure requirement, which requires tenure or a comparable form of security of position for all full-time faculty members except for clinical professors and legal writing instructors.

One alternative would require law schools to provide some form of security of position short of tenure to all full-time faculty members, including clinical professors and legal writing instructors. The other would not require tenure, but would require law schools to show they have policies and procedures in place to attract and retain a competent, full-time faculty and protect academic freedom.

That last proposed change drew the most fire at a pair of public hearings in conjunction with the ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago. Out of the 16 people who spoke at the two hearings, 10 voiced opposition to the elimination of the tenure requirement. DePaul University law professor Terry Smith said he was speaking on behalf of more than 600 fellow law professors with “well in excess” of 1,000 years of combined teaching experience.

Critics contend that the elimination of tenure as an accreditation requirement would threaten academic freedom, stifle dissenting points of view and hurt efforts to recruit and retain minority law professors.

American University law professor Elliott S. Milstein—a past president of the Association of American Law Schools who spoke on behalf of 20 of the association’s 26 living past-presidents—said eliminating tenure as an accreditation requirement would be “untenable and dangerous.”

Speaking to the proposal to set an aspirational goal of 50 hours of pro bono service, David Udell, executive director of the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School, said 50 hours of pro bono service should be a requirement for graduation. “Aspirational is good,” he said, “but mandatory is better.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Speakers Blast No-Tenure Plan: Hearings bring out dissenters to accreditation change.”

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