Law Schools

500 law profs urge ABA legal ed council to keep faculty tenure as an accreditation requirement

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The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar hasn’t received much in the way of a response to its latest proposed changes in the law school accreditation standards.

Only one person showed up to speak at a pair of hearings on the proposed changes in three chapters of the standards Monday and Tuesday at the section’s Chicago offices. And to date, the section has received only 13 written comments to all of its proposed changes in the standards, though one is a letter objecting to the elimination of tenure as an accreditation requirement that has been signed by more than 500 law professors. The section will continue to accept written comments through Jan. 31, 2014.

The section’s governing council has tentatively approved two alternative approaches to the current tenure requirement, which requires tenure or a comparable form of security of position for all full-time faculty members except for clinical professors and legal writing instructors.

One alternative would require law schools to provide some form of security of position short of tenure to all full-time faculty members, including clinical professors and legal writing instructors. The other would not require any form of job protection for anybody, but would require law schools to show they have policies and procedures in place to attract and retain a competent full-time faculty and protect academic freedom.

The law professors, in their letter (PDF), contend that the elimination of tenure as an accreditation requirement would threaten academic freedom, stifle dissenting points of view and retard efforts to recruit and retain minority law professors.

“Although we agree that education reform is necessary to meet the evolving needs of the legal profession, elimination of the tenure system will be counterproductive and will not serve these purposes,” they wrote.

The professors also argue that such an important change in the standards requires a “more inclusive and diverse” governing council than the one the section has now, which they say includes too few law professors and only one member of the Association of American Law School’s Section on Minority Groups. They also say the council should have sought more input from a broader cross-section of the academic community from the start of the drafting process.

“It is likely that throughout the legal academy and in circles beyond, maintenance of the status quo of tenure enjoys considerable support,” they wrote. “Yet, within the council, there was not enough support to even vote out a recommendation that the current accreditation requirement of tenure be maintained.”

Several other commentators have also voiced support for the current tenure requirement, including the Society of American Law Teachers, which says that a full-time tenured faculty is a critical and necessary component of a quality legal education. “SALT urges the council to strengthen, not weaken, legal education by continuing to expect schools to provide tenure or comparable security of position to full-time faculty,” co-presidents Jackie Gardina and Ngai Pindell wrote (PDF).

One commentator has asked the council to begin accrediting two-year law schools. Another has called for more distance learning opportunities. A third has endorsed the council’s proposal to increase the professional skills requirement to six credit hours.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, Gary Palm, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Law School, urged the council to consider a rule barring law school deans from participating in any decisions to amend the standards.

Two more hearings on the council’s proposed changes in the standards will be held next February during the ABA’s Midyear Meeting in Chicago.

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