Law Schools

Law school noncompliance with diversity standard should require public notice, ABA legal ed section says

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Proposed revisions to strengthen law school accreditation standards addressing diversity, inclusion and nondiscrimination were approved Friday by the council of the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

That includes making Standard 206, which states that law schools should have diverse student bodies, faculty and staff, a “core” standard requiring public notice for noncompliance. Other standards that require public notice are Standard 202, which deals with program resources; Standard 501, which addresses admissions; and Standard 316, which focuses on bar passage, according to a May 7 standards committee memo.

Also, the council approved proposed revisions regarding Standard 206 language. With regard to demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusion, the proposal suggests replacing “concrete action” with taking “effective actions that lead to progress.” It also suggests replacing the term “minority” with “people of color.”

Schools have repeatedly asked for more guidance on the meaning of “concrete actions,” according to the memo. The proposed revision lists examples of effective actions, including adopting and using pipeline programs, setting and publishing diversity and inclusion goals and designing recruitment programs focused on underrepresented groups.

Additionally, the council approved a proposed revision to add “ethnicity,” “gender identity or expression” and “military status” to Standard 206 and Standard 205, which requires law schools to adopt, publish and follow nondiscrimination policies.

The proposed revisions stemmed from roundtables hosted by the section. Other proposed revisions approved by the council include:

    • A change to Standard 303, which addresses curriculum, to require “training and education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency and racism.” Also, the council approved a proposal to add language that directs schools to provide students with opportunities for “the development of a professional identity.”
    • A change to Standard 507, which deals with student loan programs, requiring law schools to provide applicants and students with school loan debt counseling.
    • A change to Standard 508, which addresses student support services, to provide students with information or services related to mental health, including substance use disorders.

The proposed revisions will go out for notice and comment, and then to the ABA House of Delegates at the February 2022 midyear meeting at the earliest. Changing Standard 206 to a core standard does not need House consideration, according to Bill Adams, managing director of ABA accreditation and legal education.

Also on Friday, the council approved various changes for the law school annual questionnaire, which is required as part of the accreditation process. Among the changes outlined in an April 22 memo are tracking students receiving law school loans by race, ethnicity and gender for 509 reports, and having schools specify which admissions tests were used, with documentation of validity and reliability if it was something other than the Law School Admission Test.

Additionally, the questionnaire and template committee suggested holding a roundtable to discuss other issues, including collecting enrollment data about students with disabilities and students’ LGBTQ status.

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