Law Schools

Keep job protections for law school faculty, ABA committee recommends

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An ABA committee has voted to recommend that the law school accreditation standards be amended to require that law schools provide some form of security of position short of tenure to all full-time faculty members.

But the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s standards review committee, which met Friday and Saturday in Chicago, also voted to give the section’s governing council–which must approve any changes in the standards–three other ways of dealing with the whole tenure issue:

• One would keep a cleaned-up version of the current standard (PDF), which is widely understood to require tenure or a comparable form of security of position for all full-time faculty, except for clinical professors and legal-writing instructors.

• Another would require law schools to provide all full-time faculty members the same job protections, irrespective of academic field or teaching methodology.

• The third would eliminate any job security requirements from the standards altogether.

The committee, which is wrapping up a comprehensive review of the standards, based its recommendation on a straw poll of members following a lengthy discussion of the four draft proposals before it. The poll indicated a clear preference for requiring some form of security of position short of tenure for all full-time faculty members, over any of the other alternatives. The option with no job protection requirements for anybody was the least popular.

But the committee decided to forward all four proposals to the council, along with the results of its straw poll, after hearing from John O’Brien, the former council chair who is now its liaison to the committee. O’Brien said that two or three years ago, when the committee appeared to be on the verge of recommending the elimination of any job protection requirements from the standards, council members made it clear they wanted more than two options to choose from.

“There are people who think the current standard should be strengthened; there are people who think it should be eliminated; and there are people who think it should be more carefully codified, but otherwise left alone,” he said.

All four proposals would require law schools to have policies and procedures in place to attract and retain a competent full-time faculty; protect academic freedom for all professors; and provide for the meaningful participation of all full-time faculty members in school governance.

With that issue decided, the committee made a lot of headway at its meeting in Chicago. It finished its proposed overhaul of two more chapters of the standards: Chapter One, which covers general purposes and practices; and Chapter Four, which covers the faculty. And it wrapped up its work on Chapter Three, which covers the program of legal education–but for one provision: the so-called bar passage requirement.

The committee agreed in concept with a proposal to tighten and simplify the current requirement, but got bogged down in the particulars of some of the individual provisions before deciding to table the matter until its next meeting in October.

The committee also agreed to increase the experiential learning requirement from one credit hour to six credit hours, and to eliminate the current requirement that the student/faculty ratio be considered in determining whether a school is in compliance with the standards.

Committee chair Jeffrey Lewis said after the meeting that the committee accomplished nearly everything it had set out to do.

“We got a huge amount done,” he said. “We didn’t finish [with the proposed bar-passage standard], but we had the essential conversation we needed to have.”

Lewis said the committee is still on track to complete its overhaul of the standards by the end of the year.

Related coverage:

National Law Journal: “ABA May Ditch Law School Student-to-Faculty Ratio Rule”

Inside Higher Ed: “A Tenure Menu for the ABA”

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