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ABA Standards Review Committee: New Blood, New Direction?

Posted Nov 9, 2011 12:06 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen

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The ABA Standards Review Committee that will meet later this week in Chicago bears little resemblance to the one that met last July in Minneapolis.

The 14-member committee, which has spent the past three years working on a comprehensive overhaul of law school accreditation standards, has since gotten a new chair and six new members.

There's nothing sinister about the personnel changes, which were required under the bylaws of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and gave John O'Brien, the new chair of the section's governing council, the authority to fill vacancies on the committee.

St. Louis University School of Law professor Jeffrey E. Lewis, who was named the new chair, succeeds Donald Polden, dean of Santa Clara University School of Law, who after three one-year terms as chair was not eligible for a fourth term. Polden, however, remains a member of the committee.

Joining them on the committee are six returning members and six newcomers, all of whom were appointed by O'Brien to replace members who either resigned, lost their eligibility to serve, or whose terms had expired.

Lewis has already announced (PDF) that the committee, which will meet Friday and Saturday at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, will take no substantive action at this week's meeting.

The committee will instead hold an open forum for much of the day on Friday, and on Saturday it will review and discuss the committee's current work product on a chapter-by-chapter basis. The agenda and a list of scheduled speakers are here (PDF) and here. (PDF)

Lewis views the meeting as an opportunity to pause and take stock of where the committee stands and where it is going.

"John O'Brien has asked us to take a fresh look at everything the committee is doing," Lewis says, "and this meeting is good evidence of us doing just that."

Some of what the committee has been thinking about doing has proven to be controversial, perhaps nothing more so than its attempts to clarify whether law schools are required to offer tenure or other forms of job security to all full-time faculty members. To that end, the committee is currently considering two alternative proposals: one of which would mandate minimum contract requirements; and another that would provide law schools with more flexibility in meeting their responsibilities to attract and retain competent full-time faculty, protect academic freedom, provide meaningful participation in school governance issues and evaluate candidates for promotion, termination and renewal.

Lewis cautioned that the committee's efforts are still a work in progress. "Nothing is set in stone at this point," he says.

He also says he personally favors giving the council, which will ultimately decide whether to accept or reject the committee's recommendations, several options from which to choose, from a restyling of the existing standards to proposals with one or more substantive changes.

"We're working for the council," he says, "and we want to do whatever we can to give the council a good predicate for whatever decisions it ultimately makes."

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