Facts in Cooley Law School decision weren't challenged, ABA argues in summary judgment motion
Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School admits applicants who are unlikely to graduate and be admitted to practice law, and a recent decision to publish a letter about its noncompliance with an admissions standard was based on undisputed facts, the American Bar Association wrote in a summary judgment motion (PDF) to dismiss the Michigan law school’s due process lawsuit.
The ABA also argued that under the Higher Education Act, it was required to publish the Nov. 13 letter (PDF) that stated the law school was not in compliance with Standard 501(b), which focuses on admissions, and Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions.
On Nov. 14, the law school filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) against the ABA, alleging the letter violated the Higher Education Act and common law due process. The school also sought a temporary restraining order to keep the ABA from publishing the letter, which was dated Nov. 13. On Dec. 12, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Tarnow denied the motion.
Detailed in the Nov. 13 letter is an accreditation committee appeal Cooley Law School brought to the Council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The council adopted a motion affirming the accreditation committee finding that the law school was not in compliance.
The council also affirmed the committee’s recommendation to defer a major change request made by Cooley until the law school could demonstrate that it is in compliance with each accreditation standard. According to the lawsuit, the request was for acquiescence to open a separate location on the main campus of Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, which would offer up to 60 credit hours of the school’s 90-hour JD program.
The law school’s median LSAT score is 142, and its median GPA is 2.94, according to its Standard 509 Information Report (PDF) for 2017. Out of 83 Cooley graduates who took the Michigan state bar for the first time in July 2017, just 53 percent passed, according to data (PDF) from the Michigan Supreme Court’s Board of Law Examiners. The state’s first-time pass rate for July 2017 was 77 percent.
Cooley’s first-time bar exam pass rate has dropped from 76 percent to 48 percent over a seven-year period, according to the ABA’s summary judgment motion. It also asserts that the percentage of entering students with LSAT scores of 143 or less more than doubled over a six-year period.
During the Nov. 4 council hearing, Don LeDuc, Cooley’s president and dean, admitted the accreditation committee’s 34 findings of fact were correct, according to the ABA’s summary judgment motion, and that the school was given a “reasonable and fair” opportunity to present its case.
“Cooley has conceded that every single factual finding on which the council’s decision was based is correct,” the motion reads. “It is thus undisputed, for example, that Cooley’s first-time bar passage rate dropped 28 percentage points over a seven-year period, and that roughly one-third of its entering students in 2015 had an LSAT score of 138 or below—placing every one of those students in approximately the bottom 10 percent of all LSAT takers. And because every factual finding is admitted, Cooley does not and cannot show that any of those findings lacks substantial evidence.
“Instead, Cooley engages in legalistic debate in an attempt to second-guess the council’s exercise of its expert judgment in determining whether the school—based on the unchallenged facts—has met a standard that the Department of Education authorized the council to interpret and enforce,” defense counsel wrote.
James Robb, Cooley Law School’s general counsel, told Law.com that a response will be filed. He also claimed the ABA’s admissions standard is vague, and at the school’s most recent full accreditation review, it was found to be in compliance with the rule.
“This leaves the law school to guess what it must do to comply with [the admissions standard],” Robb said. “The ABA’s approach is akin to ticketing the driver of a car for speeding when no speed limit is posted.”