ABA to Provide Accrediting Documents

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is asking the ABA to explain how it applies a diversity standard when assessing whether law schools meet accreditation requirements.

In a letter obtained by Inside Higher Ed, Spellings said she would approve the ABA as the accrediting body for law schools for another 18 months but expressed disapproval of the diversity standard.

The publication says Spellings wants the ABA to provide “a mountain of documents” by December when it seeks renewed recognition from her department.

The request includes information related to the diversity standard, known as Standard 212, which says “a law school shall demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to having a faculty and staff that are diverse with respect to gender, race and ethnicity.”

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the ABA entity that accredits law schools, maintains the standard permits–but doesn’t require–law schools to consider diversity in admissions decisions to the extent permitted by law.

But a report by the Education Department staff called the section “vague and ambiguous.”

The Education Department’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity didn’t agree with staffers’ criticism of the diversity standard when it met in December. It left the criticism out of its recommendation for the 18-month extension.

Spelling was critical of the council’s action. “I note that the council did not directly and persuasively address the staff’s finding that the council failed to comply with … requirements to maintain effective controls against inconsistent application of Standard 212,” she wrote in the letter.

An ABA statement says the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is pleased that Spellings renewed its recognition as the accrediting agency. “The section looks forward to continuing work with the Department of Education to assure full compliance with each and every criterion set by the department for accreditation agencies. We take seriously each point raised by the staff of the department and by [the advisory committee], and have worked diligently to address them.”

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