ABA Task Force Hears Alternatives to Law School Accreditation Role #ABAChicago
Posted Jul 29, 2009 5:40 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen
The ABA should either get out of the federal law school accreditation process altogether or seek a waiver from a Department of Education rule requiring the association to steer clear of the work of its accrediting body, an ABA task force on accreditation was told Wednesday.
Gary Palm, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Law School, said fewer than 20 of the nation's nearly 200 law schools use the ABA's accrediting process for federal approval of student loans and student assistance.
Those schools could use the regional accrediting bodies instead, Palm said. Then the ABA could operate the accrediting process in any manner it might want without violating federal laws.
Barring that, Palm said, the ABA should apply for a waiver from the federal requirement that the accreditation process be "separate and independent" from the association.
"If the ABA is going to foot the bill, it ought to have total control over the process," he said.
Palm addressed a working session of the Board of Governors Accreditation Task Force, which is studying the structure and operations of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the ABA's law school accrediting body.
The task force is examining, among other things, the implications of the section's role as the federally recognized accreditor of law schools and its relationship to the ABA. It hopes to draft a report with its recommendations by the end of October, according to task force chair Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte.
D'Alemberte said the task force will also look at the relationship between the accrediting function and other services provided by the section and at the section's overall relationship with the Department of Education.
"We want to make sure the ABA and the DOE are both functioning in a constructive relationship with one another," he said.
Hulett "Bucky" Askew, the ABA's consultant on legal education, said if the ABA stopped accrediting law schools for the Department of Education, the department would find somebody else to do it. He also said that due to the change in administrations, there is nobody currently in the education department with the authority to talk to the ABA about the possibility of a waiver.
Task force members discussed the pros and cons of Palm's suggestions but remained noncommittal during the public portion of their meeting. Then they went into executive session, presumably to discuss his proposals further.
The task force also heard Wednesday from president-elect nominee Stephen Zack, who voiced his concerns about the ever-rising costs of a legal education, which he said threatens to turn the law into an elitist profession and further aggravate the existing shortage of legal aid lawyers.
The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is also working on a comprehensive review of its law school accreditation standards.
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