American Bar Association

ABA threatened with 1-year suspension of law school accreditation powers

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A Department of Education panel on Wednesday recommended that the ABA’s accreditation power for new law schools be suspended for one year, on the basis that the organization failed to implement its student achievement standards and probationary sanctions, while also not meeting its audit process and analysis responsibilities regarding students’ debt levels.

That department recommendation was made by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, Inside Higher Ed reports.

“The ABA has been under pressure for quite a number of years about both outcomes for graduates and accurate reporting by law schools, and during the last few years there’s been pressure about the increasing number of students who are admitted with increasingly low test scores,” says Deborah Merritt, an Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law professor who writes at Law School Cafe. Still, she and other academics were surprised about the announcement, which Paul Caron, a Pepperdine University School of Law professor who edits TaxProf Blog, described as “stunning news.”

Inside Higher Ed reports that the panel had three “contentious” votes about the recommendations. According to Barry Currier, ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, it followed a staff report that found the council in compliance with core substantive requirements for recognition, and only had minor technical “deficiencies” that the group needed to address.

“The Council believes that is operating in compliance with the recognition criteria, but it will make the changes to its accreditation standards and rules of procedure that are necessary to stay in good standing with NACIQI and the Department of Education,” Currier wrote in a statement.

Regarding student achievement standards for ABA-accredited schools, a pending proposal (PDF) seeks to change the requirement that 75 percent of ABA-accredited law school graduates who sit for bar exams pass the tests in two years, rather than the existing five-year requirement. An open hearing for the proposal is scheduled to take place Aug. 6 during the ABA Annual Meeting, which will take place in San Francisco.

“I suspect the Department of Education recommendation will make this proposal more likely to get favorable comments,” Merritt says. The existing five-year standard is easy to meet, she adds, and has many loopholes.

Earlier this month, the ABA announced that for the first time it would be conducting random audits of jobs data provided by law schools for the class of 2015.

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